Q&A with Bernie Sanders

This is the first in Popular Information’s series of Q+As with 2020 presidential candidates. Our goal is to include as many candidates as possible. Contact me with any questions at judd@popular.info.

Q. You've identified for many years as a Democratic Socialist. Recently the label has gotten more attention but still does not seem well-understood. Some of your opponents who have embraced similar policy positions make a point of calling themselves capitalists. What does Democratic Socialism mean to you and how would it impact American capitalism?

SANDERS: Democratic socialism to me is not something new or novel — it is a longstanding and revered American ideal since the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. It is about creating a government and an economy and a society which works for all, rather than just the top 1 percent. It means ending the absurd inequalities that exist today.

It is not acceptable to have three families owning more wealth than the bottom half of the American society -- 160 million people. It is not acceptable for the top 1 percent to own more wealth than the bottom 92 percent. It is not acceptable that 49 percent of new income goes to the top 1 percent.

We want to create a government that works for all of us and we want to create a political system, which is based on one person one vote, not billionaires buying elections as a result of this disastrous Citizens United.

When I refer to democratic socialism, I am referring to a belief that human beings are entitled to certain basic rights. I believe that health care is a human right, not a privilege. I believe that there is something embarrassingly wrong when the United States of America is the only major country on Earth not to guarantee healthcare to all people. 

I believe that you have a right to get all of the education you need, whether you are rich or poor. And that is why I believe we should make public colleges and universities tuition free.

I believe everyone has a right to a clean, habitable environment. I believe everyone has a right to a secure retirement. 

So what we are fighting for is a society not where just a few people can make a whole lot of money. We are fighting for a society where everybody in this country has the opportunity to live in security, and dignity.

Q. You and Trump have both been critical of the impact of trade deals on American workers. What do you think about Trump's efforts to impose tariffs and renegotiate trade deals? How would trade policy change in a Sanders presidency versus what we've seen under Trump?

SANDERS: We have been told by politicians in both parties that the newest trade deal or tax cut will help workers, but then the opposite happens: corporate lobbyists write the trade agreements and tax code to throw millions of American workers out on the street, shut down factories here and move abroad, all while CEOs are paid tens of millions of dollars.

I am proud to be the only candidate running for president who not only voted against NAFTA and PNTR with China, but also stood on the picket lines with union workers opposing these unfair trade deals. But lobbyists rammed the deals through Congress, and the result is that America has lost literally millions of jobs.

Trump has continued this bait and switch. He promised he would reduce the trade deficit, stop the outsourcing of American jobs, and rip up NAFTA. 

But since he’s been in office, our trade deficit has shot up to a record-breaking $891 billion. He has given out $50 billion of government contracts that are shipping jobs overseas. He passed tax cuts that reward companies for offshoring even more jobs. His new NAFTA includes no enforceable labor standards, but does include special giveaways to the pharmaceutical industry. And now more than 185,000 American jobs have been shipped overseas under his watch. 

That is unacceptable and that has got to change. When we are in the White House:

  • We will sign an executive order ending federal contracts to corporations that outsource American jobs and refuse to pay American workers livable wages with good benefits. 

  • We will renegotiate all of our unfair trade deals to prevent the outsourcing of American jobs, raise wages, protect the environment, and lower the outrageously high price of prescription drugs. And we’re not signing any trade agreements that let foreign companies overturn our country’s laws. 

  • We will not appoint a trade representative that comes from Wall Street. We are going to appoint a trade representative that comes from the trade union movement. 

  • We will repeal Trump’s tax breaks that reward companies for moving their factories overseas and that encourage companies to replace American workers with robots.

  • We will label China a currency manipulator and prevent it from dumping artificially cheap products into the U.S.

Here is the bottom line: We can no longer sit idly by as thousands of American workers are thrown out on the street.  American jobs must no longer be our number one export.  Trade is a good thing, but it has got to be fair.  We need a trade policy that works for working people, not the CEOs of multinational corporations.  And working together, that is exactly what we are going to do.

Q. You've attacked the way large tech companies like Amazon treat workers and successfully pressured Amazon to raise wages for its hourly workers. But what about the impact of Amazon and other companies on consumers? What do you think of proposals to break up these companies as a way of encouraging more competition?

SANDERS: In nearly every sector of our economy, we are seeing a concentration of economic and political power that is unprecedented. If the great trust buster Teddy Roosevelt were alive today, he would say it’s time to break these companies up. 

When we are in the White House, I will nominate an Attorney General who will aggressively stand up to monopolies in all industries by breaking up existing monopolies and placing moratoriums on mergers in concentrated industries. We live in an era of unchecked corporate power. It’s time to take that power back for the people.

Q. New Zealand banned assault weapons six days after the Christchurch massacre. We've had many mass shootings in the United States, and nothing has happened. You've endorsed an assault weapons ban. How do you avoid a situation where you make it to the White House, but your agenda is stymied in the Senate? 

SANDERS: Our campaign is not designed to just defeat Donald Trump, but to also create a government that works for all people, not just the top one percent. What that means is that election day is not the end, it is the beginning. Our slogan is “not me, us” -- and by that I mean that no president can transform America alone. We need a mobilized movement of millions of people across America to defeat Trump, the most dangerous president in modern history, but to also then demand that their lawmakers in Washington start representing the 99 percent. 

When we introduce a Medicare for All bill, our $15 minimum wage bill, serious gun reform, criminal justice reform to end private prisons, and legislation to repeal tax breaks for corporations and billionaires -- we are not going to be doing that in a vacuum. We are going to have millions of Americans demanding that their representatives reject the pressure from corporate lobbyists and pass this agenda. 

American history tells us that this is not some pipe dream. Our country managed to pass the New Deal, Medicare, Medicaid and civil rights legislation. Despite powerful opposition and difficult congressional rules, those initiatives were ultimately able to pass because they had mobilized mass movements behind them. That’s what this political revolution is about. 

Q. One critical issue for a lot of Democrats is nominating someone with the best chance of beating Trump. The party itself is younger, female, and diverse. Some people think Democrats would be better off nominating someone who better reflects the composition of the party. Why are you the best person to take on Trump?

The Democratic Party must have a nominee who can take on Donald Trump, and I will support whoever we nominate out of the great group of people who are running.

I believe we need a nominee who is not afraid to directly challenge Trump and his billionaire backers. We also need a nominee with a proven record fighting for working people and also repeatedly winning elections when they go up against powerful Republican opponents. That is why I believe I am the best positioned to defeat Trump. 

I have spent my entire life as a champion for working people, and I believe voters understand that our campaign is truly about challenging the establishment at a moment when that establishment has created so many of the crises we now face. This is why we already have an unprecedented grassroots movement behind our campaign: 1 million people have signed up to volunteer for the campaign, we have more than 525,000 individual donors, and we just had more than 4,700 organizing events across the country. 

Now, let me be clear: this isn’t going to be easy. We’re going to have to take on the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical companies, fossil fuel CEOs, corporate agribusiness, the prison-industrial complex and so many other opponents. I am more confident than ever that by doing this, we are going to defeat Trump and transform this country. 

Thanks for reading!