Co-authored by Jonathan Stone
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has no illusions about what it will take for his campaign -- and the American people -- to overcome the obscene amounts of money controlling our politics and country these days. He sees the effects of this legalized bribery every day in D.C. while serving as the independent senator from Vermont, and how it is the real "invisible hand" causing every piece of meaningful legislation to be filibustered, watered-down or voted down in Congress. These are bills that are intended to help struggling Americans who are losing ground daily as their incomes recede and their standard of living declines, while all the financial gains go to the top 1 percent. People are working longer hours and are more productive yet still can't make ends meet, while the middle class is rapidly becoming little more than a distant memory. Even so, no one on either side of the aisle is even mentioning the plight of the poor in this country, who now number 45 million.
All of this has led Bernie to say, "Enough is enough," as he calls for a massive people's movement and political revolution to make drastic changes in our country and take back our democracy. We cannot have a government that only functions for the obscenely rich few while ignoring the mass of people who make up our United States. We are supposed to be a government of, by and for the people, not a government of, by and for the corporations and rich special interests. In the five-plus years since the activist conservative majority on the Supreme Court gave us Citizens United -- followed more recently by McCutcheon -- life in America has become intolerable for so many of us. With these spurious rulings came the unleashing of limitless amounts of cash to affect the outcomes of elections and outright buy public officials, who make and pass legislation that only benefits the rich. Dark, shadowy organizations and "super PACs" now rake in money by the barrel-full without being required to identify the names and sources of those donations. The Koch brothers alone have promised to ante up $889 million in the 2016 campaign.
But Bernie will not have legalized bribes thrown his way, and he can be sure he won't receive help from the DNC or other segments of the Democratic establishment, either. He will have to build an army of energized supporters who will represent the many constituencies that are excluded from the so-called "American dream." He will also have support from labor unions, which should become a large presence in Bernie's campaign and be a significant source of donations and organizers. The timing is right, and the need is enormous. Bernie was among those who were amazed when, in just the first day after announcing his entry into the race, he received $1.5 million in contributions. Within three days, he had taken in $3 million from 75,000 supporters, mainly donating under $250 each, with an average contribution of just $43. Another 175,000 also signed on in support of his campaign as volunteers. In that first day, he surpassed Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in fundraising -- astonishing. Now he must sustain this kind of support over the next year and a half.
Bernie understands what it will take to win, and make no mistake: This white-haired senator with 30 years in American politics knows what is at stake. He is in it to win it. For a year he weighed all the pros and cons of entering the race as he traveled the country and spoke to "everyday folks," hearing of their worries and concerns. All along the way, Progressive Democrats of America was there chanting, "Run, Bernie, run -- as a Democrat." They also offered him their assistance and support, and their success in helping bring about the final decision to run by Bernie cannot be discounted. They should take great pride in this achievement. Over 20,000 petitions for Bernie to run as a Democrat were sent to the senator, and they have already set up a new website, pdafund.com, which is all about Bernie. PDA has 102 chapters in 22 states -- with more chapters on the way -- and they will continue throughout the campaign to work the room and set up events, rallies and parties to build support. They are 100,000 strong, with very committed members and an exceptional leadership team led by Conor Boylan and Andrea Miller, matched by an equally remarkable and dedicated staff. PDA now has point people in every state, and Bernie will be able to count on them as the campaign moves on to the "Win, Bernie win" stage. Hopefully, those progressive organizations that have been pushing Elizabeth Warren to run will give up that quest and come aboard the Sanders campaign and send those donations intended to spur a potential Warren run to Bernie instead.
More good news is that Howard Dean and his Democracy for America is seeking 25,000 volunteers to work on his revitalized 50-state "Purple to Blue" strategy, which was so highly effective in electing real Democrats to all levels of public office in past campaigns. Unfortunately, that weasel Rahm Emanuel dismantled that program when he became head of the DCCC, instead opting to support tepid "Blue Dogs" in the next few elections, when huge numbers of Democratic seats were lost and the extreme right-wing takeover of the House took place -- followed in 2015 by their takeover of the Senate.
