In my last post, I printed the basics of how Democracy for America (DFA) is going to choose who to endorse for president. DFA is and always has been powered and directed by its more than 1 million members across the country. This endorsement is a perfect example. DFA’s political staff isn’t making this decision; you are. DFA will endorse whichever of the 3 Dem candidates for president – (alphabetically) Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley or Bernie Sanders – based on how many votes each gets. And the bar is high – if no candidate reaches supermajority of 67%, no endorsement. DFA has never before made an endorsement in a contested presidential primary; in 2007, no candidate hit the threshold.
Blue Jerseyans, you are exactly the kind of people DFA is looking to for input. The 3 candidates’ statements have now all been sent to DFA members, in random order to level the playing field. In my last post, I printed the first two I had, Clinton & O’Malley. Below is Sanders’. Remember: The endorsement vote is live right now and will end at 10:59pm Central Time on Tuesday, December 15. Vote as many times as you like if you change your mind before then, but remember – only your last vote will count.
As I travel across the country, I am constantly struck by the level of enthusiasm to do something about the rising levels of income inequality in this country, providing health care for all Americans, criminal justice reform, and reclaiming our democracy from a billionaire class buying candidates and elections.
This is not a time to think small. What is required in this moment is a political revolution that takes back our democracy from establishment politicians and the billionaire class. But that can only happen if we stand together. If we do, we will win. If we are divided, the big money interests win.
Elections should be determined by the power of good ideas, not who can hustle the most money from the rich and powerful. They should be about the issues that impact the lives of ordinary Americans — not the day-to-day soap operas of campaign staffers, personal emails or fluctuations in the polls. I know that you agree.
In the meantime, let me be very blunt and tell you why I am running.
This country faces more serious problems today than at any time in modern history, and establishment politics will not successfully resolve them.
Corporate greed is rampant, and the very rich keep growing richer while everyone else grows poorer. Despite an explosion in technology and a huge increase in productivity, the middle class continues to disappear, most Americans work longer hours for lower wages, and 45 million live in poverty.
The skyrocketing level of income and wealth inequality is not only grotesque and immoral, it is economically unsustainable. It is unconscionable that a majority of all new income goes to the top 1%. It is absurd that the top one-tenth of 1% own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%, and that one family (the Waltons of Walmart) has more wealth than the bottom 130 million Americans.
As a result of the disastrous Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, the billionaire class is spending huge amounts of money to buy candidates and elections. We are now witnessing the undermining of American democracy and the rapid movement toward oligarchy where a handful of very wealthy families and their Super PACs will control our government.
The scientific community is virtually unanimous in telling us that climate change is real, is caused by human activity, and is already bringing catastrophic damage to our planet. Yet, the Republican Party is prepared to reject science in order to gain campaign contributions from the Koch brothers, Big Energy companies and others who make billions on fossil fuels. If we do not act boldly on climate change, the planet we leave to our grandchildren may be uninhabitable.
The United States once led the world in terms of the percentage of our young people who had college degrees. Today, in a highly competitive global economy, we are now in 12th place. Hundreds of thousands of bright young people have given up on the dream of higher education, while millions of others leave school with oppressive debt.
Our infrastructure — roads, bridges, rail, airports, water systems, wastewater plants, levees, dams — is crumbling, and Congress refuses to appropriate anywhere near the necessary funds to rebuild it. If we do not invest substantially in infrastructure, a bad situation will only become much worse.
Despite substantial gains, we still have a long way to go to achieve equality for minorities. Instead of investing in opportunities, we are locking people up at an incredible rate. We now have the highest incarceration rate in the entire world with over 2 million in prison and millions more on probation or parole. We have a broken immigration system that divides families and keeps millions of hard-working people in the shadows.
Most of the major Wall Street financial institutions that we bailed out because they were “too big to fail,” are now bigger than they used to be. The six largest financial institutions now have assets equivalent to nearly 60% of our GDP, issue 35% of the mortgages, and oversee 65% of credit cards.
Our tax system is wildly unfair — rigged to benefit the very rich. Major corporations that earn billions in profits stash their money in tax havens and pay nothing in federal income taxes, while billionaire hedge fund managers pay a lower effective tax rate than nurses or teachers.
Despite growing poverty among seniors, almost all Republicans, and some Democrats, want to cut Social Security and benefits for disabled veterans. They want more austerity for the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor, and more tax breaks for the rich.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost us thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. The United States spends more on the military than the next nine biggest-spending countries combined. Today, there are massive cost over-runs with defense contractors and the Pentagon cannot even pass an independent audit.
We are at a moment of truth. We need to face up to the reality of where we are as a nation, and we need a mass movement of people to change that reality.
Let’s be clear. This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders. It’s about a grassroots movement of Americans standing up and saying: “Enough is enough. This country and our government belong to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires.”
I have discussed some of the major crises that we face. Let me give you the outline of an agenda that addresses these problems.
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: The truth is that real unemployment in our country is not the “official” and widely-reported 5.4 percent. Counting those who are underemployed and those who have given up looking for work, real unemployment is almost 11 percent. Even more disturbingly, real unemployment for white and Hispanic youth is over 30 percent, while African-American youth unemployment is over 50 percent.
We need a major federal jobs program. The most effective way to do that is to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. To do that, I have introduced legislation that would invest $1 trillion over 5 years to modernize our country’s physical infrastructure. This would create and maintain at least 13 million good-paying jobs. It would also make our country more productive, efficient and safe.
As a member of Congress who voted against NAFTA, CAFTA, Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China (PNTR) and is helping to lead the opposition against the TPP, I will continue my opposition to trade policies which have cost us millions of decent paying jobs as corporate America shuts down plants here and moves them to low-wage countries.
