News & Politics

10 Crucial Issues Most Politicians—Except Bernie Sanders—Lie About

From too-big-to-fail to TPP, Sanders' entry into the race is sure to elevate the conversation.

Bernie Sanders had a lot to say this week, when he officially launched his presidential campaign with a large rally in Burlington, Vermont. The 73-year-old Sanders, who was elected to the United States Senate as an independent but is running for president in the Democratic primary, described income inequality as “the great moral issue of our time” and called for a single-payer healthcare system, major infrastructure projects and legislation that would break up the U.S.’ largest banks. As president, Sanders told his supporters, he would only nominate Supreme Court justices who were in favor of overturning the 2010 Citizens United ruling. If the rally in Burlington is any indication, Hillary Clinton may very well have the type of aggressive Democratic primary challenger that economist Robert Reich and others have been hoping for.

During a March appearance on Larry King’s Politicking on RT, Reich (who served as secretary of labor in the Bill Clinton Administration) stressed that Hillary Clinton would be a much stronger candidate in 2016 if she experienced a forceful challenge in the Democratic presidential primary rather than simply receiving a coronation from her party. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren could have been such a challenger, but as Reich noted, Warren has expressed no interest in running for president in 2016. Regardless of what happens in the horserace, Sanders’ decision to run is a positive development because he will no doubt have much to say about the economic problems we face. And the Brooklyn native (who spent 16 years in the House of Representatives before being elected to the Senate in 2006) has emphasized that while he likes Clinton personally, he won’t hesitate to debate her aggressively on economic issues; in fact, he is already demanding to know where she stands on the Trans Pacific Partnership. And the longer Sanders is able to stay in the race, the better off the primary will be. 

Here are 10 important issues Bernie Sanders is likely to address in the Democratic presidential primary.

1. Too Big to Fail

As we all know, Wall Street lobbyists yield considerable power on Capitol Hill, and many members of Congress (both Democrats and Republicans) are afraid to challenge them in a meaningful way. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is an obvious exception. So is Sanders, who on May 6, unveiled a New Deal-ish bill (with the endorsement of California Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat) that would break up the U.S.’ largest banks—including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley within a year. Sanders emphasized that those megabanks have grown even larger than they were during the Panic of 2008, warning: “If any of these financial institutions were to fail again, the taxpayers of this country would be on the hook for another bailout—perhaps even larger than the last one.” Obviously, such a proposal is going to encounter strong opposition from both far-right Republicans (who now dominate both houses of Congress) and neoliberal Democrats, but the fact that a presidential candidate who is running as a Democrat is so vocal about the need to break up too-big-to-fail banks is a plus.

2. Healthcare Reform

Sanders has been a supporter of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, a.k.a. Obamacare, which he describes as “modest gains” for healthcare reform. But he has been quick to stress that the ACA does not go far enough and that millions of Americans still lack health insurance. Ultimately, Sanders would like to see the U.S. establish a nationwide, government-operated single-payer system like Sweden, Italy, Spain and other European countries have. And even though most pro-Obamacare Democrats do not share that position—including Hillary Clinton—the fact that Sanders is so outspoken on the subject of healthcare reform can only benefit the Democratic presidential primary. If Democrats are going to oppose a single-payer system and argue in favor of universal healthcare via the private sector and an insurance mandate (which is what Germany and Switzerland have), they need to be specific about the ways in which Obamacare can be expanded and improved. And Sanders is likely to encourage that discussion.

3. The Trans Pacific Partnership

Sanders does not mince words when it comes to the Trans Pacific Partnership, a 12-country trade agreement opponents have described as “NAFTA on steroids.” In an April commentary for the Guardian, Sanders denounced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) as “abysmal failures” that have encouraged “corporations to shut down operations in the U.S. and move work to low-wage countries.” TPP, he wrote, would only accelerate this “race to the bottom.” Sanders has posed the following question to Clinton and any other Democrats who enter the presidential race: “Are you on the side of working people who would suffer as a result of this disastrous trade agreement and seeing their jobs go to China or Mexico, or are you on the side of corporate America?”

