Oh, Boy-- Two Of America's Most Trustworthy Public Voices: Bill Moyers And Bernie Sanders
Ken and I went to James Madison High School. So did Chuck Schumer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Norm Coleman. Other famous public figures who went there include Judge Judy, Andrew Dice Clay, Cousin Brucie, Chris Rock, and Carole King. But there's no one I'm prouder of having gone to the same high school as than Senator Bernie Sanders, the best U.S. Senator in my lifetime. Ken AND I didn't go to school with Bill Moyers. But I suspect there are plenty of people plenty proud they went to the same high school as he did too. Here's how he welcomed his viewers to his segment with Bernie Friday evening:
Welcome-- to some ideas you didn’t hear at the Republican and Democratic conventions. Both parties spent their time blaming each other for the fix we’re in, and offering themselves as the cure. But we’ve been governed for years now by one or the other of them, see-sawing back and forth in controlling Congress and the White House, so self-absorbed and corrupted by money that neither seems willing or able to cope with reality, or even to grasp what’s happening to everyday Americans. By their very nature, neither party’s capable of providing the radical critique we need-- a blunt, even brutal assessment of a political system so dysfunctional as to call into question the survival of democracy.
And the first question is very much one of the themes of this blog-- the corruption of our political elite and the divergence between the Democratic grassroots and the sleazy careerist hacks-- your Steve Israels, Steny Hoyers, Debbie Wasserman Schultzes, Joe Crowleys, etc.-- who run the disgraceful DC branch of the party.
Bill Moyers: I watched the Democratic Convention, as perhaps you did. And I heard all the speeches about opportunity and solidarity. And I saw that vast array of faces, of every color, every age, every gender. And I thought, "There are still two Democratic Parties in this country, the party out across the country of everyday folks like Michelle Obama's parents, working paycheck to paycheck. And then there's the Washington Democratic club, the corporate lawyers, the lobbyists, the Wall Streeters like Robert Rubin and Peter Orszag." And I was wondering, as I watched, if Obama wins reelection, which party goes back to the White House with him? The party of the country or the party of the club?
Sen. Bernie Sanders: Well, we certainly hope it will be the party of the country, the party of 25 million Americans without any jobs, the party of people struggling to keep their heads above water, the party of the people who want to see health care for all of us. But there is no question, Bill, of the enormous impact that big money has, certainly on the Republican Party, but on the Democratic Party as well. And I fear very much that unless we galvanize public opinion, unless we create the kind of progressive grassroots movement the big money interest will continue to dominate.
Bill Moyers: Tell me how that money works. I mean, you've been on the inside 20-some-odd years, as I sit. How does it actually work? We hear "money in politics."
Sen. Bernie Sanders: Well, this is how it works. And this is what people do not appreciate. And it's true for Republicans and Democrats, as well. You do not know how many hours every single week, how many hours every single day people walk into the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee or the Republican Committee. And you know what they do? They dial for dollars. They dial for dollars, hour after hour after hour.
Bill Moyers: Who are they calling?
Sen. Bernie Sanders: They're calling a list of people who have money. That's who they're calling. And what happens when you do that day after day, month after month, your worldview becomes shaped by those people. And most of the money coming into your campaign coffers comes from those people. And you begin representing their perspective... We have right now, and this should frighten every American, as a result of this disastrous Citizens United decision, we're looking now at people like the Koch Brothers, putting in one family, $400 million. Adelson, worth $20 billion, putting in $100 million. We have over 23 billionaire families making large contributions, and I think that's a conservative number.
So what you are looking at is a nation with a grotesquely unequal distribution of wealth and income, tremendous economic power on Wall Street, and now added to all of that is you have the big money interests, the billionaires and corporations now buying elections. This scares me very much. And I fear very much that if we don't turn this around, Bill, we're heading toward an oligarchic form of society.
