8 Things We Learned About Bernie Sanders From His NPR Interview
Presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has had a rough time shaking charges that his political leanings are too radical, both outside and within the 2016 Democratic field. Hoping to clear the air, the second-place candidate took to the airwaves on Saturday in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition, going toe to toe with host Steve Inskeep over common misconceptions surrounding his tenure in Congress, and whether or not he and Hillary Clinton were still on good terms. More importantly, there were a number of things listeners learned about Bernie Sanders during NPR's interview, which was originally recorded on Wednesday, that could potentially attract voters who are otherwise wary of supporting a self-proclaimed socialist.
Inskeep's first point of conversation was an obvious but important one: Sanders' relationship with his fellow candidates, namely Hillary Clinton, who Sanders has known for 25 years. Contrary to the rival GOP race, Sanders pointed out, the Democratic field, though competitive had largely stayed away from too much vicious in-fighting — for a very good reason.
"I have tried to run a very, very positive campaign, because I respect Hillary Clinton and I like Hillary Clinton,” he explained. "I do not want this to look like the Republican campaign, where it looks like a food fight, and [the candidates] look like children."
It wasn't the only candid moment from the interview. Here, some of the most interesting moments from Sanders' NPR visit:
He's Not Trying To Tear Clinton Down
"We have real issues, we have real differences," Sanders said, before explaining that any disagreements between the two camps were not meant to be ad hominem attempts to tear down the former Secretary of State. Sanders continued,
For example: I believe that our current campaign finance law makes the campaign finance system in America corrupt. So I made a decision, and it wasn’t an easy decision. I said, “If I am going to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, I am not going to have a super PAC.” And that means, essentially, giving up millions of dollars that I could have raised. But I can’t go forward to the American people, saying, “You’ve got a corrupt campaign finance system, but I have a super PAC.” … So I don’t have a super PAC, [but] Hillary Clinton does.
When pressed to say whether Clinton was unable to make tough decisions, Sanders dismissed the question, adding that he wasn’t “generalizing,” rather that he was citing an isolated example.
He's More Than Capable Of Making The Tough, Unpopular Choices
Recalling his own voting record, Sanders lamented that there were already enough people in Washington willing to vote for their own political gain, rather than casting a ballot that benefited the rest of the country — something that differentiated him from the rest of the pack, both Republican and Democrat.
"Look, we live in a very difficult and complicated crazy world, and nobody—certainly not Bernie Sanders—has any magical answers to the very serious problems that we face,” Sanders said. “But I think when people consider a candidate, it is important to consider the history—how they responded in crisis situations [and] how they responded when the decisions that they made were not necessarily the popular decision.”
Sanders then cited the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined the term “marriage” as a union between one man and one woman, and prohibited the state from allowing same-sex couples from marrying and receiving spousal privileges. “Right wing Republicans [were] pushing legislation that they knew was popular at that time,” Sanders recalled. “There were some very good people who ... knew in their hearts that this was very bad legislation, but looked around and said, ‘Politically, you know, I’ve gotta vote for it.’ I voted against it.”
He Thinks He Has Room To Improve (Especially In His Relationship With The Black Community)
Speaking on his own weaknesses, Sanders admitted that he needed to connect more with black voters — although he maintained that if he conveyed his polices to the black community better, they might eventually support him.
“I think we have a real path to winning the support of a lot of folks in the African American community,” Sanders responded. “[But] we’ve got to do a much better job of discussing my record in the United States Congress—the strongest of any member in terms of civil rights—[and] more importantly [making it known that] the issues that we are focusing on, rebuilding the economy, and in the process creating 13 million new jobs … will benefit everybody in America, but even more so the African American community.”
He Voted For The 1994 Crime Bill For A Very Important Reason
Pressed on why he voted in favor of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which included stiffer penalties for a number of offenses and was linked to a surge in the prison population, Sanders defended himself, explaining that there were a number of additions to the bill that would have been detrimental to the public if not passed.
“That’s true,” Sanders said, before adding that a “no” vote would have come with a caveat. “If I had voted the other way, somebody would have noted that I voted against the Violence Against Women Act, which was also in that [piece of legislation], and voted against a bill banning certain types of assault weapons.” Sanders also admitted that there were criminal penalties included in the bill that were a “mistake.”
He's Been Arrested
Don't worry, Sanders' had a good explanation for this one. "I got arrested [during the fight to desegregate Chicago schools], working with a group called CORE—Congress on Racial Equality," Sanders recalled. "I think my experience … working in the Civil Rights movement, working in the peace movement, working with community organizations, did a lot to influence the politics that I now have.”
He Was A Member Of The Young People’s Socialist League
During his time at the University of Chicago, Sanders worked closely with a group of fellow students to enact change during the Civil Rights movement of the ‘60s and educate themselves and their peers about the benefits of democratic socialism.
“I was not a great student, I think the record will bear me out,” he joked. “But I spent a lot of time reading history, sociology, psychology—reading everything except what I was supposed to read for class the next day— and I read a lot about democratic socialism, [and] the efforts of people [who were] trying to create a society in which all people can live with dignity. And that’s kind of what I believe today.”
When asked whether he was still an “idealistic student” deep down, Sanders quipped, “Maybe I am. I’m a little bit older now, a little balder, hair a little bit grayer.”
He Thinks Americans Will Eventually Get On Board With Democratic Socialism
Despite a Gallup poll in June which showed that 50 percent of Americans would not vote for a socialist president, Sanders was adamant that Americans might eventually turn around and accept democratic socialism, once they understood what it really meant. Democratic socialism, he explained, aimed to build on popular programs already in place.
“I don’t want anybody to fall out of their chairs right now,” Sanders joked, “but Social Security is a socialist program… Medicare is a single-payer healthcare system—so, what democratic socialism means to me is that we should have the government addressing the needs of the vast majority of our people, rather than … a government which represents large campaign donors, corporate America, and the top 1 percent.”
He's Keenly Aware Of Racism And Discrimination
Citing a recent incident at a rally in Fairfax, Virginia, last month, Sanders replied that Islamophobia and racism were a real problem — one that seemed to be a constant topic of conversation, given comments made by various GOP candidates over the past few months.
“I don’t want to see kids in America being scared because they’re hearing people on television and the radio saying really ugly, xenophobic, and racist things,” Sanders responded. “This is the year 2015.” He then recalled seeing Holocaust survivors in his own neighborhood as a child, rolling up his sleeve to indicate where the various prison camp number tattoos were hidden beneath their clothes.
“I certainly was aware of the fact that much of my father’s family was killed in the Holocaust,” he added. “It was a very traumatic experience for me as a young man to know that my father’s family were killed by Nazis [...] and so I’ve spent much of my life trying to fight that [same thing].”