One thing I love about covering Senator Bernie Sanders is that I feel little need to write much exposition. The man is a truth-teller--just let him talk and post it. It’s that simple.
Yesterday, at the Senate Democrats Progressive Media Summit on Capitol Hill, Sanders offered that kind of opportunity.
Other Senators indeed made valuable contributions. Senator Sherrod Brown in essence said that there will be political payback on conservative Caucus members who stood in the way of healthcare reform when Committee Chairmen are chosen in the next Congress. He also argued that despite some setbacks we are “in the midst of a progressive era now.”
Senators Charles Schumer and Harry Reid suggested filibuster reform is on the horizon. Schumer also said there will be jobs bills “every couple of weeks” coming out of the Senate and that their cumulative impact will be similar to what progressives are fighting for. And Senator Debbie Stabenow deserves kudos for a rather thankless job as a liaison between a pissed off progressive media and a Democratic Caucus which is more conservative than she is.
But it was Senator Sanders, with his usual candor and fearlessness, who provided the most valuable insights for progressives’ ongoing work.
For one thing, he offered an update on his work to make sure the healthcare bill allows states to explore single-payer systems, which I previously wrote about in December. This is something we should all be contacting our legislators about and telling them to support--including moving the start date from 2017 to 2014, which Sanders noted is important. Canada’s healthcare system evolved from a program first established in Saskatchewan, Vermont or California or another state should have the option of jumpstarting a similar system here.
Sanders’ assessment of where we are one year into the Obama presidency is what made me just want to run the tape recorder and transcribe. So here’s what he had to say:
“A year ago at this time, the American people were in amazement about a brilliant, charismatic guy named Barack Obama who had run the best campaign in our lifetimes--elected President. Democrats gained more seats in the Senate, Democrats gained more seats in the House.
A year later, we are in a very, very different place. How did that occur?
I think one of the reasons that it occurred is that we have wasted month after month after month negotiating with people who are not interested in serious reform. So from Day One the understanding should have been--we have 50 votes, let’s do it, let’s move quickly, let’s take on the Republicans, let’s rally the American people around a real strong healthcare bill.
Well, it’s only been a year and apparently the White House now has that message. And we are going to go forward with reconciliation.
But let me tell you something, when our Republican friends get on the floor and they say, ‘Reconciliation--it is undemocratic! It’s just pushing things through. It’s unfair.’ Of the 22 times that reconciliation has been used since 1980, 16 of those 22 times were done by Republicans. And when people say, ‘Well, you can’t get a comprehensive bill through.’ Do not forget that the Contract with America--a 2400 page bill which covered almost every aspect of American life--was passed by reconciliation, to be vetoed by Bill Clinton thank God. They managed to get a broad bill through.
So I think the understanding has got to be, ‘I think we’ve got 50 votes to do something serious, let’s do it.’
The last point that I would make is, I happen to have the belief that Obama ran the best campaign that I’ve seen in my lifetime. I think a mistake was made after the election, that we forget about the grassroots in this country, we forget about the trade unionists, and we say to them ‘Oh, we campaigned telling you that we were opposed to McCain’s tax on your healthcare benefits, but by the way we changed our mind.’
I think what we have got to reengage in is a progressive, clear agenda. I think we’ve got to go out and rally the American people once again--get the young people involved once again that we had during the campaign. Talk to our trade unionist friends, because we gotta work on their issues. Talk to our senior friends who for the first time in 36 years are not getting a cost of living adjustment. And engage the grassroots of this country in a significant political battle as we bring forward simple, straightforward progressive legislation, prepared to take on the big money interests that exist.
Last point that I would make is the issue of Wall Street. You cannot underestimate how furious the American people are at the greed and recklessness of Wall Street, and how much they want us to take these guys on. And I think we lose faith with ordinary Americans when we have not yet done that and that’s an issue we’ve got to deal with as well.”
Bernie--telling it like it is.