Sanders Goes Full FDR in COVID-19 Speech

Bernie Sanders just gave the speech of his life — one that everyone planning to vote in the Democratic primaries ahead should watch before making an decision between Sanders and Joe Biden. In fact, look at the Sanders video, and then read about the press conference Biden held and his anemic proposed response Biden offered to the coronavirus pandemic.

In this video the man often mocked in the corporate media for his shaggy, unkempt appearance looks like a president, and sounds like FDR addressing the savage Great Depression and explaining what he intended to do about it. He stands in such stark contrast, not just visually, but in his speech and most importantly in what he has to say to the American public, to both Trump and Biden, that it’s hard to imagine anyone watching or even just hearing or reading his words could vote for either of those other two clowns.

He begins by laying out the gravity of the current crisis.  As I sit here in Montgomery County, PA, the large suburban and rural country that wraps around most of Philadelphia which Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf just this afternoon ordered to go on total lockdown, ordering the closure of all public schools and universities, gyms and theaters, and requesting the closure of all stores except groceries and pharmacies, and hear Sanders say:

“Let me be absolutely clear: in terms of potential deaths the impact on our economy, the crisis we face from coronavirus is on the scale of a major war, and we must act accordingly.

“Nobody knows how many fatalities we may see, but they could equal or surpass the US casualties we saw in World War II.

“It is an absolute moral imperative that our response — as a government, as a society, as business communities, and as individuals — meets the enormity of this crisis.

“As people work from home and are directed to quarantine, it will be easy to feel like we are in this alone, or that we must only worry about ourselves and let everyone else fend for themselves.

“That is a very dangerous mistake. First and foremost, we must remember that we are in this together.

“Now is the time for solidarity. We must fight with love and compassion for those most vulnerable to the effects of this pandemic.

“If our neighbor or co-worker gets sick, we have the potential to get sick. If our neighbors lose their jobs, then our local economies suffer, and we may lose our jobs. If doctors and nurses do not have the equipment and staffing capacity they need now, people we know and love may die.”

This is the kind of “pull-together, we are one people, one nation” kind of thing we haven’t heard in years, and we need  it now.

Having set the stage he goes on to call on the president to declare a national emergency, but then says that if the president is “unable and unwilling to lead selflessly, we must immediately convene an emergency, bipartisan authority of experts to support and direct a response that is comprehensive, compassionate and based first and foremost on science and fact.”

What a brilliant stroke! Just bypass the president and have Congress run this campaign against COVID-19! Sanders then goes on to call for a program that is transparent (Trump has made discussions of the White House coronavirus response classified and closed-door), has called on focussing on the care of the “most vulnerable” in society:  “those in nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities, those confined in immigration detention centers, those who are currently incarcerated, and all people regardless of immigration status.”

Then he gets to the nut of the crisis, saying: 

“Unfortunately, the United States is at a severe disadvantage because unlike every other major country on earth, we do not guarantee health care as a human right. The result is that millions of people in this country cannot afford to go to a doctor, let alone pay for a coronavirus test. So while we work to pass a Medicare for All single-payer system, the United States government must be clear that in the midst of this emergency, that everyone in our country — regardless of income or where they live — must be able to get all of the health care they need without cost…We cannot live in a nation where if you have the money you get the treatment you need to survive, but if youre working class or poor you get to the end of the line. That would be morally unacceptable.”

He goes on to call for emergency funding for paid family and medical leave for all workers, including those working in the “gig” economy as independent con tractors, for expanded federal health centers, quick development and production of coronavirus tests, which must be free along with treatment for those who have contracted the virus.

Sanders offers other ideas too. Quickly expanding available hospital beds and ICU rooms, knowing that the virus is infecting new people at a rate that doubles the number each week and will soon surpass national capacity to care for victims, and a program to bring on interns, residents and retired physicians to help provide care.

He has other good ideas for right now also, including expand unemployment insurance coverage, higher weekly benefits for those unemployed by the crisis who are at the low-income end of the scale, and than adds:

“And in this moment, we need to make sure that in the future after this crisis is behind us, we build a health care system that makes sure that every person in this country is guaranteed the health care that they need.”

It’s perfect. Already the media are ignoring his talk just as they used to ignore his campaign until he began topping the polls. CNBC, for example, ran an article on Biden’s lackluster and wholly inadequate proposals for dealing with the coronavirus. Suffice to say Biden called for free testing, but didn’t mention who would pay for treatment for the 87 million Americans with no insurance or with insurance with deductibles so high they would have to pay for care out of pocket themselves.

That being the case, we all need to get this speech out there into the hands of everyone we know — especially those who are still arguing that Biden is the candidate who can “beat Trump.”

Sanders has demonstrated that he’s the president in waiting, and the person needed to take charge of this existential health crisis facing the country and the world.  Will Americans realize this in the face of a media blitz trying to give the Democratic nomination to Biden, whose whole campaign comes down to an empty claim that “I can beat Trump”?  I’m not sure.

I have a feeling, though, that the people in this locked down county of Pennsylvania are going to be looking favorably at Bernie Sanders when this state votes on April 28. And if enough other states, cities and counties go into lockdown as the numbers of corona victims soars, so will other voters.

This ain’t over yet.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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