Raising Wages: Today, millions of Americans are working for starvation wages and median family income has declined by almost $5,000 since 1999. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is totally inadequate. We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage — $15 an hour over the next few years. Our goal must be that no full-time worker in this country lives in poverty. We must also bring about pay equity for women. There is no rational reason why women should be earning 78 cents on the dollar compared to men who perform the same work.
Further, we need to implement “family values” for American working families. It is unacceptable that the United States is the only major country on earth that does not guarantee family and medical leave, sick time and paid vacations.
Wealth and Income Inequality: Today, the richest 400 Americans own over $2.2 trillion in wealth, more than the bottom 150 million Americans combined. Meanwhile, nearly half of all Americans have less than $10,000 in savings and have no idea how they will be able to retire with dignity.
In order to reverse the massive transfer of wealth and income from the middle class to the very rich that we have seen in recent years, we need real tax reform which makes the wealthy and profitable corporations begin to pay their fair share of taxes. It is fiscally irresponsible that the U.S. Treasury loses about $100 billion a year because corporations and the rich stash their profits in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and other tax havens.
We need a tax system that is fair and progressive. Children should not go hungry in this country while profitable corporations and the wealthy avoid their tax responsibilities.
Reforming Wall Street: I have introduced legislation that would break up the largest financial institutions in the country. In my view, if a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. Wall Street cannot continue to be an island unto itself investing trillions in risky financial instruments. We need banks that invest in the job-creating productive economy. We do not need more speculation and gambling in casino-type activities.
Campaign Finance Reform: We need to return to a one-person, one-vote democracy. It is not acceptable that the Koch brothers and other billionaires are spending endless sums of money to buy elections. I have introduced legislation that would overturn the horrendous Citizens United decision and will only appoint Supreme Court justices who are prepared to do that. We must also demand disclosure of all large campaign contributions. Long term, we need to move to public funding of elections.
Fighting Climate Change: The United States must lead the world in reversing climate change and make certain that this planet is habitable for our children and grandchildren. We must transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energies. Millions of homes and buildings need to be weatherized, our transportation system needs to be energy efficient and we need to greatly accelerate the progress we are already seeing in wind, solar, geothermal and other forms of sustainable energy. Transforming our energy system will not only protect the environment, it will create good-paying jobs.
Health Care for All: The United States remains the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care for all as a right. Despite the modest gains of the Affordable Care Act, 35 million Americans continue to lack health insurance and many more are under-insured. Yet, we continue paying far more per capita for health care than any other nation. The United States must move toward a Medicare-for-All single-payer system.
Gun Violence Prevention: Here is the very sad truth: it is very difficult for the American people to keep up with the mass shootings we seem to see every day in the news. It is long past time for Congress to pass expanded background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill. We should ban the sale of assault weapons and high capacity magazines and close loopholes in our laws that allow stalkers and domestic abusers to buy guns. We should close the “terror gap” so that people on the FBI watch list can’t buy guns and we should vastly improve mental health care in this country so that people who need care can get care when they need it, regardless of their level of income. Those are just a few steps, of many, that we should take — all of which enjoy the support of an overwhelming number of Americans.
Protecting Our Most Vulnerable: Today, the United States has more people living in poverty than at almost any time in the modern history of our country. We have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major nation, and millions of seniors and people with disabilities struggle to put food on the table because of insufficient Social Security benefits.
In my view, we have a moral responsibility to make certain that no American goes hungry or sleeps on the street. We must also make certain that seniors and people with disabilities can live in dignity. Not only must we vigorously oppose Republican attacks on the social safety net, we must expand benefits for those most in need. That is why I have recently introduced legislation that would extend the solvency of Social Security until 2065, while increasing benefits for those most in need.
Expanding Opportunity and Equality: We need to stop using prisons as a response to poverty. Our criminal justice system needs to be reformed so that we do not continue to house non-violent offenders at huge expense when that money could be used to rebuild communities and create opportunity. We need federal leadership to reform policing in America, to end racial profiling, and to fight the illegal activities of hate groups. We need comprehensive immigration reform that protects families and leads to a responsible and realistic path to citizenship.
Dismantling Structural Racism: Throughout much of our history, the elite in America has divided people along racial lines in an effort to consolidate wealth and power. We need to simultaneously address the structural and institutional racism which exists in this country while at the same time vigorously attacking the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality which is making the very rich much richer, and everyone else — especially the African-American community — much poorer. Meanwhile, too many people of color in this country find themselves subjected to a system that treats citizens who have not committed crimes like criminals. We have more people locked up in jail than any other country on earth. We need to invest in jobs and education, not jails and incarceration. Finally, no person should have to worry that a routine interaction with law enforcement will end in violence and death. Black lives matter: we must reform our criminal justice system, move away from the militarization of police forces, and invest in community policing.
College for All: The United States must join Germany and many other countries in understanding that investing in our young people’s education is investing in the future of our nation. I have introduced legislation to make tuition in public colleges and universities free, as well as substantially lowering interest rates on student loans.
War and Peace: I voted against the war in Iraq, and that was the right vote. We must be vigorous in combatting terrorism, but we can’t do it alone. We must be part of an international coalition that includes Muslim nations which not only defeats ISIS but which works hard to create conditions for lasting peace. I will vigorously oppose an endless war in the Middle East.
My approach to campaigning is pretty simple and straight-forward. We hold a lot of public meetings in towns that are big and small. People ask questions and make comments. We discuss the important issues facing our country. And that’s it. Nothing very fancy. It’s called democracy and I like that approach very much. It’s something I’ve done my whole political life.
Let us never forget: This country belongs to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires.
Senator Bernie Sanders