- Self-identified socialist
- Served in the House of Representatives from 1991 to 2007
- Founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus
- Has served in the U.S. Senate since 2007
- Believes that global warming is caused, in large measure, by human industrial activity
- Favors a single-payer, government-run healthcare system
See also: Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee National Rainbow Coalition
Congressional Progressive Caucus
Bernard “Bernie” Sanders was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 8, 1941, to Polish immigrants of Jewish descent. After attending Brooklyn College for one year, he transferred to the University of Chicago (UC) and earned a bachelor's degree in political science in 1964. At UC, Sanders joined the Young Peoples Socialist League (youth wing of the Socialist Party USA) as well as the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Peace Union. He also was an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, worked briefly for the communist-led United Packinghouse Workers Union, and participated in an American Friends Service Committee project at a California psychiatric hospital.
After college, Sanders lived briefly on an Israeli kibbutz, then moved to Vermont where he worked variously as a carpenter, filmmaker, writer, and researcher. In 1971 he joined the anti-war Liberty Union Party (LUP), on whose ticket he made unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Senate in 1972 and 1974, and for Governor of Vermont in 1976. Sanders's LUP platform called for the nationalization of all U.S. banks, public ownership of all utiliies, and the establishment of a worker-controlled federal government. According to the Guardian, a press release from his 1974 campaign stated that as a means of addressing the problem of rising energy prices, Sanders advocated “the public takeover of all privately owned electric companies in Vermont.” it stated. The Guardian noted, as a qualifier, that "[t]he press release ... is annotated and could be a draft."
Around 1976, Sanders left LUP and spent about two years as an amateur historian and film-maker, selling educational film strips to schools in New England. "His main project," says the Guardian, "was a short documentary about his hero, Eugene Debs, an early 20th-century union leader who was a six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist party."
After resigning from LUP, Sanders became a political Independent. In 1979 he was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont, by a margin of just 10 votes. He was subsequently re-elected three times and served as mayor until 1989. Sanders created some controversy when he hung a Soviet flag in his mayoral office, in honor of Burlington's Soviet sister city, Yaroslavl, located some 160 miles northeast of Moscow.
According to an Accuracy In Media report, Sanders during the 1980s "collaborated with Soviet and East German 'peace committees'" whose aim was "to stop President Reagan’s deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe.” Indeed, he “openly joined the Soviets’ 'nuclear freeze' campaign to undercut Reagan’s military build-up.”
In 1985 Sanders traveled to Managua, Nicaragua to celebrate the sixth anniversary of the rise to power of Daniel Ortega and his Marxist-Leninist Sandinista government. In a letter which he addressed to the people of Nicaragua, Sanders denounced the anti-Communist activities of the Reagan administration, which he said was under the control of corporate interests. Assuring the Nicaraguans that Americans were “fair minded people” who had more to offer “than the bombs and economic sabotage” promoted by Reagan, he declared: “In the long run, I am certain that you will win, and that your heroic revolution against the Somoza dictatorship will be maintained and strengthened.”
Following his trip to Nicaragua, Sanders penned a letter to the White House indicating that Ortega would be willing to meet with Reagan to negotiate a resolution to the conflict. The mayor also sought to enlist the help of former president Jimmy Carter, telling him that the people of Nicaragua were very fond of him. Sanders even invited Ortega to visit Burlington, though the Nicaraguan president declined.
By no means was Sanders's trip to Nicaragua his only trek to a Communist country. He also visited Fidel Castro's Cuba in the 1980s and had a friendly meeting with the mayor of Havana.
In 1986 Sanders ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Vermont, and two years later he made a failed bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
When Sanders in 1988 married his wife, Jane, the couple honeymooned in Yaroslavl, Russia. In an interview with that city's mayor, Alexander Riabkov, Sanders acknowledged that housing and health care were “significantly better” in the U.S. than in the Soviet Union, but added that “the cost of both services is much, much, higher in the United States.”
In November 1989 Sanders addressed the national conference of the U.S. Peace Council, a Communist Party USA front. The event focused on how to “end the Cold War” and “fund human needs.” Fellow speakers included such notables as Leslie Cagan, John Conyers, and Manning Marable.
Choosing not to seek re-election to a fifth term as mayor, Sanders spent 1989-90 working as a lecturer at Hamilton College in upstate New York and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
By 1990 Sanders was a leading member of Jesse Jackson's National Rainbow Coalition, and he ran successfully for Congress as a socialist, representing Vermont's single at-large congressional district. The following year, Sanders founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus along with fellow House members Tom Andrews, Peter DeFazio, Ron Dellums, Lane Evans, and Maxine Waters.
During the 1990s, Sanders participated multiple times in the Socialist Scholars Conferences that were held annually in New York City.
During each year of the Bill Clinton administration—starting in 1993, shortly after the first al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center—Sanders introduced legislation to cut the U.S. intelligence budget sight unseen. He justified this approach by noting 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 “maybe a stronger danger [than foreign terrorists] for our national security.”
Sanders was a vocal critic of the Patriot Act, the anti-terrorism bill passed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, as an assault on civil liberties.
In 2006 Sanders co-sponsored a resolution by Rep. John Conyers to impeach President Bush on grounds that he had led the United States into an illegal and immoral war in Iraq.
