He's been drawing large crowds to speeches across the country in the past several weeks, but Bernie Sanders has been pushing his middle class-first ideology for many years, both before and since he became Vermont's Independent senator. In 2011, Sanders talked to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, to promote his book The Speech, which is a word-for-word transcript of his extraordinary 8 1/2 hour filibuster on the Senate floor in 2010 to protest a tax cut plan worked out between President Obama and Republican leaders in Congress. Although it wasn't technically a filibuster, since the speech would not have been able to prevent the tax deal from going down, it was quintessential Sanders: Fired up about what he viewed as inequalities that favor the richest Americans at the expense of its most vulnerable citizens.
At the time, Sanders told The Washington Post, "I'm not here to set any great records or to make a spectacle. I am simply here today to take as long as I can to explain to the American people the fact that we have got to do a lot better than this agreement provides." And he echoed that theme in the 2011 interview with Stewart. "Today we have a middle class which, in many respects, is collapsing. Median family income is declining," Sanders said.
Since he launched his campaign in May, Sanders has continued to speak out against what he calls establishment economics. "Corporate America is destroying the great middle class of this country," he told a crowd of 7,500 people in Portland, Maine, Monday night. "People from coast to coast are saying, 'You can’t keep getting away with it.'"
The plight of the middle class is an issue Sanders has been railing for his entire political career. The PBS program NewsHour looked at Sanders' stump speech from 1974 when he was running for the Senate and found the same theme. "A handful of banks and billionaires control the economic and political life of America," Sanders said at the time. "America is becoming less and less of a democracy and more and more of an oligarchy."
Despite other candidates whose positions tend to change with the political winds, Sanders has stuck to his message for 40 years. "The fascinating thing about Bernie right now is that the agenda has caught up with Bernie," University of Vermont political science professor Garrison Nelson told NewsHour. And at last, judging by the crowds who turn out to hear him speak, it seems like people are beginning to get Sanders' message.
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