The one thing you have to love about Bernie Sanders: He’s got no caucus or party to please, so he’s not afraid to call it like he sees it. In this age of rampant partisanship, when toeing the party line trumps doing what’s right, it is refreshing to hear from a person who legitimately thinks for himself. Now, we’ll grant, Tea Party “independents” say much the same thing about their klan of konservative krusaders. In reality, though, nevermind Sarah’s “Lone Wolf” spiel — her group is about as “independent” from corporate dollar-washing as a group of remoras are from a shark.
Salon.com reporter Thomas Frank recently had a sit-down with the real Lone Wolfman of Vermont for a little chat about the death of America’s middle-class in the jaws of Palin’s corporate sharks, and other parasites who cling to the billionaire underbelly. And yes, that includes Democrats. From the Salon interview:
Concern over Income Inequality.
We have a very conservative Senate and House. Congress is dominated by large campaign contributors who exercise enormous influence. I think, the people here [in Washington] have almost developed an instinct not to attack the people who put money into their coffers. Obviously the Republicans are beholden to these guys. But too many Democrats are nervous about talking about issues including income and wealth inequality.
But in fact, the American people absolutely want to hear about it. I talk about it all the time. I give a lot of speeches and large crowds come out. People are very, very concerned about the overall impact of income and wealth inequality in terms of morality, in terms of economics, in terms of—with Citizens United—what it means to our political system.
The Koch brothers are not tucking their money under the mattress. They’re spending it very significantly trying to buy elections so that candidates representing the wealthy are going to get elected. So it is a huge issue, which people are keenly concerned about. But you have a Congress significantly dependent on the one percent for their campaign contributions and you have the media that is owned by multinational corporations who are not excited about dealing with this issue.
The Kochs and Founding the Tea Party
…You have some very smart people, like the Koch brothers, who do a very effective job of taking the discontent — that’s what your book was about — and channeling it in exactly the wrong direction. So you have the rather remarkable reality that the people who founded the Tea Party are the Koch brothers. And if the people, the working class members of the Tea Party, knew what their founders believed in, they would be in for a very big shock. And it’s one of our jobs to get the word out.
The Democratic Party No Longer the Party of the Working Class
There’s no question that the Republican Party has become a far-right party, significantly controlled by the Koch brothers and a few others. But the Democratic party has moved, you know. It used to be a center-left party — Truman, Roosevelt — it was the party of the American working class. I don’t think there are many people who think that is the case now. It is far better [than the Republican Party], and there are some great people in the Democratic Party who spend an enormous amount of time and energy fighting for working people, and I work with those guys. But I don’t think anybody would say, as a whole, that the Democratic Party is the party of the American working class.
Abolishing the Minimum Wage
I took [Alan Greenspan] on and questioned him about the impact of deregulation. And he said “No, it’s not gonna. . . ” You know, all these things he was wrong about. I asked him, I said, “I listened to what you say and it sounds to me like you might not even believe in the concept of the minimum wage.” And he said, “Yeah.”
I got one article about it in the L.A. Times. So you had, then, the head of the Federal Reserve basically acknowledging what today is— By the way, he was ahead of his time. Today, many Republicans acknowledge that they don’t believe in the concept of the minimum wage. So you can work for three bucks. Salon can hire you for three bucks an hour.
Conservative Hypocrisy and Not Voting in Your Best Interests
…A couple of years ago I helped lead the effort to prevent cuts in Social Security. I worked very, very hard for that. You go out to conservative states, you go out to the Tea Party guys, and you say, “Do you think we should cut Social Security and Medicare?” And they’ll say, “Are you crazy?” And yet here, you have not only a Republican Party moving very aggressively [in that direction]. You have some Democrats.
You ask people about Citizens United: “Do you think billionaires should be able to buy elections?” Across the political spectrum, people say no.
“Do you think we should give more tax breaks to billionaires?” Across the political spectrum, “No.”
Oligarchy and Latin America
I remember, distinctly — I can’t remember what happened yesterday, but I sometimes can remember what happened 50 years ago — and I remember during elementary school, the teachers, looking at these textbooks, and they said, “Look, there are countries in Latin America who have a few very wealthy families who control the whole country. And sometimes they fund both political parties.”
This is 50 years ago. So you had this party and that party, two years these guys serve, and the next two years, doesn’t matter. It’s one ideology. So if you look at the grotesque distribution of wealth in America, in which the top 1 percent today own 37 percent of the wealth, and the bottom 60 percent own 1.7 percent of the wealth; where one family—the Walton family, of Wal-Mart—own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent; where the top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent, that smacks to me like oligarchy.
Long-Term Democratic Strategy of “Waiting Out” Neo-Conservatives is “Pathetic”
[The idea] is obscene. Forget obscene, it’s the wrong word. It’s pathetic.
I’ve been to those meetings with very high-ranking campaign leaders. And that’s exactly what they say. So what they say is, during the Obama campaign, “This is how we’ll win this election. We’re going to get a huge percentage of the African-American vote. We’re going to get 67 percent of the Hispanic vote. We’re going to get 58 percent of the women’s vote. Et cetera, et cetera. All those trends are on our side. And that’s how we win elections.”
During the course of that discussion, the issue of how the party that created Social Security and Medicare is losing the senior vote—or even the issue of seniors—was not there. They have a list of the 87 different categories, and kind of toward the bottom is seniors. The white working class of America, which now votes overwhelmingly for Republicans, was not mentioned. Now, how can it be that the party that is struggling to raise the minimum wage, to fight for pay equity, do reasonable things for working-class people — not enough by any means — is losing the white working class to the other side? Very little discussion about that.
So I am not a great fan of this. I understand demographics. But it has to do with what your political values are. And if your value is to expand the middle class of this country, provide healthcare to all people, educational opportunity for all people, it’s not just winning elections. It’s not just being better than another party, which is now an extremist party with racist overtones. You can’t go through your life saying, “Hey, you think we’re bad! You should see them! Vote for me! Yeah, we’re pretty bad, but they’re worse!”
A “Political Revolution”
You’ve got to create a United States Congress that represents the needs of the American people. The Republican party absolutely does not, and many Democrats do not. So what you really need is, a transformation of the political system by going from 40 percent turnouts to 80 percent turnouts. Getting low-income and working class people involved in the political process and start responding to their needs.
…the problem is not gridlock. The problem is that the American middle class is collapsing. The gap between the very, very rich and everybody else is growing wider. We’ve got 40 million people who have no health insurance. We have kids who can’t find jobs, and can’t afford college, and Congress is doing nothing. That’s the issue. I don’t think people want us to overcome gridlock and cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and federal aid to education, and give more tax breaks to billionaires.
I start off from the position that we need a political revolution in this country and that’s not just rhetoric. What I mean by that is that we need—and a president certainly can play a very, very important role in this—we need a massive change in citizen participation and in political consciousness.
What Can the President and the People Do?
The main thing, I think, that the president can do is understand that no kind of progressive agenda can take place unless the American people are involved in that struggle and are prepared to put real pressure on the establishment to make it happen.
It’s not going to happen in back rooms. It’s not going to happen in White House negotiations. If students, for example, want to see the cost of college go down and want to see their very high levels of debt be significantly reduced, they’re going to have to take it up with the members of Congress. They’re not doing that now.
If low-income workers want to see the minimum wage raised, it cannot be a situation where only 20 percent of low-income workers vote. They’re going to have to be actively involved.
Big H/T to Salon