Bernie Sanders Calls For 'Fundamental Reassessment' Of Democratic Party | KERA News

Bernie Sanders Calls For 'Fundamental Reassessment' Of Democratic Party

Nov 14, 2016
Originally published on November 15, 2016 7:10 am

In Bernie Sanders' new book, Our Revolution, the Vermont senator tells the story of his life, his career and his run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

He also spells out the programs he believes the country should adopt to combat such ills as inequality, discrimination and lack of opportunity, not to mention the burdens of college and health care costs.

Sanders says he was not shocked by Donald Trump's victory. But he says the election results show it is time for the Democratic Party to undergo a fundamental reassessment.

"I think it's time for a fundamental reassessment," Sanders tells NPR's Robert Siegel, "and I think what that reassessment has got to entail is to understand that we cannot have a party that will win, if we continue to become dependent on big money interests and campaign fundraisers all over this country."


Interview Highlights

On his message to the people who are refusing to accept a Trump presidency

It's not a question of whether you refuse to accept it or you accept it. It's a reality. But what I say to those young people is we have got to stand together by the many millions and not allow this country to descend back into racism and sexism and xenophobia, to make sure that Trump is not successful in pushing an agenda which divides us up by race or the country that we were born into.

On the other hand, Trump ran his campaign talking about he was going to be a champion of the working class. He was going to stand up to the establishment. Well, let me tell you, we are gonna hold him accountable to that.

On Trump's appointment of Breitbart executive Stephen Bannon to a senior White House role

It is a very, very bad appointment. I hope he rethinks it, and I hope that he understands that in the year 2016, we are not going back to a society rampant with racism and sexism and homophobia and xenophobia.

On how to proceed with advocacy of free higher education

Well, what we do now is rally millions of young Americans who are sick and tired of leaving school $30-, $50-, $100,000 in debt, and those who simply cannot afford to go to college, and say that in a competitive global economy, it is absolutely imperative that we make public colleges and universities' tuition free.

And no matter how you fund it, it should be funded by progressive taxation, making clear that billionaires like Mr. Trump and his friends start paying their fair share of taxes, that large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes. ...

How you deal with that issue is how you deal with all issues. We are gonna have to raise public consciousness, we're gonna have to, and what the political revolution is about — we've had some really good successes. Yeah, maybe a march on Washington.

It may be bombarding your congressman and your senator with emails, with phone calls to say, "You know what, in America people have the right to get a higher education regardless of their income. And by the way, maybe there's something wrong when we are the only country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people as a right.

"Oh yeah, and while we're on the subject, how come we're the only major country not to provide paid family and medical leave? Oh yeah, and maybe we should deal with climate change because the scientific community tells us if we're not gonna deal with that, then the future of this planet is a very sorry future indeed."

On how to understand Hillary Clinton's defeat

I'll tell you how I understand it. I understand it because there are a lot of people in this country, including people in the Democratic Party, who do not fully appreciate the kind of suffering and pain that millions of working people in this country are feeling.

You've got working mothers out there who cannot afford to pay $10-, $15,000 a year for child care. You got working couples who desperately want to be able to send their kids to college; they can't do that. You got half of the older workers in this country — do you know how much money they have set aside for retirement? Nothing. They've got nothing. They're scared to death.

And then you got a guy named Mr. Trump, who goes around saying, "I'm gonna champion you! I'm a friend of the working class! I'm gonna take on the establishment!" And the Democrats have not been as clear as they should be, which is why I think we need fundamental reform of the Democratic Party. And saying, "Yeah, no, sorry, we are the champion of working families and low-income people and the elderly and the sick and the poor. We are gonna take on the billionaire class. We want you to participate." That's what we need.

And I think a lot of people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, voted for Barack Obama in 2012, and who like Barack Obama, said, "You know what, I'm going to go for Trump because he has been clear about feeling the pain of working families."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In Bernie Sanders' new book "Our Revolution," the Vermont senator tells the story of his life, his career and his run for the Democratic presidential nomination. And he spells out the programs he believes the country should adopt to combat such ills as inequality, discrimination, lack of opportunity, not to mention the burdens of college and health care costs. Senator Sanders joins us from our bureau in New York. Welcome to the program.

BERNIE SANDERS: Great to be with you.

SIEGEL: When the publication date for your book was set and when interviews like this one were arranged, we didn't know who would win the presidential election. I assume that you thought this book would be part of a debate over the future of a party that had won the White House and a majority in the Senate. Is that right?

SANDERS: More or less. Going into Election Day, I thought there was a 2 out of 3 chance that she would win. I wasn't shocked by Trump's victory, but I did think Hillary would win.

SIEGEL: She won the popular vote but lost. The Democrats picked up two Senate seats. What should be the posture now of the Democratic Party and people who voted for the Democratic ticket?

SANDERS: Well, I think, Robert, there has to be a fundamental reassessment. Right now it's not just that the Republicans will control the White House, U.S. Senate, U.S. House. They control two-thirds or more of the governors' seats in this country. In the last eight years, Democrats have lost some 8 or 900 legislative seats in state houses.

And I think it's time for a fundamental reassessment. And I think what that reassessment has got to entail is to understand that we cannot have a party that will win if we continue to become dependent on big money interests and campaign fundraisers all over this country.

SIEGEL: You and Senator Elizabeth Warren have both said you'd work with President-elect Trump, but you've also given support to demonstrators who've taken in the streets hoping to obstruct a Trump agenda. What do you say to those people, many of them young people, who are refusing to accept a Trump presidency?

