Populist Bernie Sanders Is Running As A Democrat, Challenging Hillary Clinton

Election '16

Bernie is about to make it official. He told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he will seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2016.

“I am running for president," he said. "People should not underestimate me... I’ve run outside of the two-party system, defeating Democrats and Republicans, taking on big-money candidates and, you know, I think the message that has resonated in Vermont is a message that can resonate all over this country.”

Sanders will make a formal announcement on Thursday, making him the first official challenger for the 2016 Democratic nomination to former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who announced her candidacy on April 12.

Sanders, who describes himself as a “democratic socialist,” has been hinting that he would seek the White House for nearly as long as Clinton. Although he made his reputation in Vermont as a gruff politician who prided himself on not being a member of either the Democratic and Republican Party, he has caucused with Democrats since his election to the House in 1990. He has won the support of party leaders, especially since his election to the Senate and has chaired the Veterans Affairs Committee.

Sanders has said that he likes and respects Hillary Clinton, who, after all, served as a U.S. Senator from a neighboring state. But, as he has said many times before and told the Huffington Post last year, “I’ve known her. I like her. So I’m not running to attack Hillary Clinton. I’m running to talk about the issues that impact the working class of this country and the middle class.”

The fact that Sanders is running as a Democrat is very significant. Sanders has long criticized the Democratic Party, saying that it unfortunately relies too much on corporate interests and doesn’t side with average Americans as  Franklin Delano Roosevelt's party did—which would distinguish it from the Republicans. As he debated the pros and cons of running as a third-party candidate, as Ralph Nader did in 2000, he concluded that he would be taken more seriously by seeking the Democratic nomination.

That’s not a surprise, actually, given that for years Sanders has spoken like a populist Democrat rooted in the party’s progressive era. His entrance into the race may have been stalled by efforts by groups like MoveOn.org and the Vermont-based Democracy for America to recruit Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren to challenge Clinton. But with Warren repeatedly saying that she will not run, Sanders apparently is hoping that progressives across the country will rally behind his campaign.

Already, he has visited a handful of early primary states and has been well-received for his bold messages about uplifting the working- and middle-class, which stand in contrast to Clinton’s more measured economic remarks.

“There’s so much to be discussed,” Sanders told MSNBC's Ed Schultz last year.  “We’re not in this country about anointing anybody for a nomination.”

No Mincing Words

In an interview for the October 2013 issue of Playboy magazine, Jonathan Tasisi, a progressive who challenged and lost to Hillary Clinton in 2006 for the U.S. Senate, interviewed Sanders at length. On Wednesday, he posted excerpts on his blog that were not published. Here are some excerpts that give a flavor of what we can expect to hear and will hear more of from Sanders.

• Clinton Foundation Cash. “Well, (Bill) Clinton was and is a very smart guy, but he is the guy who signed NAFTA. I like Bill Clinton, I like Hillary Clinton, but they live in a world surrounded by a lot of money. It’s not an accident that Clinton is doing a fantastic job with his foundation. Where do you think that money is coming from? The point being that Clinton was a moderate Democrat who was heavily influenced by Wall Street and big-money interests, and Obama is governing in that same way.”

• Class Warfare. “We are in the midst of intense class warfare, where the wealthiest people and the largest corporations are at war with the middle class and working families of this country, and it is obvious the big-money interests are winning that war.”

• Buying The Election. “When we were growing up and read about oligarchic countries in Latin America and elsewhere, did you ever think that in the United States one percent would own 38 percent of the wealth and the bottom 60 percent only 2.3 percent?”

• Hawks Won’t Like Him. “We should do everything we can to avoid a hugely expensive cold war with China similar to what we had with the Soviet Union. We should also do our best, in a respectful way, to support those elements in China fighting for a democratic society.”

• Rebuild America First. “If you want to talk about nation building, I know a great nation that needs to be rebuilt. It’s called the United States of America. I would rather invest in this country than in Iraq or Afghanistan. Our roads and bridges and railroads and water systems and schools need rebuilding. We have been at war now for more than a decade. Our troops have done a tremendous job, but it is time for the people of Afghanistan to take full responsibility for their country and for waging the war against the Taliban. And in Iraq, I think it’s clear that nation building didn’t work very well.”

• Civil Liberties Matter. “The way the drone program has been handled is a major reason I voted against the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA. Of course we must defend ourselves against terrorism, but I am not convinced Brennan is adequately sensitive to the important balancing act required to make protecting our civil liberties an integral part of ensuring our national security. Drone attacks that kill innocent people are immoral and create an enormous amount of anti-Americanism.”

• Populist Economics. “People have lost sight of America as a society where everyone has at least a minimal standard of living and is entitled to certain basic rights, a nation in which every child has a good-quality education, has access to health care and lives in an environmentally clean community, not as an opportunity for billionaires to make even more money and avoid taxes by stashing their money in the Cayman Islands. Can you argue that the era of unfettered capitalism should be over? Absolutely.

“Does this system of hypercapitalism, this incredibly unequal distribution of wealth and income, need fundamental reform? Absolutely it does. You have the entire scientific community saying we have to be very aggressive in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Yet you’re seeing the heads of coal companies and oil companies willing to sacrifice the well-being of the entire planet for their short-term profits. And these folks are funding phony organizations to try to create doubt about the reality of global warming.”

(Editor’s note: Sanders, who is not exactly shy, said many much more about a range of issues, which can be read on Jonathan Tasini’s blog.)

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