Bernie Sanders, an independent member of the U.S. Senate, is Vermont’s junior senator. He announced on April 30, 2015, that he was running for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
Although Sanders caucuses with the Democratic Party in the Senate, he self-identifies as a “democratic socialist.” His record leaves little doubt that this is an accurate assessment.
Sanders has advocated for single-payer health care, government assistance to establish worker-owned cooperatives, the breakup of the six largest Wall Street banks, and significant tax increases. He told Bill O’Reilly during an interview: “[W]e have a lot to learn from democratic socialist governments that have existed in countries like Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, where all people have healthcare as a right. Where higher education is free. Where they have [a] strong childcare program. Where they don’t have the massive type of income and wealth inequality that we have in the United States of America.”1
Sanders’ rhetoric revolves largely around corporations and what he sees as the damage they have inflicted on the American economy and workers. In most regards his anti-corporate rhetoric falls within the mainstream of most elected Democrats, although he probably spends more time on it and more explicitly casts his rhetoric in terms of socialist principles than any other.
Sanders was expected to be a back-of-the-pack candidate in the Democratic nomination fight, but he has surprised many by becoming the leading challenger to the favored nominee, Hillary Clinton. He effectively tied Clinton in the Iowa caucuses and beat her by 22 percentage points in the New Hampshire primary. His fundraising has been substantial, and in January he raised more than Clinton did.
However, he lost the Nevada caucuses by five percentage points and was crushed in South Carolina, receiving only 26 percent of the vote, in large part because of his poor showing among African-American voters. Although he managed to win four out of 11 states on Super Tuesday and win the Michigan primary a week later, his mid-March losses in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio have put him well behind in the delegate count, and it will be difficult for him to find a path to the nomination barring a complete collapse of his opponent.
Sanders was born in 1941 in Brooklyn, New York, to Jewish immigrants.2 He attended and graduated from high school in Brooklyn and completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago. His biography notes that he also spent some time during his undergraduate studies at Brooklyn College.3 After graduating from the University of Chicago in 1964, he moved to Vermont.4
Sanders is married to Jane O’Meara Sanders, and they have four children and seven grandchildren. The family lives in Burlington, Vt., where Jane O’Meara Sanders served as the president of Burlington College for seven years.5
He was first elected to office as the mayor of Burlington in 1981, serving four terms in that position.6 Prior to his election in 1990 as Vermont’s U.S. House member, he lectured at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Hamilton College in upstate New York.7 He has also spent time as a carpenter and a journalist8 and was the director of the American People’s Historical Society.9 Prior to his 1981 election as mayor, Sanders was a member of the Liberty Union Party, a self-proclaimed nonviolent socialist party.10 He ran for various political offices as a member of the Liberty Union Party but did not win any of those contests.11
Sanders is the longest-serving independent in the U.S. Congress. He won his first election as Vermont’s at-large member in the U.S. House in 1990 and served in that seat until he ran for the Senate in 2006. He is currently serving his second term as senator.12
Sanders is referred to as the “socialist senator”13 and The Washington Post recently described him as being in a “natural state of – agitation.”14 He has maintained his socialist policy positions, including his strong anti-corporate attitude, throughout the course of his career.15
Although Sanders has been a harsh critic of what he calls “mass incarceration” and a criminal justice system he says imprisons too many people, as a member of Congress he has voted for many of the bills that have increased criminal penalties, such as the 1994 Clinton-era Omnibus Crime Bill that expanded use of the death penalty and required states to limit early release programs in exchange for federal funds.16 While this is not completely inconsistent with his rhetoric, it does suggest he has cast votes that helped produce the very outcomes he decries.
Sanders’ wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, left her position as president of cash-strapped and faltering Burlington College with a $200,000 “golden parachute” after she lost support of the board to continue in her position.17 Bernie Sanders has been highly critical of CEO compensation, including “golden parachutes” given to terminated executives.