SANDERS: Well, it's not a question of whether you, you know, refuse to accept it or you accept it. It's a reality. But what I say to those young people is we have got to stand together by the many millions and not allow this country descend back into racism and sexism and xenophobia, to make sure that Trump is not successful in pushing an agenda which divides us up by race or the country that we were born into.

On the other hand, you know, Trump ran his campaign talking about he was going to be a champion of the working class. He was going to stand up to the establishment. Well, let me tell you, we are going to hold him accountable to that.

SIEGEL: Does the fact that he has named Stephen Bannon of Breitbart fame to a senior White House role, is that right there a sign to you that his administration will descend into racism, misogyny and the rest?

SANDERS: It is a very, very bad appointment. I hope he rethinks it. And I hope that he understands that in the year 2016, we are not going back to a society rampant with racism and sexism and homophobia and xenophobia.

SIEGEL: Do you think you could have won, by the way, on November 8?

SANDERS: Well, the answer is, you know, who knows?

SIEGEL: You championed in the campaign and in the book, you championed the cause of free public higher education. And you've got a version of that pledge written into the Democratic platform. Given that you propose funding that by taxing stock and bond sales - something that sounds completely off the table with the Republicans who are now in charge of both houses and the White House - how do you proceed with advocacy of that cause when the plan that you have in mind seems to be a political nonstarter in Washington right now?

SANDERS: Well, what we do now is rally millions of young Americans who are sick and tired of leaving school 30, 50, $100,000 in debt - and those who simply cannot afford to go to college - and say that in a competitive global economy, it is absolutely imperative that we make public colleges and universities tuition-free. And no matter how you fund it, it should be funded by progressive taxation, making clear that billionaires like Mr. Trump and his friends start paying their fair share of taxes, that large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes.

SIEGEL: But how do you proceed with that? Do you do it on a state-by-state basis, for example? Do you have marches on Washington for free public higher tuition?

SANDERS: Well, I would hope...

SIEGEL: I mean, how do you deal with the fact that you lost the election on that...

SANDERS: Well, how do you deal with that issue is how you deal with all issues. We are going to have to raise public consciousness. We're going to have to - and what the political revolution is about. We've had some really good successes. Yeah, maybe a march on Washington. It may be bombarding your congressman and your senator with emails, with phone calls to say, you know what? In America, people have the right to get a higher education, regardless of their income.

And by the way, maybe there's something wrong when we are the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people as a right. Oh, yeah, and while we're on the subject, how come we are the only major country not to provide paid family and medical leave? Oh, yeah, and maybe we should deal with climate change because the scientific community tells us if we're not going to deal with that, then the future of this planet is a very sorry future indeed. So...

SIEGEL: How do you understand then, if you - if those were the issues that you campaigned on - and by the fall Hillary Clinton had embraced a great deal of that language as well - how do you understand the defeat in the presidential race?

SANDERS: I'll tell you how I understand it. I understand it because there are a lot of people in this country - including people in the Democratic Party - who do not fully appreciate the kind of suffering and pain that millions of working people in this country are feeling. You've got working mothers out there who cannot afford to pay 10, $15,000 a year for child care. You got working couples who desperately want to be able to send their kids to college. They can't do that. You've got half of the older workers in this country, do you know how much money they have set aside for retirement - nothing. They got nothing. They're scared to death.

And then you've got a guy named Mr. Trump that goes around and says, I'm going to champion you. I'm a friend of the working class. I'm going to take on the establishment. And the Democrats have not been as clear as they should be. Which is why I think we need fundamental reform of the Democratic Party in saying, yeah, no, sorry, we are the champion of working families and low-income people and the elderly and the sick and the poor. We are going to take on the billionaire class. We want you to participate. That's what we need. And I think a lot of people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, voted for Barack Obama 2012 and who like Barack Obama said, you know what, I'm going to go for Trump because he has been clear about feeling the pain of working families.

SIEGEL: During the campaign, you urged Hillary Clinton to release the transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs. In the book I didn't see mention of that campaign issue perhaps. Perhaps I did miss it. Since that time, WikiLeaks has released emails that include transcripts of the speeches. Did you read them?

SANDERS: Yeah.

SIEGEL: What did you make of them?

SANDERS: Well, you know, nothing. Well, not much in WikiLeaks really shocked me that Hillary Clinton, you know, was friends with people on Wall Street. Certainly was not a shock to me that the Democratic National Committee - DNC - was supportive of Secretary Clinton's effort against me, was certainly was not a shock. We talked about that during the campaign. But nothing really shocked me.

SIEGEL: But if, for example, her - seemed to be dismissive words about the Dodd-Frank financial Reform Act. Do you think if that had been made public during the primary season, do you think that would have affected the outcome of the nominating process?

SANDERS: It could have. It could have.

SIEGEL: You might have won on that, on the base of those transcripts?

SANDERS: Well, you know, we came a very long way in this campaign. As you'll recall, when we started we were considered to be a fringe candidate. I didn't get a whole lot of media attention. So it's - Robert, I don't think it's worth a whole lot to be speculating on what might have happened. My job right now as a United States senator is to talk about the future and how we go forward.

SIEGEL: Bernie Sanders, thank you very much for talking with us.

SANDERS: Thank you very much, Robert.

SIEGEL: Senator Sanders' new book is called "Our Revolution: A Future To Believe In." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.