In November 2006 Sanders ran successfully for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Then-Senator Barack Obama, whom Sanders described as “one of the great leaders” of that legislative body, campaigned enthusiastically on Sanders's behalf. When a Washington Post reporter asked Sanders just prior to the election: “Are you now or have you ever been a Socialist?” Sanders replied, “Yeah. I wouldn’t deny it. Not for one second. I’m a democratic Socialist.”
In 2007 Senator Sanders and Rep. Maurice Hinchey together introduced the Media Ownership Reform Act, which was designed to tightly restrict the number of radio stations that any firm could own. It also sought to resurrect the so-called “Fairness Doctrine”—a measure that, if passed, would greatly diminish the influence of conservative talk radio.
Sanders has long maintained that “global warming/climate change” not only threatens “the fate of the entire planet,” but is caused chiefly by human industrial activity and must be curbed by means of legislation strictly limiting carbon emissions. In 2007 Sanders and Senator Barbara Boxer proposed the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, which, according to an MIT study, would have imposed on U.S. taxpayers a yearly financial burden of more than $4,500 per family, purportedly to check climate change. In February 2010 Sanders likened climate-change skeptics to people who had disregarded the Nazi threat prior to WWII: “During that period of Nazism and fascism's growth … there were people in this country and in the British parliament who said, 'Don't worry! Hitler's not real! It'll disappear!'” Accusing “big business” of being “willing to destroy the planet for short-term profits,” Sanders in 2013 said that “global warming is a far more serious problem than al Qaeda.” Stating unequivocally that “the scientific community is unanimous” in its belief that “the planet is warming up,” Sanders the following year declared that the “debate is over” and emphasized the importance of “transform[ing] our energy systems away from fossil fuels.”
In September 2011, Sanders was the first U.S. Senator to support the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street movement, lauding its activists for focusing a “spotlight” on the need for “real Wall Street reform.”
In March 2013, Sanders and fellow Senator Tom Harkin together introduced a bill to tax Wall Street speculators. “Both the economic crisis and the deficit crisis are a direct result of the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior on Wall Street,” said Sanders.
On April 29, 2015, Sanders announced that he was running for the Democratic Party's 2016 presidential nomination, citing economic inequality, climate change, and the Citizens United Supreme Court decision as issues of particular concern to him.
In May 2015, Sanders told CNBC interviewer John Harwood that he was in favor of dramatically raising the marginal tax rate on America's highest earners. “[When] radical socialist Dwight D. Eisenhower was president,” Sanders said sarcastically, “I think the highest marginal tax rate was something like 90 percent.” When Harwood asked whether Sanders thought that was too high, the senator replied: “No. What I think is obscene, and what frightens me is, again, when you have the top one-tenth of one percent owning almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 [percent]. Does anybody think that is the kind of economy this country should have?”
In his first public speech as a presidential candidate in Burlington, Vermont, Sanders in May 2015 broadly laid out the major planks of his campaign's agenda:
- He declared that financial inequality "is immoral, it is bad economics, it is unsustainable."
- Vowing to send "a message to the billionaire class," he said: "[Y]ou can't have huge tax breaks [for the rich] while children in this country go hungry ... while there are massive unmet needs on every corner.... Your greed has got to end.... You cannot take advantage of all the benefits of America if you refuse to accept your responsibilities."
- He pledged to enact "a tax system that is fair and progressive, which tells the wealthiest individuals and the largest corporations that they are going to begin to pay their fair share."
- Claiming that "the current federal [hourly] minimum wage of $7.25 is a starvation wage and must be raised ... to $15.00 an hour."
- He described the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) as a "modest" step in the direction of rightfully forcing the U.S. to "join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee health care to all as a right." "And we must do it through a Medicare-for-all, single payer health plan," he explained.
- He called for "pay equity for women workers," and "paid sick leave and guaranteed vacation time for every worker in this country."
- Describing the rising costs of a college education as "insane," he vowed to "fight to make tuition in public colleges and universities free, as well as substantially lower interest rates on student loans."
- He pledged to "expand Social Security benefits" and mandate "a universal pre-K system for all the children of this country."
- Asserting that "there is nothing more important" than fighting global warming, he said: "The debate is over. The scientific community has spoken in a virtually unanimous voice. Climate change is real, it is caused by human activity, and it is already causing devastating problems in our country and throughout the world." He elaborated that in the absence of government intervention, America would inevitably see "more drought, more famine, more rising sea level, more floods, more ocean acidification, [and] more extreme weather disturbances," he elaborated, in the absence of government intervention.
- He called for the government to use taxpayer dollars to rebuild America's "crumbling infrastructure" by repairing "our roads, our bridges, our water systems, our rail and airports." Sanders added he would begin this process by working to advance, in the Senate, a five-year, $1 trillion bill that he himself had proposed, claiming that it "would create and maintain 13 million good paying jobs."
Over the years, Sanders's political campaigns have received strong support from such organizations as the AFL-CIO, the American Association for Justice, the Backbone Campaign, the Council for a Livable World, the Democratic Socialists of America, and Peace Action.
Sanders is a strong supporter of the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of environmentalists and big labor that wants the federal government to take over America's energy industry.
Although Sanders is officially listed as an Independent, he caucuses with the Democrats and votes with them nearly 100% of the time. For an overview of Sanders's voting record on key issues during his career in the House and Senate, click here and here.
For additional information on Bernie Sanders, click here.