While recently flipping through our stacks of back issues of Metro Times, we did a double take when we came across a headline: "MR. SANDERS GOES TO WASHINGTON." Next to it, there was a photo of Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, recognizable with his signature mop of white, disheveled hair — but about 30 years younger.
The article was an AlterNet wire story published Dec. 12, 1990. At the time, Sanders had won the race for Vermont's House of Representatives seat as a socialist running as an independent — the first time a socialist had been elected to Congress in more than 40 years. The article's subheadline: "Tax the rich! Slash the Pentagon's budget! Socialism isn't a dirty word!"
Flash-forward to today, and much has changed, at least for Sanders. He's now, as of press time on Monday, the Democratic frontrunner in the 2020 presidential election, and was polling well in crucial states heading into Super Tuesday. Yet many of the injustices that Sanders has long railed against — the growing chasm between the rich and poor, the hollowing out of the middle class, out-of-control military spending — remain. This is why he gets our vote in Michigan's primary on Tuesday, March 10.
Frustration with the status quo has been a central theme of electoral politics for the past few years. People were so fed up with the system that was leaving them behind that enough of them decided to shake things up by electing a political outsider like Donald Trump for president in 2016. This frustration has shaken up things on the left, too, with a crowded field of candidates now vying for the presidency. After waging a monumental campaign in 2016, Sanders moved the entire Democratic party to the left. But in our view, none of the candidates are sufficiently progressive, and none sufficiently address the underlying issues that brought us Trump — except for Sanders.
Sanders has long sensed the discontent with the system. "We did better than our wildest expectations," he told AlterNet following his 1990 Congressional victory, which saw him defeat his opponent by a margin of 56% to 39% after narrowly losing two years earlier. "Clearly people are angry, frustrated with a Congress far more interested in representing Big Money than people."
This discontent has only gotten worse in the last few decades. Let's start with income inequality: According to the Pew Research Center, the wealth gap between America's richest and poorer families more than doubled from 1989 to 2016, and the richest families were the only group whose wealth increased in the years after the start of the Great Recession. In contrast, the median net worth of families in lower tiers decreased by at least 20%, while families in the second-lowest fifth experienced a 39% loss. In 2018, households in the top fifth of earners (with incomes of $130,000 or more) brought in 52% of all U.S. income — more than the lower four-fifths combined. In fact, income inequality in the U.S. is the highest of all the G7 nations.
Regarding the Pentagon, Sanders has long argued against needless, endless wars, voting against the resolutions authorizing the use of force against Iraq in 1991 and 2002, and opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In a 2019 op-ed for The Washington Post, Sanders criticized Trump's call for another massive increase in the military budget, writing, "When I talk about changing national priorities, I'm talking about the fact that the $120 billion increase in Pentagon spending — compared with the final year of the Obama administration — could have made every public college, university, trade school and apprenticeship program in the United States tuition free, eliminated homelessness and provided universal school meals to every kid in our nation's public schools."
A week before The Washington Post published Sanders' op-ed, it published the Afghanistan Papers, a previously secret trove of interviews with top military and government officials that detailed waste, abuse, questionable judgment, and repeated lies to the public that everything was hunky-dory during the 17-year-long conflict that has cost $1 trillion, killed more than 2,300 U.S. servicemen and women and injured more than 20,000, and resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians. In 2017, Michigan State University economics professor Mark Skidmore found that the Pentagon's budget, which receives half of all federal appropriations, is essentially a black hole, identifying a stunning $21 trillion in transactions that could not be accounted for. (In response to backlash, the government hired an outside firm to investigate. After a lengthy audit, they gave up.)
Sanders fights for normal, everyday Americans because he's not beholden to the billionaire class. As he did in his campaign for Congress nearly three decades ago, Sanders has mastered the small-donation, grassroots approach to fundraising, collecting more than $167 million for his 2020 campaign to date — and without holding a single high-dollar fundraising event. His average donation is about $19, coming from an estimated 1.9 million people — far more than any other candidate in the Democratic primary race. (Meanwhile, entities connected to Trump's campaign have $225 million cash on hand.)
Sanders' 2020 platform calls for making the rich pay their fair share in taxes, which, as a result of Trump's tax plan, pay a lower tax rate than the bottom 90 percent of Americans — and corporations like Amazon, General Motors, and FedEx pay $0 in federal income tax. Sanders also calls for imposing an estate tax on multimillionaire and billionaire inheritances, eliminating offshore tax scams, and closing other tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy. His platform also calls for single-payer health care, a $15-per-hour minimum wage, a Green New Deal to combat the climate crisis by transforming our system to renewable energy, closing concentration camps at the Southern border, lifting the Muslim travel ban, and — one of our favorites — legalizing marijuana on the federal level, which has been used as a premise to lock up Black and brown people in America's racist War on Drugs. Sanders' centrist opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, on the other hand, does not support legalization and has repeated the debunked theory that marijuana is a gateway drug, while billionaire "Democrat" Mike Bloomberg also does not support legalization.