And then they got into the discussion that's going to be Top Number One after the election-- the Grand Bargain that Obama and Boehner are cooking up for their Wall Street/Big Business financiers, the very, very conservative "bipartisan" deal Obama wants way, way too much. Bernie isn't going to be on board for that one. And that's why it's so crucial to elect real progressives, not the corrupt machine hacks being pushed by Steve Israel and his DCCC. It's why we've been going on and on about Prosperity Economics as the real alternative to the failed and catastrophic Austerity Agenda that Romney and Ryan are pushing. And it's why we're trying to raise money for these 16 pro-Prosperity congressional candidates. And for Bernie, of course.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: In my view, President Obama ran the best campaign for president that I have seen in my lifetime. He did what is enormously difficult, get young people involved, get working people involved, have a vision out there, get people excited. That's not easy stuff. He did it.
What I think happened is, in a sense, the day after the election, he said to all of those people, all of that grassroots activism, "Thank you very much. Now I got to sit down and work with Republicans. And I got to start compromising. And I'm not going to fight for the vision that I campaigned on."
For example, every speech that I give, I talk about the crooks on Wall Street and what their illegal behavior has done to this economy. And people say, "Bernie, why aren't these guys in jail? Why isn't the Obama administration taking these people on? Why aren't we breaking up these large banks?" From the White House, do you hear much about that? You don't.
The power of big money, coming forward with the bold initiatives that get excited, say to them, "Listen, we got some right-wing extremists running the House. I need your help. We're going to change our disastrous trade policies. We are going to create a jobs program to put millions of people to work. But I can't do it taking on all the money guys. I need millions of people standing with me." Have you heard that from the White House?
Bill Moyers: No, what we hear is continuing calls for bipartisanship, even as Republicans have waged the most partisan and obstructionist agenda in modern history. And even the other day, the president said, "I'm sure that after I'm re-elected, the Republicans will work with me." I mean, I don't understand that, frankly. And you've been down there all of this time. From his speeches, he seems to be a fighter. But from his behavior, he caves.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: I don't understand it, either. Look, there's nothing wrong with bipartisanship. If you and I disagree and we can come up with a decent compromise that's good for the American people, let's do it. But when you have people whose main function in life is to obstruct and destroy every single initiative, when you have the Republican leader in the Senate say, "Our main goal is to make sure that Obama is a one-term president."
And you keep reaching out. And they keep cutting you and cutting you and cutting you, there comes a time when you say, "Hey, I got to stand up to you. I have to rally the American people." He has not done that. Is he a fighter? I think that you have a very competitive guy, in terms of himself getting reelected. I think this guy's going to work like a dog.
Bill Moyers: That's his career.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: That's right. He's a tough guy in that sense. In terms of public policy, standing up for Republicans, I think we're looking at a different president.
Bill Moyers: Well, we're coming to a potential serious conflict between the election and the inauguration, no matter who wins. And you made that eight and a half hour speech, because of that agreement, to extend the Bush tax cuts and to do all of that. And we're facing this crisis over the deficit, over social services and the safety, and the safety net over the Bush tax cuts. Do you think Obama will cave again as he did the last time, sending you to the floor of the Senate? I don't think the Senate can take another eight and a half hour speech.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: Here's where we are. And here's the-- you want to add another irony on top of all this, Bill, is that the American people support what the president is talking about and are vigorously opposed to what the Republicans want. Every poll that you and I have seen, including polls from Tea Party sympathizers, you know what they say? "Do not cut Social Security. Don't cut Medicare. Don't cut Medicaid. Ask the wealthiest people in this country to start paying their fair share of taxes. And by the way, take a look at military spending as well." That is what, by and large, the American people are saying.
Bill Moyers: The polls show that? The polls show that?
Sen. Bernie Sanders: Polls show that. So you would think that even if you were a hack politician who didn't believe any of this, you would stand up and fight for those principles. What I am going to do working with some of my progressive colleagues is say, "No, we are not going to balance this budget on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick, and the poor. Social has not contributed one nickel to the deficit. We are not going to cut Social Security."
I am waiting. And we're doing everything that we can to beg the president, "Get up and say what you said four years ago.” And that is you're not going to cut Social Security. That's what the American people want to hear.
