Bernie Sanders 1992 Interview by Pat Winburn
BS: Encouraged to do what had not been done in forty - Congressperson elected - a non-Democrat, non-Republican in forty years and I think history will show that the state of Vermont is leading this country in a new political direction and I am very proud of our state for doing that.
PW: Well two years ago that was one of the biggest fears or criticisms of your candidacy was that you would bot be aligned with Republicans or the Democrats and being the type of place that it is the House of Representatives would be operating very much out of an independent sort of status for you that you wouldn’t get committee assignments and you would be ineffective yet it seems like every time I turn on C-SPAN or a national news program you appear anyway so has that really been a problem for you?
BS: Let me tell you I think many people don’t are not aware of exactly how Congress functions and I believe and I’m ________ we have not only been effective but I think we’ve been very effective and the reason for that is is when I went down there as I told people in our state during the campaign that I would I attempted to gain admission into the Democratic caucus as an Independent because while I have many criticisms of the Democrats the fact of the matter is in my view the Republicans are far worse far more out of touch with the needs of America. What we ended up negotiating with Mr. Foley and Mr. Gephardt was an agreement by which I would not become a member of the Democratic caucus but that I would be treated in other ways as a Democrat including committee assignment so I got in fact exactly the committees that I wanted to go on which is the banking committee under Chairman Henry Gonzales which has been doing a lot of interesting work in the last two years and the Government Operations Committee under John Conyers of Michigan who is also a strong progressive. So what I was able to do is work on committees where there are strong progressives whose views are not terribly different from my own and in that sense I think play an important role. Within the Congress right now in my view and I speak obviously very subjectively, there are what I would say is forty or fifty serious people who in fact day after day, year after year, the many unsung heroes who have been struggling to do the right thing for this country and I have helped put together what we call a progressive caucus which is a merger of the black caucus with some of the progressives in the House to try to develop a strong progressive agenda so that we can try to shift the Congress in a more progressive way so I would argue and I think the record is pretty clear that I have been working effectively with some of the best people in the Congress.
PW: Well how did you find Congress when you, when you went there? I am sure you had preconceived notions about what sort of place it was and what sort of people you would come in to contact with. There seem to be many extremes in the media from just absolute louts to people who are the pillars of their community-
BS: Thats right.
PW: - and I am sure that the truth must be some where in between.
BS: Pat, what I would tell you is it is very hard to explain what goes out there if you’re not down there all the time. Most people - I didn’t know this before I went down there - it is quite different than I think most people perceive. As you indicate and as we have discussed, it is my view very wrong to say “Oh everybody in Congress is a jerk and a crook and they are all terrible people”. That is not the case. There are forty-fifty serious people who year after year are banging their heads up against the wall fighting for their communities, fighting for the elderly, fighting for the poor, fighting for the environment, and its very frustrating that way. But this I would say on the other hand is that if 85% or so of the members of Congress lost their elections from both parties I would not lose a night sleep. What I have to say and I say this not happily and not to be rhetorical about it is there is no question in my mind that the Congress of the United States is way, way, way out of touch with the needs of ordinary American citizens and in many ways to be very honest with you it is very depressing being down there because you see the needs you come back to Vermont and people say “Bernie, what’s happening to health care I have no health insurance”, “Bernie, I am a family farmer, I’m being driven off the land what are we doing for the family farmers”, “Bernie, I’m a senior citizen I can’t afford pharmaceutical - the cost of pharmaceutical drugs what’s happening in that area,” you know “Bernie, I am working for six bucks an hour when are we going to get some decent jobs in Vermont and in this country”. And what I have to say and I say this not happily is that the two party system the vast majority of the members of Congress and the White House is even worse let me underline that. If I criticize the Congress in my view in terms of issues and ideas the White House absolutely is worse because they are complete in bed with the wealthy and the powerful and that is not necessarily the case all the time with the Congress. So what I have to say to you is they are out of touch with reality. There is no sense of urgency. Let me give you - I can give you a million examples, but in terms of how we spend the money in this country alright, we have five million children in America including more than a few in the state of Vermont who are hungry. Some of us have been trying to significantly increase nutritional programs. The WIC program a very successful program in our state throughout the country make sure that all families, low income families with kids have adequate food stamps and so forth and so on. We fought for that and what they keep telling us is no money available. Meanwhile, they have a Hundred and Thirty Five Billion Dollars to spend every signal year defending western Europe. Now you tell me why are we defending countries which are now wealthier than us against a non-existent enemy. They have money for B2 bombers, they have money for star wars, they have money to bail out the S & L institutions and throw that money into the deficit, they have money for space stations, they have money for super _______, but we ask for money for education, we ask for money for environmental clean up, when we ask money to rebuild American industry there is no money available. So I think what you have down there is you have very powerful forces, very wealthy institutions, large corporations, who to a large degree develop the agenda upon which the White House and the Congress function. It is very, very sad because one sees we have the capability of providing a decent life for our people but these guys are not doing it.
PW: Well this year supposedly is going to be the big clean sweep of Congress at least that is what’s been indicated so far. Just recently a name that will have meaning probably for you and maybe nobody else listening but Guy Vander Jagt lost an election out in Michigan who is a pillar of the Republican community in Washington and he was beaten in a primary.
BS: Newt Gingrich whose name probably is known by some people in Vermont, Gingrich out spent his weak Republican opponent I think it was ten to one and won by one or two percentage points.
PW: So what does that say? I mean are we really looking for a major overhaul in Congress?