Sanders' populist message resonated with Michigan voters in the 2016 primary, when he defeated Hillary Clinton in a stunning upset, earning 595,222 votes to Clinton's 576,795. He also eclipsed Trump in Michigan, who earned only 483,751 votes in the Republican primary.
Yet the mainstream media insists Sanders is unelectable. A recent headline by conservative writer Jonathan Chait in New York magazine proclaims that "Running Bernie Sanders Against Trump Would Be an Act of Insanity." In The Atlantic, David Frum was even more blunt, writing, "Bernie Can't Win." Most recently, New York Times conservative opinion columnist David Brooks wrote, "No, Not Bernie, Not Ever." MSNBC's Chris Matthews even comapred Sanders' Nevada win to — we shit you not — the Nazi invasion of France, saying, "It's over." (Matthews later apologized for the tone-deaf comparison.)
Kyle Pope, editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, recently wrote that Sanders was similar to Trump only in the way that the mainstream media could not seem to wrap its collective mind around his appeal. "It is now obvious that we as an industry have learned nothing from the fundamental failures that led to the election of 2016," he wrote, adding that the establishment press "is embarrassing itself in the process. ... It is the same sneering, dismissive approach to coverage that we saw applied to Trump in 2016." (Vanity Fair reported that in response to complaints from the Sanders camp, MSNBC is trying to atone by seeking out "more smart, pro-Sanders voices from people who can make our coverage more insightful.")
Much of the talking-head scaremongering about Sanders paints him as an un-American commie, homing in on positive comments he previously made about authoritarian regimes in the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Nicaragua. They rarely use Sanders' full past quotes or offer additional context; Sanders was simply praising their health care and education programs. "I have opposed authoritarianism all over the world," Sanders said when asked about his comments in a February debate. "Authoritarianism of any stripe is bad. But that is different than saying that governments occasionally do things that are good."
“The difference between my socialism and Trump’s socialism is I believe the government should help working families — notbillionaires.” —Bernie Sanders
Which brings us to that dreaded "S-word." When asked about his chosen label as a "democratic socialist" at the debate in Las Vegas last month, Sanders explained that in many ways, we already are a socialist society. "Problem is, as Dr. Martin Luther King reminded us, we have socialism for the very rich [and] rugged individualism for the poor," he said.
It was a point that Sanders expounded upon on Fox News last month. "Donald Trump — before he was president — as a private businessperson, he received $800 million in tax breaks and subsidies to build luxury housing in New York," Sanders said. "Now what does that mean when the government gives you $800 million in tax breaks and subsidies? The fossil fuel industry, whose product happens to be destroying our planet right now, receives tens of tens of billions of tax breaks and subsidies. So does the pharmaceutical industry. The difference between my socialism and Trump's socialism is I believe the government should help working families — not billionaires."
And anyway, it seems that the younger generations don't have the same aversion to socialism as the older ones. A recent Harris Poll found that millennials and Gen Z have "a more positive view of the word 'socialism' than previous generations," with 61 percent of Americans aged between 18 and 24 reporting they have a "positive reaction" to the word. It should probably come as no surprise that the generations that have been saddled with massive amounts of debt for college tuition — which is now more expensive than it's ever been — are more open-minded about programs like tuition-free college and universal health care. In Nevada, members of the state's largest union voted for Sanders, despite their leaders urging them not to because they fought hard for their own health care. Some workers told BuzzFeed News they support Sanders' Medicare for All because they have friends and relatives who don't have union health care.
Looking back on 40 years of MT
As we count down to our 40th anniversary in October, we've been revisiting our archives to highlight Metro Times stories that resonate in 2020.
There's another thing Sanders has on his side: math. Sanders has led Trump in nearly every poll, and outperforms most other candidates in the Rust Belt "Blue Wall," which includes Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, that sent Trump to the White House. He has a higher favorability rating among Democratic voters than any other candidate, and also polls well among independents. And his primary wins show he can build a broad coalition of voters: Despite the media's dismissal of his supporters as white, male "Bernie Bros," Sanders polls well among Black voters, Latinos, and women.
Sanders is the leader of a movement on the left against complacency. In 1981, he successfully challenged an incumbent Democrat to become Mayor of Burlington, winning by a mere 10 votes and going on to win re-election three times. Other recent political success stories echo Sanders'. In 2018, in New York's 14th congressional district, self-described democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated a 10-term Democratic incumbent in what was widely viewed as the biggest upset victory in the midterm election primaries. Ocasio-Cortez has since endorsed Sanders, as have other progressives like Michigan's U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, former gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed, and state Reps. Yousef Rabhi of Ann Arbor, Isaac Robinson of Detroit, and Abdullah Hammoud of Dearborn.
Of course, we will support whichever candidate the Democratic Party nominates in order to defeat Trump in November, who we do not believe is making America great again. But we also know that Trump is merely a symptom — not the problem. This isn't merely about winning — it's about taking on a system that has left so many people behind. Bernie Sanders understands this, and has long understood this, which is why he gets our vote on Tuesday.
—Lee DeVito, Biba Adams, Jerilyn Jordan, Sonia Khaleel, and Steve Neavling
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