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Bernie Sanders Could Change Political Discussion

05/07/2015 09:27 am ET | Updated May 06, 2016

I first saw Bernie Sanders in 2010 speaking outside of Congress on the sidewalk on a windy day while I was in D.C. lobbying for financial reform. The wind made his hair look even crazier than it does normally and he didn't seem to care.

I don't remember exactly what Sanders said that day, but I remember how he said it and I also remember thinking that the guy was off his nut. He didn't speak or carry himself like other members of Congress. He wasn't polished, polite and careful. He slammed the banks, Wall Street, and everything connected to the financial melt-down that had occurred the previous year. While a majority of politicians were all too happy to blame homeowners for buying too much house, Sanders was trash talking bankers. He hasn't stopped. He has continued to speak against banks and Wall Street, defend the middle-class and workers, and fight for the little guy. So, when he announced his bid for the presidency I, like a lot of people, took notice.

Sanders stands for everything the GOP is against: People.

Sure, right-wingers will call him a socialist, make fun of his Doc Brown hair, and his Brooklyn accent that slips out here and there. They'll bring all that up because they have nothing else. No Benghazi, no private email server, no BridgeGate, no drinking problem, no intern problem, no private jets or Rolex watches -- nothing scandalous or weird. The only thing they have is that he's been registered as an Independent since 1979 and refers to himself as a "Democratic Socialist." And because most people in this country lump "Socialist" in with Marxism, Communism, Fascism, Nazis, ISIS and Ebola, that may hurt him. Sorry, but if you're getting or paying for social security, receiving a pension, on Medicare, in the military, ever received unemployment, or were educated in a public school, you've experienced socialism. FDR brought us most of that and he was an admitted Socialist and Republicans hated him and his New Deal too.

As Sanders puts it when asked what he means by "Democratic Socialist," he responds:

I think the government has got to play a very important role in making sure that as a right of citizenship all of our people have health care; that as a right, all of our kids, regardless of income, have quality childcare, are able to go to college without going deeply into debt; that it means we do not allow large corporations and moneyed interests to destroy our environment; that we create a government in which it is not dominated by big money interest. I mean, to me, it means democracy, frankly. That's all it means.

Many of the views Sanders holds are ones that a majority of Americans could get behind, even republicans who continue to vote against their own best interests in every election.

Sanders is outspoken on income inequality. While the GOP is cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans and refusing to raise the minimum wage, Sanders is arguing on FOX that, "Millions of people are working longer hours for lower wages despite a huge increase in technology and productivity. And what we have seen during that period is a massive transfer of trillions of dollars from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1 percent of America -- massive wealth and income inequality, where you have 99 percent of all new income today going to the top 1 percent." The average income for the richest one percent rose from $871,100 in 2009 to $968,000 in 2012 while the rest of us saw a drop in average incomes from $44,000 to $43,900.

The GOP, particularly the Ryan budget wants to cut taxes for corporations. Giving bigger subsidies and tax breaks to corporations raking in billions in profits. Unlike the GOP's idea of tax reform, Sanders wants to impose higher taxes on corporations and ease the burden of the middle class -- not the other way around. "In 1952, the corporate income tax accounted for 33 percent of all federal tax revenue. Today, despite record-breaking profits, corporate taxes bring in less than 9 percent. It's time for real tax reform," Sanders said in 2012, while running for office.

Sanders is a staunch supporter of our troops, both during and after active duty. He is chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, a champion of those who fought in wars he battled to prevent. Fighting to provide them with needed medical attention and health care. The GOP, for their part love to say how much they support the troops, but somehow still manage to stick it the troops time and time again:

Representative Charles Dent (R-PA) sure can wave a flag and a SUPPORT THE TROOPS bumper sticker. When it comes to giving an actual damn about the actual troops, however, he drafted H.R. 2029. The bill, which passed in the House 237-180 with 15 outstanding votes, "scales back" veterans benefits for 70,000 troops. 70,000 American veterans, those who served our country, would see reductions in health benefits, and funding for medical research, education and veterans cemeteries gutted.

What does this mean? It means our veterans will lose health care coverage. It means that fewer VA hospitals and clinics will be built, and those in operation will lose funds for renovations (meaning another Walter Reed scandal is inevitable). It means that veterans' cemeteries will become overgrown and crumbling.

While the GOP is busy holding up snowballs to disprove climate change, Sanders is an outspoken "Climate Hawk."

The GOP is beholden to the billionaire private donors, like the Koch brothers who are pouring nearly $900 million into the election, Sanders gets most of his money from Unions and working people. Here are ten:

  • Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union -95,000
  • Teamsters Union -83,700
  • United Auto Workers -75,400
  • National Education Association -69,850
  • Communications Workers of America -65,607
  • United Food & Commercial Workers Union -65,500
  • Laborers Union -63,250
  • Carpenters & Joiners Union -61,500
  • American Association for Justice  -60,500
  • American Federation of State/County/Municipal Employees -59,198

The day after announcing his run for president, Sanders' campaign raised $1.5 million from private donors averaging about what a dinner for two at Applebee's would cost. That means that in the first 24 hours of his campaign he raised more money than Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz did during their first day in the race.

According to the Washington Post:

The donations came from a broad base of supporters -- some 35,000 donors who gave an average of $43.54 a piece, according to the Sanders campaign. The campaign also said it signed up more than 100,000 supporters through its website, building what it calls a "mass movement."

Clinton has not released any details about her fund raising totals, online or otherwise. But the Sanders haul outpaces the three major Republican candidates who already have announced. In the first 24 hours since launching their campaigns, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) raised $1.25 million and Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) raised about $1 million each, according to their campaigns.

Many of the pundits, even some on the left, are saying that Sanders doesn't stand a chance. Maybe that's true. Maybe he can't compete against the massive money and worse, against the Clinton and Bush dynasties who seem, at least to them, to be entitled to the office of president. But Sanders can and will expand the political dialogue in this election. Barring any major mainstream media interference or attempts at shutting him out of debates, there will be real discussion about real issues, because Sanders will, as he always has, yell and prod and poke until he gets an answer. Maybe through those very discussions we'll see some of the best solutions to our biggest issues appear.

Sanders is calling for a political revolution. "We need a political revolution in this country involving millions of people who are prepared to stand up and say enough is enough, and I want to lead that," he told ABC. Republicans and maybe some Democrats will resist. They'll scream about "class warfare" and "Socialism." Let them. Who cares? Some of the best things in the country, including the middle class, are the result of socialism and revolutions.

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