Bernie Sanders says he is ”prepared to run for president of the United States.” That’s not a formal announcement. A lot can change between now and 2016, and the populist senator from Vermont bristles at the notion of a permanent campaign. But Sanders has begun talking with progressive political strategists, traveling to unexpected locations like Alabama and entertaining the kinds of process questions that this most issue-focused member of the Senate has traditionally avoided.
In some senses, Sanders is the unlikeliest of presidential prospects: an independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats but has never joined the party; a democratic socialist in a country where many politicians live in fear of the label “liberal”; an outspoken critic of the economic, environmental and social status quo, who rips “the ruling class” and calls out the Koch brothers by name. Yet he has served as the mayor of his state’s largest city, beaten a Republican incumbent for the House, won and held a historically Republican Senate seat, and served longer as an independent member of Congress than anyone else in US history. And he says that his instincts tell him America is ready for a “political revolution.”
In his first extended conversations about presidential politics, Sanders discussed the economic and environmental concerns that have led him to consider a run in 2016; the difficult question of whether to run as a Democrat or an independent; his frustration with the narrow messaging of prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton; and his sense that the political and media elites are missing the signs that America is headed toward a critical juncture where electoral expectations could be exploded.
Are you going to run for president in 2016?
I don’t wake up every morning, as some people here in Washington do, and say, “You know, I really have to be president of the United States. I was born to be president of the United States.” What I do wake up every morning feeling is that this country faces more serious problems than at any time since the Great Depression, and there is a horrendous lack of serious political discourse or ideas out there that can address these crises, and that somebody has got to represent the working class and the middle class in standing up to the big-money interests who have so much power over the economic and political life of this country. So I am prepared to run for president of the United States. I don’t believe that I am the only person out there who can fight this fight, but I am certainly prepared to look seriously at that race.
When you say you are “prepared to run,” that can be read in two ways. One is to say you have the credentials, the prominence, the following to seek the office. The other is to say that you are making preparations for a run. How do you parse that?
If the question is am I actively, right now, organizing and raising money and so forth for a campaign for president, I am not doing that. On the other hand, am I talking to people around the country? Yes, I am. Will I be doing some traveling around the country? Yes, I will be. But I think it’s premature to be talking about [the specifics of] a campaign when we still have the 2014 congressional race in front of us.
Political insiders define presidential politics, and they are already hard at work—in both major parties, and in the broader sense—to erect barriers to insurgent, dissident, populist campaigns. Don’t progressives who come at the process slowly run the risk of finding that everything has been locked up by the time they get serious about running?