Say what you will about the presidential candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), but if nothing else, it has certainly introduced some interesting ideas into America’s political debate. Considering that the most recent polls show Hillary Clinton with a nearly five-to-one lead over her nearest rival, this can only be viewed as a positive thing.
As Reddit‘s favorite politician, Bernie Sanders has enormous influence on our political discourse, and his recent policies have been making huge headlines on the Internet. Here are seven ways in which our national discussion on a wide range of issues could be transformed by the Sanders campaign.
1) Guaranteeing free college
In a press conference on Monday, Sanders advocated that the government fund tuition at four-year public colleges and universities through a so-called Robin Hood tax on Wall Street, one that would set a 50 cent tax on every $100 of stock trades on stock sales, as well as lesser amounts on other financial transactions.
While Sanders’ critics are expected to denounce the plan as socialistic, the Vermont Senator is quick to point out that similar proposals are already in effect and successful elsewhere. “Countries like Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and many more are providing free or inexpensive higher education for their young people,” Sanders points out. “They understand how important it is to be investing in their youth. We should be doing the same.”
2) Addressing income inequality
In an interview with the Associated Press confirming his presidential run, Sanders cited America’s growing income inequality as one of the chief motivators behind his campaign, a well-timed stance given the recent #FightFor15 on Twitter.
“What we have seen is that while the average person is working longer hours for lower wages, we have seen a huge increase in income and wealth inequality, which is now reaching obscene levels,” Sanders argued. “This is a rigged economy, which works for the rich and the powerful, and is not working for ordinary Americans.”
Sanders has proposed a number of reforms to solve this problem, from legislation that would close corporate tax loopholes to raising the minimum wage above $7.25 an hour, a rate Sanders describes as a “starvation wage.” For the working poor, getting by continues to be a daily struggle, and Sanders is fighting to change that.
3) Regulating Wall Street
If you think Sanders’ free college plan has Wall Street concerned, you can only imagine how they feel about Sanders’ proposed bill for breaking up banks that are considered “too big to fail.” In fact, polls show 58 percent of likely voters agree with his basic argument that “if an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist,” indicating that merely denouncing Sanders as a radical won’t necessarily work for this measure.
What’s more, banking lobbyists are concerned that anti-bank sentiment within the Democratic grassroots could push Clinton to the left on this issue. “The prospects of it becoming law are nil,” reported one banking lobbyist to the Hill. “But we care about whether this impacts Hillary and whether she’ll try to pander to the far left.”
But for the millions who continue to be affected by the 2008 crash and the effects of the American banking bubble on our Great Recession, it’s not just about pushing Hillary to the left. It’s about pushing America forward.
4) Legalizing marijuana
Although Sanders told Time magazine that he doesn’t consider marijuana legalization to be “one of the major issues facing this country,” his sympathies on the subject are pretty clear.
“If you are a Wall Street executive who engaged in reckless and illegal behavior which helped crash the economy leading to massive unemployment and human suffering, your bank may have to pay a fine but nothing happens to you,” he explained in an AMA session on Reddit. “If you’re a kid smoking marijuana or snorting cocaine, you may end up in jail for years.”
He also supports increased use of medical marijuana and takes pride in the fact that no one was arrested for marijuana possession or use when he was mayor of Burlington, Vt. Given the negative impact of three decades of the War on Drugs on incarcerating urban residents at disproportionate rates, particularly black men, this is a policy that is long overdue.
Although Hillary has vowed to fight the prison-industrial complex, Sanders shows he’s already ready to take the first steps.
5) Fighting free trade
There is another issue in which Bernie Sanders may push Clinton to the left: free trade.
Although hardly a trending topic, Sanders is a longstanding opponent of international trade agreements like NAFTA that he believes work against the interests of average American laborers. His current target is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is being pushed by the Obama administration despite the fact that its provisions have not been made public.
“It is incomprehensible to me that the leaders of major corporate interests who stand to gain enormous financial benefits from this agreement are actively involved in the writing of the TPP,” Sanders wrote in a letter to the Obama White House, “while, at the same time, the elected officials of this country, representing the American people, have little or no knowledge as to what is in it.”
6) Confronting climate change
Sanders’ has made no secret of his contempt for global warming deniers. To embarrass anti-science Republicans, he introduced a “sense of Congress” resolution in January that simply acknowledged man-made climate change was real and needed to be addressed. By voting in favor of the measure, Congress would do little more than place itself “in agreement with the opinion of virtually the entire worldwide scientific community.”
Although the amendment was tabled by a mostly party-line vote of 56-42, Sanders’ reputation as an unwavering advocate of pro-environmental policies when dealing with climate change hasn’t gone unnoticed. Climate Hawks Vote, a super PAC dedicated to addressing global warming, ranked Sanders as the number-one climate leader in the Senate.
7) Criticizing Israel
If elected in 2016, Sanders would be America’s first Jewish president, and that makes his willingness to criticize Israel all the more significant. During a town hall event last year, Sanders got into a shouting match with constituents who were angered by his statement that Israel “overreacted” in its military campaign against Hamas and was “terribly, terribly wrong” for bombing UN facilities.
His stance on Israel could hardly be described as blindly pro-Palestinian, however. In the same town hall meeting, he acknowledged that Israel was in a tricky situation because Hamas was firing rockets from populated areas, but he has no love for Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, distinguishing himself as the first Senator to openly refuse to attend Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.
Regardless of whether one agrees with Sanders’ views on these issues, the odds are still far greater than not that he won’t receive the Democratic nomination next year. In addition to being on the far left in his own party, Sanders is a septuagenarian from a minority background who hails from one of America’s smallest states.
At the same time, he is still giving voice to a series of positions that deserve a more prominent place in our political debate. When all is said and done, this can only be a good thing.
Matt Rozsa is a Ph.D. student in history at Lehigh University, as well as a political columnist. His editorials have been published on Salon, the Good Men Project, Mic, MSNBC, and various college newspapers and blogs. Matt actively encourages people to reach out to him at [email protected].
Photo via John Pemble/Flickr (CC BY ND 2.0)