Will Bernie Challenge Hillary?

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is off and running after his formal announcement for the presidency this past Tuesday before 5,000 cheering supporters in Burlington, Vermont. He is starting from the region that launched the American Revolution and he is promising to “begin a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally,” with “the support of millions of people throughout this country.”

He will take on the corporate plutocracy and its servile political oligarchy with numerous assets. In his long, scandal-free elective career, from Mayor of Burlington to the House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate, Sanders can match his progressive rhetoric with a consistent voting record.

He has a large number of progressive supporters who are not “Ready for Hillary” because of her corporatism and militarism. This will assure his ability to raise at least $20 million, mostly in small donations, by the end of this year. He is probably near $5 million by now. This level of contributors can fund a competitive grassroots campaign drive, especially since he will be running as a Democrat – to get into the Party’s six primary debates – and won’t have to expend money and time getting on each state’s ballot.

Moreover, if you read the positions he has taken – summarized in his Burlington campaign speech – you can conclude that they already have majoritarian support in this country. Sanders’ “Agenda for America” is an outline of some key issues our country faces, complete with concrete facts to back up Sanders’ stances. The other candidates prefer to campaign with abstractions and to avoid detailed solutions to our country’s problems.

Sanders stands for a national program to repair and renovate America’s public facilities with thirteen million well-paying jobs that cannot be exported to China. He opposes the corporate-managed trade supremacy over domestic protections of workers, consumers and the environment that circumvent our open court system with literally secret tribunals. He has been a longtime challenger of the price-gouging taxpayer-subsidized pharmaceutical industry. He is advocating for a $15 an hour minimum wage “over the next few years.” He wants tuition-free college educations, full Medicare for all with free choice of doctor and hospital, “paid sick leave and guaranteed vacation time for all” – some of what Western Europe has had for decades!

He pressed for the breakup of the too big to fail banks, calling them, along with conservative columnist George Will, “too big to exist” and an end to “huge tax breaks while children in this country go hungry,” and while this “billionaire class” continues “sending our jobs to China while millions are looking for work.”

So far so good, but Bernie Sanders is not without his vulnerabilities. He can be too easily dismissed by the corporate mass media as a gadfly going nowhere, as was recent Democratic presidential candidate, former Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Sanders must ensure that his speeches stay fresh and current, while touching on regional issues that vary, depending on where he is speaking, to avoid being tedious to the dittohead press that doesn’t apply the same standards of repetitive tedium to the mainstream front runners.

His case has to be based not just on current public needs but that the American people, as workers and taxpayers, have already paid for these public needs and have been swindled out of these  long-overdue reforms.  For many, material income, adjusted for inflation, stalled in the early nineteen seventies and the vast amount of the gains from growth and productivity since then have gone to the top five percent, especially to the top one percent of the wealthiest.

Furthermore, Sanders needs to give visibility to the massive, preventable silent violence afflicting innocent undefended Americans. These include occupational trauma and disease, hospital-induced infections and medical malpractice, deadly side effects of overused or dangerous medicines, toxic, cancer-producing pollution, and product defects. He needs to show that he is ready to tackle the cycle of poverty, where the poor pay more and die earlier. All this amounts to hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths annually, along with larger numbers of preventable sickness and injuries. Many children are included in these victims of such societal conditions and others, including the continuing problem with the food industry marketing junk food and drinks directly to children.

We eagerly await his proposals for the structural shift of power from the few to the many workers, consumers, small taxpayers and voters.

Sanders’ will have a number of people and organizations bidding for his time to give him their opinions on any number of matters. He must remember to welcome advice with an open mind. Many of his political supporters have stuck with him for decades; it will be highly beneficial for him to listen to them. According to eyewitness accounts, he is not a good listener.  The late Senator Paul Wellstone provided a fine example of how to network with citizen groups for the common good. As a presidential candidate he should follow the example of Wellstone.

The nagging problem facing the Vermont Senator is the dilemma of how to compete with and challenge Hillary Clinton. Thus far, he has said that he has “never run a negative political ad” and that he respects his former fellow Senatorial colleague. Progressives may not like negative ads, but they do want a candidate who clearly articulates differences with other candidates in direct ways that draw voters away from those competitors. Assuming he is reallyrunning to win.

Sanders has to take on Hillary Clinton and the other candidates with the issues that matter – the ones that truly show the difference between their voting records and assumed positions, especially her illegal, disastrous, brute force (think Libya) foreign/military policy. Her record favors Wall Street and the military-industrial complex, He also has to, in his way, convince Democratic and Independent voters, not only that he will be good for America but that on many issues Hillary will not support shifting power and control of wealth, income and our commonwealth from the Plutocratic few to the many.

As it stands, Hillary is fully prepared to humor “my friend Bernie”, offer abstract agreement, and then sideline him.

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Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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