Bernie Sanders: “There clearly is something wrong with the political system if we’re not seeing dozens and dozens of vibrant young leaders whose dad wasn’t president or whose husband wasn’t president.”
Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the feisty, self-described “Democratic socialist” considering a run for the White House, on Monday visited San Francisco, a city he said illustrates a key issue for 2016: the concentration of economic and political power among “a small number of billionaires” at the expense of average Americans.
The country, he warned, is approaching “an obscene and grotesque level of inequality.”
Sanders, at 73 the longest-serving independent member of Congress in U.S. history, said San Francisco deserves credit for “consistently being one of the most progressive cities in the United States.” But he said the homelessness so widely evident on the streets is evidence of a systemic failure being ignored by both political leadership and media.
“I know this has been a long-term problem in this great city, but what is hard for many Americans to deal with is the fact that we were led to believe we were a vibrant democracy — but in many ways we are moving to an oligarchic society,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of all new income today generated is going to the top 1 percent. Does that sound anything vaguely resembling the kind of society we want to be living in?”
Companies like Yahoo, Google and Twitter “have created hundreds of thousands of jobs ... but there’s no justification — moral or economic — for the casino-type capitalism” in which a few “have such incredible amounts of wealth when so many people have nothing — or are losing money,” Sanders said. “There is no issue more important, because it speaks to who we are as a nation.”
Sanders — who over the years has been a vocal supporter of campaign finance, tax reform, raising the minimum wage, national health care and addressing climate change — was in town for a sold-out Commonwealth Club appearance.
In an interview at The Chronicle, Sanders said that if he does run for president, it will be “sooner, rather than later” — even as he promised he wasn’t aiming to be a spoiler. And he could run as a Democrat.
“The difficulty of running as an independent is that you have got to get on the ballot in all 50 states, and in some it is virtually impossible to do so,” he said. “The advantage of running in the Democratic caucus is that it’s much, much easier to do so. ... You will be in debates with other candidates, you will attract more media attention. ... That’s a decision I will have to make.”
He said “it would be a very sad state of affairs if Hillary (Rodham Clinton) ran without serious opposition.”
Sanders said a “political oligarchy” is being established as a result of the controversial Supreme Court ruling on campaign spending known as the Citizens United decision, which “enables the Koch brothers and other billionaire families to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections.” That means it is becoming “harder and harder for ordinary people who want to run for office to get elected without being beholden to the billionaire class,” he said.
Politics has been left to “the sons and daughter and wives” of past office-holders, he said, because newer candidates often lack the millions of dollars it takes to establish a public identify.
“Hillary and Jeb (Bush) start with enormous name recognition,” he said. “There clearly is something wrong with the political system if we’re not seeing dozens and dozens of vibrant young leaders whose dad wasn’t president or whose husband wasn’t president.”