BS: I think we are -it gets back to the question you asked a few moments ago about political trends in this country. I think what you are seeing in the defeat of Vander Jagt, almost defeat of Gingrich, the defeat of many Democrats in primary elections is people are reacting very strongly against status quo politics and I think Vander Jagt and Gingrich got especially hard hit because they are in the leadership of the Republican party. There is no questions that there will be a very large number of new members of Congress coming in. I see some of that as being very good. You will have significantly more minority representation and by and large that is more progressive than others. More women are coming in and I see that as being very good. In the Senate for example, Barbara Boxer who you may know is a Congresswoman from California, stands a good chance to win in California and if she wins she is going to be one of the very best members of the United States Senate so we are excited about that.
PW: Mmm hmm.
BS: On the other hand you are going to have some extremely right wing people coming in with a very bad agenda I think, but everything being equal I expect that the next Congress will be better than this one, but I think ultimately what we as Americans have to do and I think we have to accept the blame for this ourselves and not blame other people. We have got to sit down and on radio shows like this and television and all over America we have to debate and say what are the issues and how do we go from here to there. Where do we want to go? We don’t have to worry about President Bush’s sex life or Mr. Clinton’s sex life. What are the problems and lets begin the discussion. I don’t know that there is any other country in the industrialized world where people are less politically sophisticated where people discuss real political issues less than we do. Then we go around blaming everybody else. We say “everybody is terrible lets throw them all out”. “Well what would you like to see?” “I don’t know what I’d like but lets just throw everybody out and start again”. Not good enough. Are you concerned about health care? Why is it that the United States is on of two nations in the industrialized world that does not have a national health care system guaranteeing health care to all people? What role do the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies and the AMA and the medical equipment suppliers and their tens and tens of millions of dollars in PAC money play in preventing us from doing that? Why is it on issue after issue the Democratic leadership and the Republican leadership such as the S & L fiasco seem to come down on the same side? How does it happen that over the last ten years while our children go hungry, our elderly people are hurting, we have given tens of - tens more - hundreds of billions of dollars of tax breaks to the largest and most wealthy, healthiest institutions in this country when small business people are struggling to stay alive? Why does that happen? Those are some of the questions that we’ve got to ask that we often don’t ask.
PW: Well do you think that there will be that type of dialogue between you and whoever your opponents ultimately turn out to be?
BS: Well I think what we have in this our campaign right now obviously as you know the Democrats and Republicans hold their primary on September 8th and there are three Republican candidates, there is one Democratic candidate who will be unopposed and I will be on the ballot obviously. And certainly I hope that we will have vigorous debate on the issues of the day. My impression is that the Republican candidates are going to go forth essentially defending Reaganomics and what’s happened in the last dozen years. And if they want to tell the American people how Reaganomics has worked for middle income and working income people in this country I wish them the best. That is a very difficult task in front of them. If they want to tell us how President Bush and Reaganomics has dealt with the health care crisis I would be delighted to debate that issue. So I certainly I am somebody who likes to debate the issues so we look forward to that.
PW: Well its interesting because you, the Democratic opponent from all accounts any way is someone that nobody has really ever heard of that doesn’t have a political base and is widely predicted not to have much of an impact on the election and that was really the case two years ago. There was a Laura Sandoval who was a Democratic candidate who seemed like a nice person but didn’t really have much behind her in terms of support and that showed in the ultimate outcome. How do you account for that that every - so far anyway the first two elections from the Democratic side anyway really was only token opposition.
BS: Well I think what’s going on is the progressive movement is growing significantly in the state of Vermont and what we are attempting to do and I think to a significant degree have down is developed what I believe is th strongest grass roots movement in the state of Vermont and I say that - I think that’s correct. For example, in this campaign we will have the support I believe of every union in the state of Vermont. I believe we will have the support of every environmental group, all of the womens groups, many of the senior citizens groups, many of the family farm groups, in other words we are developing a grass roots movement that represents the needs of ordinary Americans. Now what happened in 1988 when I ran against Peter Smith, Paul ____ was the Democratic candidate you remember that and Paul was one of the leaders in the state legislature for the Democrats and pretty well known. Paul received only 19% of the vote in that race and I think after that as a strong candidate other Democrats began to catch on that we were winning much of the support that had traditionally gone to the Democrats. So as you indicate in 1990 there really wasn’t a strong Democratic presence and I think that will probably be the case in this election as well.
PW: Well if that’s the case from the Democratic side the Republican side who are they, in your opinion, vying for in terms of their support. Would it be the extreme right wing or the moderates or how would that-
BS: You know its hard for me to discuss the strategy of the Republicans. They haven’t confided in us I must confess and tell you that.
PW: I am asking as an outside observer.
BS: Well I think clearly Mr. Winburg who is the mayor of Rutland and is one of I think the two leading Republican candidates will be representing of the traditional big money interests in the state. I think if you look at where he gets his money it comes from what we call the - some of us call the ruling class of the state of Vermont. These are the people who run the utilities, who run the large businesses, the traditional big money interests who put money into the Republican party. The other candidate Tim Philbin I think is very strongly anti-abortion and I think he is playing his campaign to some of the fundamentalist groups perhaps and some of the more right wing type groups and I think that’s probably where those two candidates are coming from.
PW: Any prediction about which of those two candidates will be your opponent.
BS: No I really don’t. I mean its not my business to really make the prediction and I honestly don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a pretty close primary though.
PW: Well it should be interesting and we’ll be watching as usual to see what happens and we appreciate you joining us this morning.
BS: I enjoyed it very much thanks a lot.
PW: Our guest today has been Congressman Bernie Sanders. Join us again next Sunday morning at 9:30 for another addition of Issues here on the new Country 95.