- Self-identified socialist
- Served in the House of Representatives from 1991 to 2007
- Founded the Progressive Caucus
- Vocal critic of the Patriot Act
- Was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006
- Believes that global warming is caused, in large measure, by human industrial activity
- Favors a single-payer, government run healthcare system
Bernard "Bernie" Sanders was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 8, 1941 to Polish immigrants of Jewish descent. After graduating from Brooklyn's James Madison High School in 1960, he went on to earn a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago in 1964.
After college, Sanders promptly moved to Vermont. In 1971 he joined the Liberty Union Party (LUP), which focused on anti-war issues. On the LUP ticket, Sanders made an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 1972. It was the beginning of a life devoted almost entirely to seeking elective office. He ran again for the Senate in 1974, and for Governor of Vermont in 1976.
In 1979 Sanders resigned from the LUP and became a political Independent. Two years later, he was elected Mayor of Burlington, Vermont. In 1986 he ran unsuccessfully for Governor, and in 1988 he made a failed bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In 1990 Sanders was finally elected to Congress. He would hold that seat from January 1991 until January 2007. During this time, his official spokesman was David Sirota of the Center for American Progress.
In Washington, Sanders founded the Progressive Caucus, which, from its inception, has advocated such measures as socialized medicine, radical environmentalism, steep cuts in military spending, and wholesale redistribution of wealth.
During every year of the Bill Clinton administration, Sanders introduced a bill to cut the U.S. intelligence budget sight unseen. Sanders first launched this initiative in 1993, after the first al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center. In that year, the Democrat-controlled House Intelligence Committee had voted to reduce President Clinton’s own authorization request for the intelligence agencies by 6.75%. But this was insufficient for Sanders, who introduced an amendment that required a minimum reduction in financial authorization for each individual intelligence agency of at least 10%. Sanders refused to even examine the intelligence budget he proposed to cut: "My job is not to go through the intelligence budget. I have not even looked at it." According to Sanders, the reasons for reducing the intelligence budget were that "the Soviet Union no longer exists," and that such concerns as "massive unemployment," "low wages," "homelessness," "hungry children," and "the collapse of our educational system" represented "perhaps an equally strong danger to this nation, or maybe a stronger danger for our national security."
Rep. Sanders was a vocal critic of the Patriot Act, the anti-terrorism bill passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Sanders spoke out against this legislation at the 2003 national convention of the American Library Association (ALA), an organization that was particularly critical of a Patriot Act provision authorizing the government to access the library records of suspected terrorists. Sanders and the ALA viewed this provision as a violation of civil liberties.
Sanders participated in the “Take Back America 2006” conference sponsored by the Campaign For America’s Future (CAF), an event whose goal was to help leftist political candidates win their races in that year's mid-term elections. Sanders is also a supporter of CAF’s sister organization, the Institute For America’s Future.
In 2006 Sanders co-sponsored a resolution by Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) to impeach President Bush on grounds that he had led the United States into an illegal and immoral war in Iraq.
Also in 2006, with then-Senator Barack Obama campaigning for him, Sanders won election to the U.S. Senate. He referred to Obama as “one of the great leaders of the United States Senate,” and went on to become a member of Progressives for Obama.
In 2007 Senator Sanders and Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-New York) together introduced the Media Ownership Reform Act, which was designed to tightly restrict the number of radio stations that any firm could own locally and nationally, and which sought ultimately to resurrect the so-called "Fairness Doctrine," thereby throttling the influence of conservative talk radio. In an effort to promote this bill, Sanders addressed the Free Press at its 2007 national conference.
Although Sanders is officially listed as an Independent, he caucuses with the Democrats and votes with them 98 percent of the time. He is also the only self-identified socialist in the U.S. Senate. When asked by a Washington Post reporter, “Are you now or have you ever been a Socialist?” he replied, “Yeah. I wouldn’t deny it. Not for one second. I’m a democratic Socialist.” Indeed, Sanders is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, which describes itself as “the principal U.S. affiliate of the Socialist International.” He has participated in numerous Socialist Scholars Conferences and is a strong supporter of the Apollo Alliance. He believes that America should withdraw from the World Trade Organization because it favors multinational corporations and the wealthy.
Sanders contends that "global warming/climate change" is caused chiefly by human industrial activity, and that it must be kept in check by means of legislation strictly limiting carbon emissions. According to Sanders, "the fate of the entire planet" depends on mankind's ability to prevent further warming trends. In February 2010, the Senator likened climate change skeptics to people who disregarded the Nazi threat to America just prior to World War II:
"It reminds me in some ways of the debate taking place in this country and around the world in the late 1930s. During that period of Nazism and fascism's growth — a real danger to the United States and democratic countries around the world — there were people in this country and in the British parliament who said 'don't worry! Hitler's not real! It'll disappear!"
In 2007 Sanders and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) proposed the "Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act," aimed at combating climate change. According to an MIT study, the Sanders-Boxer approach would have imposed on U.S. taxpayers a financial burden of $366 billion annually, or more than $4,500 per family.
Sanders and Boxer teamed up again in 2007 to encourage the creation of a government-controlled "green jobs" program.
In July 2009, Sanders stated that as a result of the inefficiencies in America's "disastrous" health care system, "20,000 people [are] dying every year because they don’t get to a doctor on time." He is a determined supporter of a single-payer national health-care program and holds the drug and insurance companies responsible for America's health care problems.
For an overview of Sanders' legislative voting record on major bills that were brought before House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, click here.
Among the luminaries who have given money to Sanders' political campaigns are Rob Reiner, John Zogby, Pete Seeger, Barbra Streisand, Susan Sarandon, Ossie Davis, Brent Blackwelder, Aris Anagnos, Margery Tabankin, Ed Asner’s wife Cindy, Jan Schakowsky, and the American Association for Justice. In addition, the Backbone Campaign has endorsed Sanders.