As Bernie Sanders stood politely next to the microphone at the Hanover, NH, home of Jon Fox and Darrell Hotchkiss, Fox, who was introducing Sanders, joked about how he offered Sanders a tie at an event in Burlington, Vt., when Sanders was still mayor.
“He absolutely wouldn’t let me give him the tie. He told me, ‘I hate those things,’” Fox said.
As the packed audience of dozens at Fox and Hotchkiss’s house stood captivated, Sen. Sanders asked a few rhetorical questions about the stark inequality between the haves and have-nots in today’s United States:
“How does it happen that despite a huge increase in technology and productivity, Americans are working longer hours for lower wages?”
“Income for the median family is about $5,000 less than that same family earned in 1999. How does that happen? Why?”
“The top 14 people in America, between 2013 and 2015, saw a $157 billion increase in their wealth. That’s more wealth in a two-year period than what the bottom 40 percent of American people have. Is this what the people want, or is this economy rigged completely in favor of the wealthy?"
The concentration of wealth among the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans has become such a pressing issue that even Republican presidential candidates as far to the right as Ted Cruz are acknowledging it, and on Fox News, of all places. While Republicans continue to insist on policies that will only exacerbate inequality – like the GOP-led House recently voting to cut taxes by $269 billion for the 6,000 wealthiest families in America – and Hillary Clinton pays lip service to the injustice of tax loopholes that allow wealthy hedge fund managers to pay laughably low tax rates, Bernie Sanders remains the only potential candidate proposing bold, definitive solutions to inequality.
At the New Hampshire event, Sanders called the current federal minimum hourly wage of $7.25 a “starvation wage” and called for it to be doubled to $15 an hour. He also drew attention to his legislation that would create 13 million new jobs by investing $1 trillion in updating America’s infrastructure.
As Clinton was bringing her nascent presidential campaign to the mainstream, Bernie got off the campaign trail and back in Washington this week where he employed an interesting filibuster to a bill that would speed the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership through Congress without the public getting to hear its contents. While Sen. Sanders was bringing up a procedural motion to stop the Senate Finance Committee from meeting to discuss fast-track, he tag-teamed with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) who has introduced over 80 amendments to the fast-track legislation, all of which will take hours to debate within committee.
In the meantime, Brown and Sanders are taking over the headlines to drum up public rage against fast-tracking the TPP – and getting what they hope are enough votes together to stop the bill in its tracks.
“It is not acceptable that probably until the last few days, major television networks spent zero time discussing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is the largest trade agreement in the history of our country,” Sanders said in New Hampshire last weekend.
Hillary Clinton, however, continues to waffle on the TPP. While she backed it as President Obama’s Secretary of State, she’s since kept mum about the trade deal – one that's remained so secretive that the only portions made available for public review were done so by whistleblowers risking their entire careers. The worst parts of the agreement allow multinational corporations to sue the U.S. government over new laws that may infringe on future profits, effectively making American and other nations' sovereign laws subservient to global corporate rule.
Very soon, Hillary Clinton’s campaign will be dealing with the fallout of “Clinton Cash,” a new book detailing the questionable ways in which the Clinton family built their wealth. Some examples include Hillary Clinton’s state department granting favors to foreign entities that made donations to the Clinton Foundation, and who paid Bill Clinton as much as $500,000 for each individual speaking engagement. Most notably, the book describes a Canadian bank and major stakeholder in the Keystone XL pipeline proposal that paid former President Clinton $1 million, right around the time Secretary Clinton’s State Department was considering the project.
During Sanders’s most recent stop in New Hampshire, he decried the influence of big money in politics as the key obstacle to legislation that would allow the economy to work for the vast majority of Americans. His call for overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and instituting public financing of campaigns drew wild applause.
“We are not going to move forward in creating new jobs and dealing with the minimum wage, pay equity for women, climate change, Wall Street, all these issues, until we have real campaign finance reform,” Sanders said. “Buying elections is not free speech... It is just simply wrong for billionaires to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections.”
While Hillary Clinton has announced a goal of raising an astonishing $2.5 billion for her campaign, much of will likely come from the same corporations and banks that already own Washington, Sanders has continuously held fast to his promise of never accepting corporate money. A side-by-side comparison of Clinton’s and Sanders’s donors shows whose interests the candidates will serve if elected.
While four of Hillary’s top donors are banks (over $1.5 million from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs; more than $1 million from JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley throughout Clinton’s political career), all of Sanders’s top 20 donors are organizations representing working people. The largest cumulative amount Sanders has received throughout the entirety of his 17-year political career is $95,000 from the Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union. Other unions supporting Sanders represent public school teachers, letter carriers, electricians, and auto workers.
Though Republicans, mainstream Democratic politicians and the beltway pundit elite have channeled their inner Frank Underwood and falsely referred to earned Social Security benefits as “entitlements” that need to be cut to ensure the program’s stability, Sanders has also made the bold stance of pledging to not only protect Social Security, but expand it. Clinton, on the other hand, remained largely silent during the infamous “Grand Bargain” debates in which President Obama put cuts to Social Security on the table in negotiations with Republicans. Her husband’s chief of staff, Erskine Bowles, co-authored the austerity-laden Simpson-Bowles plan that inspired Obama’s starting point for negotiations.
At the home of Jon Fox, Sanders told a story about a CEO from the Business Roundtable – one of the largest lobbying groups for multinational corporations in Washington -- speaking to the Senate Budget Committee, of which Sanders is the ranking member. The CEO urged committee members to eliminate all federal taxes for corporations while raising the age to qualify for Social Security and Medicare benefits to 70.
“We did some research, and we found out that the average CEO on the business roundtable, when they retire, will have about $88,000 a month,” Sanders said. “Can you imagine the chutzpah of a guy who gets a million dollars a year in retirement benefits, coming to the U.S. Congress saying we have to cut Social Security and cut Medicare for people trying to get by on $13,000, $14,000 a year?”
The Vermont senator has repeatedly said that the $106,000 income cap on taxpayers paying into Social Security should be removed, and that no filer should be exempt from funding Social Security, regardless of how wealthy they are. Legislation Sanders introduced in 2011 would have done just that, ensuring the program would be fully-funded for at least the next 75 years.
Sanders is likely to make his official campaign announcement by the end of the month. While Elizabeth Warren carries 20 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, there are only 18 months left until the general election and she has yet to travel to either Iowa or New Hampshire, which all serious candidates have done by now. It’s safe to say Warren won’t be running, which means her supporters are likely to migrate to Bernie Sanders’s side, giving him potentially one-third of likely primary voters.
Given New Hampshire’s proximity to Sanders’s home state of Vermont and the senator’s familiarity with the area and its people, he would have a real shot at winning the New Hampshire primary if he were to run. If Sanders wins in the critical first-in-the-nation primary state, he will finally be seen as a credible candidate for the nomination by the top pollsters and pundits. And if Sanders wins the nomination, Americans will finally have the economic populist presidential candidate they’ve been waiting for. Whether or not this opponent of the billionaire class, corporate greed, Wall Street and environmental degradation – and this champion of working people, the unemployed, retirees, and student debtors – becomes our next president will be entirely up to us.