A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
As I look ahead to this coming year, a number of thoughts come to mind.
First and foremost, against an enormous amount of corporate media noise and distraction, it is imperative that we not lose sight of what is most important and the vision that we stand for. We have got to stay focused on those issues that impact the lives of tens of millions of Americans who struggle every day to keep their heads above water economically, and who worry deeply about the kind of future their kids will have.
Yes. We make no apologies in stating that the great moral, economic and political issue of our time is the growing level of income and wealth inequality in our nation. It is a disgrace to everything this country is supposed to stand for when the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, and when one family (the Waltons) owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent. No. The economy is not sustainable when the middle class continues to disappear and when 95 percent of all new income generated since the Wall Street crash goes to the top 1 percent. In order to create a vibrant economy, working families need disposable income. That is often not the case today.
Yes. We will continue the fight to have the United States join the rest of the industrialized world in understanding that health care is a human right of all people, not a privilege. We will end the current dysfunctional system in which 40 million Americans remain uninsured, and tens of millions more are underinsured. No. Private insurance companies and drug companies should not be making huge profits which result in the United States spending almost twice as much per capita on health care as any other nation with outcomes that are often not as good.
Yes. We believe that democracy means one person, one vote. It does not mean that the Koch Brothers and other billionaires should be able to buy elections through their ability to spend unlimited sums of money in campaigns. No. We will not accept Citizens United as the law of the land. We will overturn it through a constitutional amendment and move toward public funding of elections.
Yes. We will fight for a budget that ends corporate tax loopholes and demands that the wealthy and special interests begin paying their fair share of taxes. It is absurd that we are losing more than $100 billion a year in tax revenue as corporations and the wealthy stash their profits in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens It is a disgrace that hedge fund managers pay a lower effective tax rate than teachers or truck drivers. No. At a time when the middle class is disappearing and when millions of families have seen significant declines in their incomes, we will not support more austerity against the elderly, the children and working families. We will not accept cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, nutrition or affordable housing.
Yes. We believe that we must rebuild our crumbling infrastructure (roads, bridges, water systems, wastewater plants, rail, airports, older schools, etc.). At a time when real unemployment is 11.4 percent and youth unemployment is almost 18 percent, a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure would create 13 million decent paying jobs. No. We do not believe that we must maintain a bloated military budget which spends almost as much as the rest of the world combined and may lead us to perpetual warfare in the Middle East.
Yes. We believe that quality education should be available to all Americans regardless of their income. We believe that we should be hiring more teachers and pre-school educators, not firing them. No. We do not believe that it makes any sense that hundreds of thousands of bright young people are unable to afford a higher education while millions leave college and graduate school with heavy debts that will burden them for decades. In a highly competitive global economy, we must not fall further and further behind other countries in the education we provide our people.
Yes. We believe that the scientific community is right. Climate change is real, is caused by human activity and is already creating devastating problems in the United States and throughout the world. We believe that the United States can and must lead the world in transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy. No. We do not believe that it makes sense to build the Keystone pipeline or other projects which make us more dependent on oil and other fossil fuels.
Let me conclude by relaying to you a simple but important political truth. The Republican right-wing agenda — tax breaks for the rich and large corporations, unfettered free trade, cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, nutrition and virtually every other program that sustains working families and low-income people — is an agenda supported by Fox TV. It is an agenda supported by The Wall Street Journal. It is an agenda supported by Rush Limbaugh and the 95 percent of radio talk show hosts who just happen to be right-wing. It is an agenda supported by the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable and much of corporate America.
It is not an agenda supported by the American people.
By and large, poll after poll shows that the American people support a progressive agenda that addresses income and wealth inequality, that creates the millions of jobs we desperately need, that raises the minimum wage, that ends pay discrimination against women, and that makes sure all Americans can get the quality education they need.
In the year 2015 our job is to gain control over the national debate, stay focused on the issues of real importance to the American people, stand up for our principles, educate and organize. If we do that, I have absolute confidence that we can turn this country around and become the kind of vital, prosperous and fair-minded democracy that so many want.
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Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. Elected Mayor of Burlington, Vt., by 10 votes in 1981, he served four terms. Before his 1990 election as Vermont’s at-large member in Congress, Sanders lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and at Hamilton College in upstate New York.
Poll after poll shows that the American people support a progressive agenda that addresses income and wealth inequality, that creates the millions of jobs we desperately need, that raises the minimum wage, that ends pay discrimination against women, and that makes sure all Americans can get the quality education they need. Our job is to fight for that agenda.