So what is Bernie's platform? In one week he has already released a point-by-point agenda, which no GOPer -- or Hillary -- has done. She has been mildly nibbling around some leading issues, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade bill, immigration, the cost of higher education, and marriage equality, all the while soliciting big-bucks donations from corporations and PACs. How can Hillary talk about the TPP when her hubby gave us NAFTA, the parent of this even-worse trade bill? Meanwhile, she and Bill are both claiming there was no "quid pro quo" in money donated to the Clinton Foundation, not to mention the money both have been receiving from Wall Street for their high-priced speeches. Their position appears to jibe nicely with Citizens United when it comes to the difficulties in proving an actual quid pro quo, which was also Chief Justice John Roberts' position in the McCutcheon case.
Bernie's platform is a progressive platform that he will run on throughout his campaign. Here it is, in his own words, from the first email of his campaign to supporters last week:
Income and wealth inequality: In the U.S. today we have the most unequal wealth distribution of any major country on Earth -- and worse than at any time since the 1920's. This is an economy that must change in fundamental ways.
Jobs and Income: In my view, we need a massive federal jobs program that would put millions of our people back to work. [Bernie has already proposed a jobs and infrastructure rebuilding program that would create 13 million jobs at a cost of $1.1 trillion -- PK.] We must also end our destructive trade policies, we need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, and we have to fight for pay equality for women.
Campaign Finance Reform: As a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, American democracy is being undermined by the Koch brothers and other billionaire families. These wealthy contributors can literally buy politicians and elections by spending hundreds of millions of dollars in support of the candidates of their choice. We must overturn Citizens United and move toward public funding of campaigns so that all candidates can run for office without being beholden to the wealthy and powerful.
Climate Change: Climate change is created by human activity and already devastating our nation and planet. The United States must lead the world in combating climate and transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel and towards energy efficiency and sustainability.
College Affordability: Every person in this country who has the desire and ability should be able to get all of the education they need, regardless of the income of their family. This is not a radical idea -- in Germany, Scandinavia and many other countries higher education is either free or very inexpensive, and we must do the same.
Healthcare: Shamefully, the United States remains the only major country on Earth that does not guarantee healthcare for all people. The United States must move towards a Medicare-For-All, single-payer system. Healthcare is a right and not a privilege.
Poverty: The U.S. has more people living in poverty than at almost any time in modern history of our country. That number is 45,000,000, with an unemployment rate of 11 percent, not the 5.4 percent now reported. [In some minority communities that number is 26 percent, and on Indian reservations in South Dakota, that number is 80 percent, with average lifespan of just under 59 years of age, according to the Native American Heritage Association -- PK.] I believe that in a democratic, civilized society, none of our people should be hungry or live in desperation. We need to expand Social Security, not cut it. We need to increase funding for nutrition programs, not cut them.
Tax reform: We need real tax reform, which makes the rich and profitable corporations begin to pay their fair share of taxes. We need a tax system which is fair and progressive. Children should not go hungry in this country while profitable corporations and the wealthy avoid their tax responsibilities by stashing their money in the Cayman Islands.
And these are just some of the issues that we will be dealing with. Despair is not an option.
Bernie ended his email with a solicitation of your ideas and concerns in your communities: "We need your thoughts on how to mount a successful campaign" -- a pretty novel concept from a politician. He has also just come out with a bold new proposal to "break up" the banks, asking for regular folks to sign on as citizen co-sponsors of this courageous bill. This is clearly the people's campaign, with the concerns of every constituency being addressed.
So can Bernie prevail and win and become our next president? It is up to us, after all. Will Hillary make her campaign as progressive and all-inclusive as Bernie's? As for the right-wing candidates like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz -- or even Jeb Bush -- we can only expect more slash-and-burn economics and austerity, with an ever-shrinking government, weaker regulations and under-funded and gutted safety net programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps. And let us not forget what may be the most important issue of all: The next president will likely nominate up to four Supreme Court justices, an unprecedented number that could either finally bring some sanity back to that esteemed institution or turn our country into a Dickensian nightmare from which we may never wake.
Are those big enough stakes for you to get involved?