Many of us know of the great work that Vermont’s Independent Senator Bernie Sanders does day-in and day-out for not only his constituents, but for all of us. In fact, radio talk show host Thom Hartmann, who hosts a weekly call-in show with Senator Sanders, refers to him as “America’s Senator.” Bernie is the embodiment of today’s “wisdom of progressive voices.”
The quickest way to get the facts and stats about who Bernie is can be found on his senate web site by clicking here. Like many of us who are of Bernie’s generation, the senator was raised in a middle-class family, college educated, and learned the values of the “commons” and the idea that we are all connected and that society is better off when we are all better off. Sometimes it’s hard to pick out just one of the most admirable traits of the longest
serving independent member of Congress. For example, he pushes tirelessly for the passage of single payer health care for this country—never missing an opportunity to remind us that we are the only industrialized country on the planet that does not treat health care as a human right for its citizens. He fights for public education, an end to military madness, an increase in the minimum wage, no cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and endless other goals. But, of the many incredible traits that this man possesses, we here at Wisdom Voices have always admired his ability to “connect the dots” as to what’s happening in our country. His ability to “cut to the chase,” as it were, to what’s wrong with our current social and economic problems and to articulate what needs to be done should never be taken for granted. Critical thinking—a trait that sadly is disappearing.
We were privileged to recently attend a fundraiser for Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison at which Sanders spoke passionately and urgently about the one thread that most tightly binds what ails us: the disastrous U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United ruling that allowed unlimited money to flow into our political process. The recent McCutchen v. Federal Elections Commission only compounded an already horrific situation. Pick an issue—any issue—and it simply cannot be solved or addressed as long as local, state, and federally elected representatives are being pursued legally with unfettered cash for their campaigns. Overturning those Supreme Court decisions and establishing a constitutional amendment that says corporations are not people and money is not speech is the only issue. There simply are no other issues.
In a recent interview with John Nichols in The Progressive magazine, Sanders said:
“I believe that the impact of Citizens United are so dire in undermining the fundamentals of American democracy that a constitutional amendment is appropriate. If present trends continue, we’ll have a handful of billionaires sitting around a room with a map in front of them, deciding how many hundreds of millions of dollars they want to put into this effort and that campaign…This small handful of multibillionaires control the economics of this country. They determine whether jobs stay in the United States or whether they go to China. They determine how much we’re going to be paying for a gallon of gas. They determine whether we’re going to transform our economic system away from fossil fuel….Oligarchy is when a small number of people control the country…and we are rapidly moving toward an oligarchic form of society.”
It was at the recent fundraiser that Sen. Sanders used his valuable trait of “connecting the dots” as he told the crowd about the origins of how this massive shift in economic and political power began. He thanked his staffer whose research discovered the foundations of David Koch’s political belief system when one of the two now famous billionaire Koch Brothers (David and Charles) ran as the vice presidential candidate on the Libertarian Party platform of 1980. As Sanders noted, it’s important to understand the beginning of the story in order to make sense of where we are today. And, he stressed the importance of knowing that the core belief system of the Koch Brothers is the heart and soul of who the oligarchs in America are. This isn’t a game with them. This is their core beliefs—and why they will push so hard to create an oligarchy.
We offer below Sen. Sanders and his brief — and alarm-sounding — description of who the Koch Brothers are and why “We The People” are on the verge of watching our democracy disappear.
“I want to focus on two major issues, and a real concern that I have when we talk about wealth and income inequality. We talk about the top one percent today who owns 38 percent of the financial wealth of America while the bottom 60 percent owns 2.3 percent of the wealth. When we’re talking income inequality we’re talking about one family owning more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of the American people. When we’re talking about inequality, we’re talking about in the last several years, since the Wall Street crash in 2008, 95 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent. And tens of millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages and are worried for the first time in the history of modern America that their kids are going to have a lower standard of living than they do. We’re not only talking economic inequality but something that is even more frightening.
“The most important issue facing us today, as a result of the disastrous Supreme Court ruling (Citizens United), is that we now have a situation where large corporations and wealthy families like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers can legally spend as much money as they want in the political process.
“What does this mean in the real world? Last year, the Koch Brothers alone saw a $12 billion increase in their wealth in one year. Sheldon Adelson saw an increase of $11 billion in wealth. That’s one thing. You may say, that’s OK that people’s wealth is increasing but what’s more frightening is that in an unprecedented way Citizens United said to the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson: ‘We know you own much of the country but now you have the opportunity to buy the U.S. government.’ That is precisely what they are intending to do. When your wealth increases by $12 billion in one year, what do you think $50 million or $100 million (to spend on political campaigns across the country) is to them? It is coffee change. They have passionate views…there is no end to the amount of money they will spend to create the kind of government and society that they want.
“We hear about the Koch Brothers, but the media has not covered what the Koch Brothers stand for. It’s quite another thing to understand what their vision for America is. And they have a very concrete vision that is not widely known, but it’s out there.
“In my mind, one of the most important political developments in America in the last 30-40 years, it that what was once considered right-wing extremism is now mainstream thinking in the Republican Party. In other words, what the success of the Koch Brothers has been—and you have to give them credit because they have spent billions of dollars and they have succeeded—is that they have taken ideas that 30-40 years ago would have been considered ‘whacko’ and because of the money they have spent, these ideas are now being echoed by major political leaders.”
