One particular political veteran and self-described Democratic Socialist has captured the imagination of the public in recent years, especially amongst younger voters. At war with the 1%, he claims to champion the interest of the many and is keen to deal with climate change. It may sound like I’m talking about Jeremy Corbyn, but in this article, I will be giving a profile of his supposed US equivalent, Bernie Sanders.
From Brooklyn to the Senate. Where next?
Sanders was born in Brooklyn to his two Polish parents in 1941 and took to politics early in life, graduating from the University of Chicago in 1964 with a degree in political science. His political career began when he moved to Vermont and became Mayor of Burlington in 1981. In 1990, he was elected to the House of Representatives and in 2006, was elected to the Senate.
He ran as a Democrat in the 2016 presidential election but failed to get the Democratic nomination, seeing Hillary Clinton go against the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.
So, why is Sanders relevant now?
He has recently revealed he will be running for president in 2020, stirring much support after his surprisingly successful run in 2016. Could he finish what he started in 2020? Or is his contribution to left-wing politics over, as others, such as Elizabeth Warren, take up the mantle of his progressive politics?
The ‘S’ Word
Sanders describes himself as a ‘Democratic Socialist’. Given the general hostility towards socialism in the US, it is not unusual to see Sanders as out of touch. Even President Trump weighed in, describing the Senator as ‘crazy’. But what exactly is ‘democratic socialism’?
During an interview in 2006, Sanders described his socialism in a very interesting way. Rather than emphasising public ownership of society’s productive assets, an end to the market economy, or further workplace democracy, Sanders spoke about free healthcare, free childcare, an end to college tuition fees and protecting the environment from large corporations.
Fundamentally, it boils down to how there is ‘a lot to be learned from Scandinavia’. This supposed ‘Scandinavian socialism’ has been a major talking point on the Left, so much so that the Danish Prime Minister came out to point out that his country is not socialist:
I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore, I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.
Sanders’ policies, in fact, line up more with social democracy which generally involves harnessing the wealth created by capitalism to create a safety net (free healthcare, benefits, etc) so everyone can lead a dignified life.
So he’s a social democrat? Of course, Sanders has shown sympathy towards Castro’s Cuba and received criticism for spending his honeymoon in the Soviet Union whilst on official duty as the Mayor of Burlington.
The Far Left also support him, as the Communist Party USA claimed he was a ‘wonderful development for 2016′ as he brought a lot of policy ideas to the mainstream debate, which others now talk about thanks to him.
But social democrat or democratic socialist, as Linda Qiu writes, Sanders ‘isn’t calling for a red revolution’ just yet.
He is, however, ironically part of the 1% thanks to book royalties. He also owns three houses. However, it must be said that Sanders has consistently pushed for policies against his personal interest (taxing the 1%), unlike the current US president who could actually benefit from his own proposed tax cuts.
Similarly, Sanders sporting a $700 coat (pictured above) drew a lot of criticism, despite it being a gift from his stepson.
A supposed cult of personality, being the reason Trump won the election and accusations of sexism within Sanders’ 2016 campaign are other issues that have been brought to light and will undoubtedly resurface as we draw closer to the next presidential cycle.
An Agenda for a New America
In his book Our Revolution, Sanders sets out his vision for a future America. One of his most well-known plans concerns tax reform. Sanders views the level of wealth inequality in the US today as a great injustice, arguing that the wealthy, or the ‘1%’ should pay higher taxes. He argues that wealth has already been redistributed in the US, since George Bush’s tax cuts, upwards towards the super wealthy, rather than downwards, to the rest of society. Increasing tax rates on these people and ending tax avoidance schemes are high on Sanders’ priorities.
He recently introduced the unworkable BEZOS Act to highlight the absurdity that companies with billions of dollars essentially rely on taxpayers to subsidise their wages through benefits and food stamps. Surprisingly, even right-wing Fox News host Tucker Carlson agreed with him. The name of the Act is a clear reference to Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon and the richest man in modern history. It recently emerged that the company will not any federal taxes on its $11.2 billion in profits, much to the anger of Sanders.
If you paid the $119 annual fee to become an Amazon Prime member, you paid more to Amazon than it paid in taxes.
Our job: Repeal all of the Trump tax breaks for the top 1% and large corporations and demand that they pay their fair share in taxes. https://t.co/qDt4YoL5Z4
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) February 15, 2019
Another major goal of his is to get big money out of politics by overturning past decisions that view donations to political candidates as a form of protected speech. More regulation and transparency is the goal. It is important to note that Sanders received virtually no super PAC money in 2016 and averaged $27 a contribution.
An end to college tuition is also on the agenda. To achieve this, Sanders wants a tax of 0.5% on stock trades, a 0.1% fee on bonds and 0.005% fee on derivatives, arguing that the wealth generated by Wall Street should be used to benefit society. A living wage of $15 per hour and free health care are other notable issues that he feels strongly about. Sitting on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, he is a major supporter of climate action.
There is much more to Sanders, but hopefully, this can provide the most important things that you need to know as 2020 approaches.