Socialist Bernie Sanders Enters the Presidential Race — as a Democrat
Candidate presents himself as the ethical alternative to Hillary Clinton
On Thursday, Vermont’s socialist Senator Bernie Sanders announced he was officially entering the presidential race. Elected to Congress in 1991 as an Independent, the 73 year old said he would be participating in the Democratic primaries and caucuses. Farther to the left than Hillary Clinton, he openly admires the democratic socialism of Scandinavia and has described himself as a socialist since 1998. However, the Democrat Party has moved to the left in recent years, and many of Sanders’ positions on issues are now commonly advocated within the party, including free college tuition, higher taxes on the wealthy, government-run healthcare and publicly funded elections.
Sanders distinguishes himself from Hillary Clinton by railing against the erosion of the middle class as the wealthy and big business have flourished — an indirect attack on the Clinton dynasty and Obama. He identifies Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street as part of the problem. When asked on Meet the Press last year about Clinton, he responded in part, “The question is: at a time when so many people have seen a decline in their standard of living, when the wealthiest and largest corporations are doing phenomenally well, the American people want change.”
Sanders is also presenting himself as the ethical alternative to Clinton. According to Salon, “The conventional read on Hillary Clinton is that there is no scandal imaginable that could persuade her to drop out.” Sanders sees an opportunity to appeal to those on the left who are worried that Clinton’s growing baggage could lose the general election for Democrats. His gruff, straight talk is a stark contrast to the scripted Clinton, who has also acquired a reputation for flip-flopping and ducking issues.
Unlike Clinton, he has consistently opposed U.S. intervention overseas, including the Iraq War, which Clinton voted for when she was a senator from New York. She later said it was a mistake to have voted to authorize force. Sanders also voted against the Patriot Act, which Clinton has voted for twice.
He disagrees with Clinton on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which would eliminate tariffs and other trade barriers for the U.S., Canada and Asian countries. He believes it sends jobs overseas, whereas Clinton has referred to it as “the gold standard” for promoting free, fair, open and transparent trade. The TPP has drawn criticism from some conservatives and from the far left.
Sanders is perhaps best known for an eight-and-a-half-hour-long speech he gave in 2010 on the House floor railing against the extension of George W. Bush’s tax cuts. He raised eyebrows again when he skipped Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in March, claiming it improperly interfered with President Obama’s role.
His campaign adviser, Tad Devine, said Sanders intends to focus on three issues: income inequality, campaign finance reform and climate change. Sanders calls global warming “the central challenge of our time.” He wants a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour. Not surprisingly, his lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union is only 6.3 out of 100.
Lacking a national infrastructure, and polling over 50 percentage points behind Clinton, Sanders is a long-shot candidate. He doesn’t intend to have a Super PAC or fly around the country raising money. Some people don’t take him seriously, having only sponsored one law and 15 amendments during his entire eight terms in the House. Additionally, even the left admits the mainstream media is biased toward Clinton; one writer says they “almost seem to be working for the Clintons in trying to discourage any real challengers.”
Still, Sanders is the most popular candidate for progressives after Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has repeatedly said she does not intend to run for president. It may be unlikely that Sanders will win the Democratic nomination, but he may bring exposure to the ethical scandals plaguing Hillary Clinton.