Rarely in history has a U.S. Senator spoken so much truth in such blunt language as did Bernie Sanders when the Vermont independent on Monday warned in a remarkable speech on the Senate floor that: "Unless the American people by the millions tell the President not to yield one inch to Republican demands to destroy Medicare and Medicaid, while continuing to provide tax breaks to the wealthy and the powerful, I am afraid that is exactly what will happen."
Speaking not just to the Senate—and the president—but the great mass of Americans, Sanders offered a new narrative with regard to addressing debt ceilings, debts and deficits. Rejecting the absurd claims of Republican legislators and their amen corner in the media, Sanders urged Obama and his fellow Democrats to draw a political line in the sand and declare that some compromises need not be made —and will not be made.
"In my view, the President of the United States of America needs to stand with the American people and say to the Republican leadership that enough is enough. No, we will not balance the budget on the backs of working families, the elderly, the sick, the children, and the poor, who have already sacrificed enough in terms of lost jobs, lost wages, lost homes, and lost pensions," declared Sanders. "Yes, we will demand that millionaires and billionaires and the largest corporations in America contribute to deficit reduction as a matter of shared sacrifice. Yes, we will reduce unnecessary and wasteful spending at the Pentagon. And, no we will not be blackmailed once again by the Republican leadership in Washington, who are threatening to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States government for the first time in our nation’s history unless they get everything they want."
As with the filibuster-style speech last December, in which he decried compromises with Republicans on tax policy (especially maintaining Bush-era tax breaks for billionaires), Sanders framed his remarks Monday not just in a political context but in human terms.
He quoted at length, and often in poignant language, from Americans—particularly Vermonters—who have seen their economic security threatened as federal priorities have shifted away from defending the Middle Class and toward the structuring of tax, trade and regulatory policies to serve multinational corporations and the CEO class.
While Sanders called on Obama to do the right thing, the senator was realistic. Clearly conscious of the president's penchant for compromise, Sanders urged working Americans to join him in demanding that the White House and congressional Democrats stand firm against the agenda of Wall Street and a military-industrial complex that always finds money for wars but rarely finds resources to secure the homes, health and happiness of the great mass of citizens.
"I am asking the American people who may be listening today that if you believe that deficit reduction should be about shared sacrifice, if you believe that it is time for the wealthy and large corporations to pay their fair share," Sanders said, "if you believe that we need to reduce unnecessary defense spending, and if you believe that the middle class has already sacrificed enough due to the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, the President needs to hear your voice, and he needs to hear it now."
There was a "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" tenor to Monday's speech, as there was to the speech Sanders gave last December.
He spoke in the language of Main Street, urging the people to join him in challenging the economic and political "schoolyard bullies" who would pressure a Democratic president and Congress to bend to the will of the elites.
But the sincerity of the senator's remarks ought not be mistaken for naïvete. A veteran organizer, he knows the power that the people still have to influence even the most corroded and corrupted of political processes. And he is asking them to use that power now —for their own good and for that of their nation.
And he is not afraid to lead the charge.
At Sanders' urging, more than 16,000 Americans have signed a letter he had written to President Obama.
That letter concludes with the call that is at the heart of Sanders' message: "Please do not yield to outrageous Republican demands that would greatly increase suffering for the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society. Now is the time to stand with the tens of millions of Americans who are struggling to survive economically, not with the millionaires and billionaires who have never had it so good."
To assure that the president stands strong, Sanders argued on Monday that, citizens must recognize this is "a pivotal moment in the history of our country. In the coming days and weeks, decisions will be made about our national budget that will impact the lives of virtually every American in this country for decades to come. And the time is now for the American people to become significantly involved in that debate and not leave it to the small number of people here in Washington."