Sen. Sanders then took the gathered crowd down memory lane as he read what his staffer had researched about the Libertarian Party platform of 1980—personified in vice presidential candidate and chief Libertarian Party funder, David Koch. (Ed Clark was the presidential candidate in 1980 on the Libertarian Party ticket.)
“Remember, they (David Koch and the Libertarian Party) ran against Ronald Reagan because they thought he was much too liberal,” Sanders said. “Now, think of what the Paul Ryans, Rand Pauls and Mitch McConnells are saying. It’s the same thing. This (the Libertarian Party platform of 1980) is their agenda for the future. This is from the 1980s but nothing has changed. I’ve not heard one word that they’ve changed their beliefs on the America they want.” Sanders then ran the 1980 platform agenda.
“We urge the repeal of federal campaign finance laws and the immediate abolition of the despotic federal election commission.” Do you know what the chairman of the Republican Party (Reince Priebus) says today? He says the same thing. Do you know what (justice) Clarence Thomas says in his support of the disastrous McCutcheon decision? They (the billionaires) could give $100 million to someone to run against (Minnesota Senator Al) Franken…and when you have that you have a handful of billionaires who will control the political process in America.
“We favor the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.” Any of you notice the Ryan budget this time? It transforms Medicare into a voucher program and makes massive cuts to Medicaid.
“We favor the repeal of the fraudulent and bankrupt and increasingly oppressive Social Security system.” Many Republicans, especially the Tea Party folks, will tell you that they believe Social Security is unconstitutional and that the government should not be in the retirement security business. This is what they were talking about 34 years ago, and now that idea is becoming mainstream.
“We support the eventual repeal of all taxation.” This is their vision: the end of government. That you’re going back to a time when the people who ran the country were the people who had all the money.
“We support the repeal of all laws that impede the ability of any person to find employment such as minimum wage laws.” 34 years ago this was called crazy. (President Dwight) Eisenhower in 1952 was proud to raise the minimum wage. What this means is…what most Republicans believe today is that we shouldn’t just not raise the minimum wage. We should repeal the concept of the minimum wage. What they believe is in a high unemployment area if I say to you, ‘I’m going to pay you $3/hour’ and you don’t want it, they say, ‘Ok, you have the ‘freedom’ to starve.’ We surely don’t want the federal government to impose a minimum wage so that people don’t receive starvation wages. They want to repealing health and safety laws in factories…you don’t want the federal government in there seeing there is a safe work environment.
“We advocate the complete separation of education and state.” Again, think about it. Every idea that was crazy 34 years ago is mainstream today. Government schools? You know what government schools are? Some of us call that public education. They believe government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. They believe ‘government ownership’ and subsidies of schools and colleges should be ended. That means – and this is what they believe in their heart of hearts – they’re not going to run 30 second commercials on this but this is what they believe, that if you want to send your kids to school, find a private school. And if you don’t have the money, then that’s too bad. But surely you don’t want the big, bad government teaching your kids.
“We oppose all government welfare relief projects and aid to the poor. All these government programs are privacy invading, paternalistic, demeaning, and inefficient. The proper source for help for such persons (which are now majority of Americans) is the voluntary efforts of private groups and citizens.” They are talking about repealing every major piece of legislation to protect the poor, the working class, the elderly. Long term this is the kind of society they want. We think of these things as rights. When you get old you will have the right to social security and Medicare. If you work, you will have the right to at least a minimum wage and certain safety requirements in the place you work. They are trying to repeal every legislation that protected the rights of ordinary Americans and roll us back to where people who have the money controlled every aspect of our economic and political life.
“And if you are old and you are sick and you have cancer – you come to me. And maybe I’ll help you and maybe I won’t. But don’t think you have the right to healthcare…If you want your kid to go to college, come to us…maybe we’ll help you, maybe we won’t. But don’t think you have the right to a state university… It’s about their understanding of a “free” society. A society without government is a society dominated by a handful of billionaires.
“Here’s what the dynamics are. I don’t think there are 5 percent of the people who support this agenda, and yet Republicans are running on this agenda. Why is that? Because if you stand up for this agenda you have the Koch brothers funding your campaign. But even that’s not enough. They know that this is an unpopular agenda. So what they have to do is work overtime to suppress voter turnout. These guys are cowards. They can’t stand on their ideas so they want to make it harder for the old and the poor or minorities to participate in the political process. They can’t stand on their political ideas, so they have to rig the game. Big money buys elections and if that’s not enough, they suppress the vote.”
But in true Bernie Sanders form, he did not leave the crowd without a solution to the problem. A solution so easy it almost boggles the mind.
“We have a big fight on our hands. The majority of people support what we stand for. But, in mid-term elections people don’t get galvanized to vote. This is a critical moment in our democracy, and we have to raise our banner and what our vision is for the future. It’s very different than theirs. We need to educate, organize, and we have got to tell every person that the two political parties are not all the same. The stakes are enormous. No one has the right to say they don’t want to get involved. This fight is not just for us. We are fighting for our kids and our grandchildren and for the very health of our planet.”