Bernie Sanders is not running for president. Though he has expressed frustration with the direction of the 2012 campaign—going so far as to suggest that President Obama could use a primary challenge—Sanders will seek another term in the Senate next year.
But while he is not running for the presidency, Sanders is delivering the sort of speeches—and outlining the sort of agenda—that could animate the stale and lifeless 2012 campaign.
Indeed, the Vermont senator is making more fiscal and economic sense than anyone who is running—for either of the major party nominations in 2012.
“While everyone understands that we have got to reduce the deficit, the number-one challenge America faces right now is a jobs crisis,” the independent senator declared, while decrying the fact that more than 16 percent of American workers (25 million American) are either unemployed or underemployed.
Putting the warped fiscal and economic debates of a moment of Tea Party excess and Democratic denial into perspective, Sanders explained that “creating the millions of new jobs that we desperately need is not only vitally important to our economy but will be the means by which we reduce the deficit over the long term. New jobs mean more government revenue, which makes a lot more sense than having to spend billions on unemployment compensation, food stamps, and other programs needed during a severe recession.”
But Sanders was not just recounting the details of a crisis. He used the convention address to outline a bold, progressive agenda for addressing it. That agenda begins with a commitment to “rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, transforming our energy system, and rewriting our trade policy so that American products—not jobs —are our number-one export.”
“Everyone in Vermont and across the country understands that we can put millions of Americans back to work rebuilding the nation’s bridges, roads, schools, dams, culverts, rail systems and public transportation, among other vital needs,” said Sanders. “We must also transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy. A significant number of jobs can be created through weatherization, and the manufacturing of American-made wind turbines, solar panels and heat pumps. Also, we must make fundamental changes in our trade policy so that we rebuild our manufacturing sector. Corporate America must invest in the United States and stop the outsourcing of jobs to China, Vietnam and other low-wage countries.”
To raise revenues, Sanders would have the new Congressional “super-committee” begin reducing by eliminating tax loopholes for the wealthy and large corporations and taking a hard look at excessive military spending.
And, no, the senator is not interested in cutting Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security—at all.
“Social Security has not contributed a nickel to the deficit, it has a $2.6 trillion surplus, and it can pay out every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next twenty-five years. It must not be cut,” explained Sanders. “Instead of balancing the budget on the backs of working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the most vulnerable, it is time to ask the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations in this country to pay their fair share.”
That was not a presidential campaign stump speech. Sanders is running for re-election for the Senate.
But this is what every serious 2012 presidential candidate—including Barack Obama—should be saying.
This story originally appeared in The Nation.
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