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Why Bernie Is the Most Popular Politician in America

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Sanders' message about the ravages of runaway inequality hit home because it is true.


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Bernie Sanders has the highest approval rating of any politician in the country with 61 percent approving, with only 32 percent disapproving, according to a March 15 Fox News poll. The Sanders 29-plus percent favorable/unfavorable gap is far superior to Trump's negative 8 percent.

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What accounts for Sanders' popularity and how can progressives build on it?

Bernie Sanders has been saying the same things for nearly a half-century. He's been a consistent democratic-socialist fighting on behalf of working people and against financial/corporate power. While his straightforward commitment to his ideals is refreshingly genuine, he did not make his mark on the national scene until last year at age 74.

Sanders didn't change, but the world did.

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His message about the ravages and unfairness of runaway inequality hit home because it is true. He and his campaign became the next phase of the revolt against the one percent initiated by the remarkable, yet short-lived, Occupy Wall Street.

Sanders took this discontent many steps forward by clearly articulating a social-democratic agenda for working people. He turned "We are the 99 percent" into a clear policy agenda. That agenda, not just his enormous integrity, is why he remains so popular.

He stands for something and so should we.

Here's a rough draft of such an agenda:

*The right to a job at living wage: Everyone who is willing and able to work should be entitled to a job that today would pay at least $15 an hour. If the private sector is unable to produce such jobs, then government should serve as the employer of last resort. There's more than enough work to be done to rebuild our infrastructure and protect our environment.

*The right to universal health care: It is time to expand Medicare -- our efficiently run single-payer system for the elderly -- to anyone who wishes to join.

*The right to free public education from pre-k to graduate school: Each child deserves access free of charge to as much education as he or she qualifies for through our public educational systems. Nearly every economically advanced country provides free higher education. So should we. (See here)

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*The right to a sustainable environment, free from chemical, radioactive and carbon pollution: We need to protect working people and communities from harmful exposures while rapidly reducing the emission of greenhouse gases -- the cause of global warming. The climate crisis is real and must be addressed now. In doing so we also should have a policy of buying goods as locally as possible to limit the carbon footprint of transportation, and we should make sure industries do not flee to countries with weaker health, safety and environmental standards.

*The right to an impartial criminal justice system that does not harm anyone based on their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, racial category or religion. In particular, we need to dramatically reduce the differential impact of enforcement, prosecution and sentencing on young people of color.

*The right to vote, free of voter suppression activities and billionaire influence: For our democracy to endure we need to halt any and all efforts to deny voting rights, and we need to curtail the influence of money in all areas of the political system.

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Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute in New York, and author of "Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice" (Labor Institute Press, 2015)

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