4. Growing Income Inequality 

Although Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist, he is one of the best friends free-market capitalism has in the U.S. Senate. That is because he realizes that the more the American middle-class erodes, the less spending power it has. Growing income inequality has been one of Sanders’ top issues: as he recently Mother Jones, “There was a time in the ‘60s or ‘70s when the rich wanted to get richer, but they kind of understood that it wasn’t the worst thing in the world that their employees had a union. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world that people had Medicare or Medicaid and that college tuition was often very low. But in the last 35 or 40 years, there has been an increasingly aggressive effort on the part of the top 1% to take it all.” The harder Sanders pushes other Democratic presidential hopefuls on the issue of income inequality, the better.

5. Raising the Minimum Wage

When incomes fall while the cost of living continues to go through the roof, it is a painful combination. Unfortunately, the federal minimum wage has not kept up with the cost of living. President Barack Obama favors raising it from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, although Robert Reich and Sen. Elizabeth Warren propose raising it to $15 per hour—which is now the local minimum wage in Seattle and which Sanders has said would be "reasonable" at the federal level. Sanders is likely to be quite vocal on this issue in the Democratic primary debates, wanting to know exactly how high candidates believe the national minimum wage should be.

6. The Makeup of the Supreme Court

Ironically, the most liberal U.S. Supreme Court of the 20th century had a Republican chief justice: Eisenhower appointee Earl Warren. But the Supreme Court has moved way to the right since the 1950s and '60s, and as the 2010 ruling in Citizens United demonstrates, a right-leaning High Court is quite capable of making terrible decisions that promote unchecked corporate power. One way in which Sanders is likely to have a positive impact is wanting to know exactly what Clinton and other Democratic candidates would look for in a Supreme Court nominee. Sanders has stressed that a willingness to overturn Citizens United should be a litmus test for any nominee. 

7. Crippling Student Loan Debt and the High Cost of College Tuition

There was a time in U.S. history when a college degree practically guaranteed that an American would be part of the middle class, but not anymore—and these days, many college graduates find themselves battling depressing job prospects and heavy student loan debt. Sanders’ solution: making public colleges and universities tuition-free for students who maintain a certain grade-point average and paying for it by taxing high-volume stock trades. Even if other Democratic presidential candidates are nervous about that idea (which the powerful Wall Street lobby would oppose), Sanders’ very presence in the primary might encourage a conversation about how out-of-control the cost of college has become in the U.S.

8. Protecting Social Security and Medicare

Far-right groups like the Club for Growth have been quite vocal about their desire to see Social Security and Medicare privatized. The Democratic Party needs politicians who are unwavering when it comes to protecting these programs, not neoliberal corporatists who will join Republicans in letting Wall Street plunder them. Sanders has made no bones about his belief that the U.S. “should be expanding these programs.” If the issue comes up in the Democratic presidential primary debates—which it likely will—Sanders will no doubt have much to say.

9. Reforming U.S. Drug Laws 

Sanders supports medical marijuana use, but is skeptical of the idea of legalizing hard drugs. But he has nevertheless long considered the war on drugs to be a colossal failure and believes the U.S. incarcerates way too many people for nonviolent drug offenses. Meanwhile, Clinton has, in recent interviews, said she finds it troubling that the U.S. now leads the world in mass incarceration. But as journalist Jeff Stein noted in a recent Salon article, President Bill Clinton did not roll back the war on drugs in the 1990s—he expanded it. “And he did it with his wife’s support,” Stein noted. Certainly, reforming U.S. drug policy needs to be a prominent issue in the 2016 race, and Sanders has no problem speaking out against the evils of the prison-industrial complex.

10. Rebuilding the U.S.’ Decaying Infrastructure 

As the U.S. has decayed economically, so has its infrastructure. Sanders has been specific about the areas in which he believes improvements need to be made: bridges, roads, rail lines, the electric grid, ports and inland waterways. Sanders, in January, introduced a bill that called for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending over the course of five years. Naturally, Tea Party Republicans are going to oppose serious infrastructure investments, but the Democratic primary will be an excellent place for Sanders to encourage Democrats to address the troubling problems the U.S.’ infrastructure is facing.


Alex Henderson's work has appeared in the L.A. Weekly, Billboard, Spin, Creem, the Pasadena Weekly and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.

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