Bill Moyers: You know, everyone seems to agree that our deficits are unsustainable, that something has to give. And many Democrats, some privately, some publicly say Social Security has to be quote "fixed." Now I was there in the White House with President Johnson when Medicare was passed. And I've often said that if Democrats don't take the lead in fixing Medicare, the opponents will. How do we fix Social Security and Medicare? From a progressive standpoint?
Sen. Bernie Sanders: Okay, they're two separate issues. Okay. Social Security, as you know, is funded by the payroll tax. So despite what our right-wing friends are going to tell us, Social Security has not contributed one nickel to the deficit, because it's funded independently. In fact the Social Security Trust Fund, according to the Social Security Administration, has a $2.7 trillion surplus. Surplus.
Can pay out every benefit for the next 21 years. When Barack Obama ran for president four years ago, he had a very simple and good idea. He said, "Okay, let's lift the cap on taxable income so that instead of having a ceiling of $110,000 now, you lift that cap, start at $250,000." And you know what, Bill? You do that, just that one simple thing, Social Security will be solvent for the next 75 years. That's your solution to Social Security.
Medicare, Medicaid are more complicated issues. And that takes us to the whole issue, why we end up spending more per capita on health care than any other nation, any other major nation. In my view, we have got to move toward a Medicare for all, single-payer system. And by the way, I hope that Vermont leads the nation in that direction.
...You need a grassroots mobilization which says among other things, "You got to break these banks up.” We need a financial system which supports the productive economy and job creation.
...I think we know where the Republicans are. The Republican Party over a period of years has moved from what we call a center-right party. And we used to have governors and senators coming from Vermont, who were Republicans. But you know what? They were sane human beings that actually were concerned about education, the environment, more conservative than you and me. They weren't crazies.
The party has now moved to the extreme right, all right? That's the Republican Party. The problem is the Democratic Party, if you go out, it is beyond my mind, Bill, that you have a Democratic Party of F.D.R. of L.B.J. that today is losing by a significant percentage the White working class of this country and senior citizens. The party that created Social Security and Medicare is losing the vote of seniors and white working class people. How does that happen?
It happens because they are not there making it clear. Listen to Roosevelt's speeches in 1936. He'd say, "Hey, the big money interests hate me. I welcome their hatred, 'cause I'm standing with the unemployed and working peoples." You hear that coming from too many Democrats right now? So yeah, the Democrats have become a party which does some good things, environment, women, gay issues, very good. Protecting white, well, not white, any working class people. They're not strong.
Bill Moyers: How do they get them back? Not that you're in the business advising Democrats, but what, how do they get them back?
Sen. Bernie Sanders: Well, let me tell you for a start. President of the United States goes on television, holds a press conference just to say, "Ladies and gentlemen, I just want to tell you, there's a lot of pressure for me to cut Social Security. Ain't going to happen. Bill comes before me, I'm going to veto it. Social Security is solvent. I'm going to make it solvent for 75 years. And I want every working person in this country to know Social Security will be there for them."
I think that would be dramatic. Number two, an issue that, again, there's been a lot of collusion between Democrats and Republicans about. And that is our disastrous trade policy. When I was in the House, the corporate entities, Chamber of Commerce, “free trade, NAFTA, CAFTA, permanent normal trade relations with China, will be the greatest thing since sliced bread.” All right?
The end result is that in the last ten years, we have seen 55,000 factories in America shut down, millions of decent-paying jobs lost. You go out to elderly people and they say, "I can't buy a product made in America anymore. Where are the factories? Where are the decent-paying jobs?" So I would like to see the president get up there and say, "You know what? We're going to rethink our trade policies. I want corporate America to start investing in America, not in China."
Other things that he could be doing, certainly, I think the much maligned stimulus bill, to my mind, was one of the most important pieces of legislation passed in my lifetime, in my state, money into bridges, into roads, into Head Start, into sustainable energy, created 6,000, 7,000 jobs when we needed it a whole lot. You need more of that. I just got off a plane a little while ago. Believe me, our airports are in trouble. Roads, bridges, schools, water systems, waste water plants. Let's put people back to work.