|from Burlington (Vermont) Free Press
Sanders would tempt fate, and history, as Democrat
WASHINGTON – Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has belonged to one
political party in his lifetime: the anti-war Liberty Union Party.
That was back in the 1970s. Since then, Sanders has forged his own
political path, caucusing with Democrats in Congress but remaining
independent on the ballot.
That could change as he considers a 2016 presidential bid. Among the
decisions he's weighing is whether to run as an independent or as a
On one hand, Sanders believes many people are dissatisfied with the
two-party system and think Democrats are doing too little to protect
working-class and middle-income Americans.
On the other hand, a Democratic presidential bid has definite advantages.
"If you run as a Democrat, it would obviously be much easier to get on
the ballot," Sanders said during a recent interview. "And the
advantage, again, running as a Democrat, is that you would be in the
middle of Democratic primaries, you would be in debates, and you
would, I think, attract more media attention for your ideas."
Sanders, who turns 73 today, is the longest-serving independent member
of Congress in history. His progressive views, which he delivers
forcefully in a Brooklyn accent on the Senate floor and left-leaning
news shows, don't always align neatly with the Democratic agenda or
A self-described democratic socialist, he believes lessons can be
learned from the Scandinavian approach to governing, focusing on
health care as a right, free higher education, and an emphasis on
environmental issues and childhood poverty. In March, he held a
subcommittee hearing on ways that countries such as Denmark and Canada
offer better health care for less money.
"We should have a government that represents all of our people," he
said, "not one which is dominated by big money which significantly
works for the interests of the wealthy and large corporations."
Sanders says he's yet to decide whether to run for president in 2016.
But he has plenty of supporters urging him to run — and to do so as a
Progressive Democrats of America has gathered about 14,000 signatures
on a petition, urging Sanders to run in the Democratic presidential
primaries. The group is organizing steering committees in Iowa towns
and plans to raise money for Sanders through its political action
committee, Progressive Democrats of America Action Fund.
When Sanders makes various stops in Iowa this month, the group will
have bumper stickers, signs and banners greeting him with the message,
"Run Bernie, Run."
"If he runs as an independent, we just feel he would be isolated,"
said Conor Boylan, the group's co-executive director. "It wouldn't be
a smart move for him."
Sanders would encounter "substantial procedural and legal hurdles" to
accessing the ballot if he ran as an independent in the Democratic
primaries or in the general election, said Tad Devine, a Washington
media consultant and political strategist who has worked on two
Devine, who has spoken with Sanders about the decision, said he thinks
Sanders would run as a Democrat, or at least within the structure of
"He understands that a third-party challenger of his nature could do
something very bad, like help elect a Republican president, like, for
example, (Ralph) Nader did in 2000," said Devine, who also has worked
on presidential campaigns for Al Gore and John Kerry.
Sanders said that would never be his intention if he ran as an independent.
"If the campaign did not catch on, I would not stay in the race until
November and play the role of a spoiler," he said. "But that decision
would have to be made down the line."
Sanders noted that he's always won in Vermont as an independent, and
his lack of party affiliation is part of his identity. His supporters
in the state appear to like him that way, according to recent poll
conducted by the Castleton Polling Institute in Vermont.
Fifty-five percent of 608 people polled in May said they likely would
support a Sanders presidential bid. Of that group, 55 percent said he
should run as an independent, while 31 percent said he should run as a
Boylan of the Progressive Democrats of America Action Fund, however,
said Sanders is an "ideal" progressive candidate to run in the
Democratic primaries, because the Vermonter would work to expand
Social Security, protect Medicare and Medicaid and advocate for the
poor and working classes.
"We don't want Hillary Clinton to be the presumptive nominee and to
run unchallenged," Boylan said. "We need to have an open debate."
Sanders, the son of a Polish-Jewish immigrant father and a New
York-born mother, studied psychology at Brooklyn College and graduated
with a political science degree from the University of Chicago, where
he was active in the civil rights movement.
After graduating, he spent time on an Israeli kibbutz. He moved to
Vermont in the 1960s and worked as a carpenter, filmmaker, writer and
researcher. He lost several elections as a Liberty Union Party member
before his successful bid as an independent for mayor of Burlington in
Sanders, now chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, has
caucused with Democrats since his days as Vermont's lone congressman,
beginning in 1991.
He believes the party does a better job than the GOP of standing up
for working families, but he said there are "too many Democrats who
are not prepared to stand up to the billionaire class, which today has
incredible economic and political power."
His priorities include:
• Overturning the Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in Citizens United v.
the Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations and unions
to spend unlimited amounts of money on ads supporting or opposing
individual candidates. Sanders calls the decision "disastrous."
• Addressing wealth and income inequality with a "massive federal jobs
program" to rebuild crumbling infrastructure, an increased minimum
wage, affordable higher education, a reformed trade policy to prevent
corporations from shipping jobs overseas and a reformed tax system so
profitable corporations can't avoid paying them and wealthy
individuals pay more.
• Focusing on the "crisis" of climate change and the need to move away
from fossil fuels.
• Creating a single-payer national health care system, also known as
"Medicare for all."
"These are the issues," he said. "This is what is important."
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally in front of the White
House last year for government contract workers as part of a one-day
strike for better wages.
Sanders has been traveling the country, visiting traditional and
non-traditional presidential campaign stops. Last month, he visited
North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi. On Labor Day, he was
at an AFL-CIO breakfast in Manchester, N.H., and later this month,
he'll be in Wisconsin, Iowa and New Hampshire again.
His message is simple: The country's middle class is collapsing, the
gap between the rich and poor is widening, and if nothing changes, the
country could move toward an oligarchic society where a handful of
billionaires control the economic and political system.
Sanders said his main challenge is figuring out whether that message resonates.
"How many Americans are prepared to get involved in the political
process and fight hard to prevent that?" he said. "That's the question
that I have to deal with."
Contact Nicole Gaudiano at email@example.com. Follow her on
Twitter at www.twitter.com/ngaudiano.