Reprinted from Campaign For America's Future
Tweeting that "America needs a political revolution," Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders threw himself Thursday into the race for the Democratic nomination for the presidency.
Sanders is in many ways the mirror image of Hillary Clinton, the favored candidate in the race. She has universal name recognition, unlimited funds, and a campaign operation rife with experienced political pros. He is not widely known, has little money, and has never run a national campaign. But in a populist moment, he is the real deal -- a full-throated, unabashed, independent, uncorrupted, straight-talking populist. And that is a big deal.
Sanders will focus his campaign on the great challenges facing the country: a politics corrupted by big money, and an economy where the rules have been rigged by the few to benefit the few. That reality won't be changed by politics as usual, where the viability of a candidate is measured by how much money he or she can amass in the backroom "money primary," and the message of a candidate is judged by its poll-tested ability to appeal to voters without alarming donors. It will take an independent political movement to change our course -- and Sanders will run as its Tom Paine, summoning Americans to save their democracy.
Sanders has already released a 12-point Economic Agenda for America. He has been a leader in what is increasingly a consensus agenda for Democrats: an increase in the minimum wage, paid sick days, paid vacation, pay equity, affordable child care.
But Sanders' agenda is far bolder. It addresses the structures that are geared to generate extreme inequality. Since 1978, CEOs have increased their own pay by almost 1,000 percent, while the wages of 90 percent of Americans have lost ground. As Sanders says, that can occur only if the rules are systematically rigged to favor the few.
So Sanders calls for an end to the corporate-defined trade and tax policies that have racked up unprecedented and ruinous trade deficits while shipping good jobs abroad. He is a leader in the effort to stop fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is supported by the Democratic president, the Republican congressional leadership and the business lobby.
He calls for breaking up the big banks, and making Wall Street serve rather than savage Main Street. The big banks are more concentrated than ever. Too big to fail, too big to jail, they are too big to exist. His leading donors are unions, not Wall Street bankers.
He calls for expanding, not cutting back basic security programs for America. He would lift the cap on Social Security payroll taxes to expand benefits to address the looming retirement crisis. He would move to a national health care plan -- Medicare for all -- that takes on the insurance and drug lobbies and makes health care a right. He would provide two years of debt-free college or advanced training for every student willing to earn it.
He calls for empowering workers, protecting the right to organize, fostering worker-owned cooperatives, while curbing the perversities of CEO compensation. This would help ensure that workers share in the profits and productivity that they help to generate.
He calls for fair taxes on the rich and corporations to invest in rebuilding our decrepit infrastructure and in renewable energy, creating jobs while leading the global effort to address catastrophic climate change.
He challenges the bipartisan consensus that America must police the globe, arguing that endless war will waste precious lives and sap our resources. He was against the Iraq intervention from the first lie.
And of course, he opposes big money in politics, and will drive reforms to clean up Washington's corrupted revolving door lobby culture.
Many pundits suggest that there is little difference among Democrats. All are social liberals. All have become more "populist" in line with the times. But the real question is who is prepared to take on the entrenched structures that generate inequality and drive down wages. Sanders will put that question to voters and to his rivals.
A Test of Populist Energy
Sanders' candidacy is less a test of the power of the populist message -- its reach is apparent as even Republicans struggle to address economic inequality -- than a test of populist energy and independence.