Following the 2008 economic crisis, Sanders spoke in favor of Rep. Ron Paul’s call to audit the Federal Reserve, which he accused of operating in secrecy regarding the Wall Street bailout. Sanders introduced an amendment in the Senate identical to Paul’s House legislation. Under pressure from the Obama administration and others, Sanders substituted a far weaker amendment that became part of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill.18
Sanders has managed to avoid any suggestion of impropriety in public office, and sports a generally spotless ethics profile. His history of backing, or at least sympathizing with, brutal Marxist dictatorships such as those in the Soviet Union, Cuba and Nicaragua in the ’80s does suggest a serious moral blind spot, however.19
Sanders served as the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee from 2013 to 2014.20 He joined with Sen. (and former presidential contender) John McCain (R-Ariz.) to write legislation to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs following the scandal of veterans being stuck on waiting lists to receive medical care.21
Sanders credits himself with doubling voter turnout during his tenure as mayor of Burlington, Vt.22 He is also the co-founder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus,23 the largest caucus within the Democratic Caucus in Congress.24 He served as the Progressive Caucus’ chairman for eight years.25
In 2012, The New Statesman, a U.K.-based magazine, named Sanders a “Top-20 US Progressive.” Others named to this list included Paul Krugman, Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky and Rachel Maddow.26 He is also the recipient of the Col. Arthur T. Marix Congressional Leadership Award from the Military Officers Association of America.27
Sanders has not become recognized as a leading voice in the progressive/socialist community as a result of his speaking or interpersonal skills. He is often referred to as lacking in charisma,28 “cranky,” and “cantankerous.”29 A profile in National Journal said this of him: “Clearly, a Sanders presidential campaign would be a tempestuous affair.” As Graff puts it, “He has no social skills.” The media, specifically, would be likely to find itself on the receiving end of his wrath. That’s because Sanders—like many true believers of all political inclinations—doesn’t have lot of patience for those who want to question him. “His idea of coverage is just: Report what he said,” Graff explains. “And if he says it, it’s important.”30
However, despite what are generally considered poor communication skills, Sanders has managed to develop a substantial following in the progressive/left community, and he has routinely drawn large crowds to his campaign events that top those of his rivals.31 His support stems largely from what is seen as a genuine and uncompromising commitment to the causes he espouses,32 and his support in the polls has been steadily rising over the past several months. His performance in the first Democratic presidential debate was viewed by most as good, although few thought him the winner.33 One pundit said that in the debate Sanders “spoke to his supporters. He spoke to the base of the Democratic Party. I’m not sure he showed why he’s electable.”34
Sanders has made relatively few political missteps to date, although he has been criticized for failing to reach out to non-white communities that are a crucial component of the Democratic nomination process,35 and he also appears to have mishandled a protest concerning the “Black Lives Matter” movement during an appearance at a large gathering of left-wing activists.36
Although he has never been a prolific fundraiser in the past, Sanders has raised more than $15 million through June 2015, placing him in the top tier among both Republicans and Democrats.37
In 2010, Sanders gave an 8½-hour filibuster against extending the Bush tax cuts.38 He has advocated implementing a progressive estate tax39 (the tax more popularly known as the “death tax”), supported raising the income tax rate on individuals who earn over $1 million40, and voted against repealing the tax on medical devices.41
He has long praised the 1950s-era income tax rates that topped out at 90 percent for the wealthiest and said he would accept lower economic growth in exchange for a reduction in income inequality.42 In the 1970s he argued for a 100 percent marginal tax rate on income over $1 million and as recently as the 1990s expressed interest in a “maximum income” that would effectively be a 100 percent tax on income above a certain level.43
In terms of his own tax reform proposals, Sanders proposed significant tax increases as part of his health reform plan. Key elements include a 2.2 percent income tax surcharge on all taxpayers, a 6.2 percent payroll paid by employers, and higher tax rates on income over $250,000, starting at 37 percent and topping out at 52 percent for income above $10 million. Capital gains and dividend income would be taxed as regular income, the estate tax rate would be raised, and the elimination of the tax deduction for employer-provided health benefits is estimated to bring in an additional $310 billion per year. All told, his proposal to pay for single-payer health care is estimated by his campaign to bring in an additional $1.38 trillion per year. He has also said he plans to raise corporate tax rates.44 It’s not clear if further tax hikes beyond those included in his health plan will be proposed by Sanders, but he has vowed that taxes on the wealthy will be “a damned lot higher than it is right now.”45 although he has also said they would not be as high as the 90 percent rate he has spoken favorably of in the past.46 He has also indicated that in order to fund paid family and medical leave the payroll tax would have to be increased.47
Sanders opposed a bill that would have extended the ban on state and local government taxing Internet access. This particular Internet tax bill would have extended that ban as well as the prohibition of state and local governments from taxing e-commerce transactions.48
Sanders voted for the “fiscal cliff” deal in early 2013 that retained the Bush tax cuts for middle- and lower-income families but allowed taxes to rise on high-income earners. 49 In his statement explaining his vote, he complained it hadn’t increased corporate, estate or capital gains taxes, or raised taxes on the wealthy even further.50 Sanders has proposed taxing investment transactions to finance his plan for “free” college for Americans as well as other spending.51 The tax would be 0.5 percent of each stock transaction, and a lower tax on bond and derivative trading, bringing in an estimated $300 billion each year.52
Over the course of his congressional career, 19 of his 20 top campaign contributors have been labor unions.53 He voted to allow a bill to move forward that would eliminate the requirement of an employee vote in order to establish a union and also would require binding arbitration if the employer and union are unable to negotiate a contract under collective bargaining.54
He is highly critical of what he considers the lack of regulation of corporations and has sponsored legislation such as the Corporate Tax Dodging Prevention Act,55 which would change how the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) treats foreign corporations and corporations who have assets in tax havens such as the Cayman Islands.56 In his statement supporting the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, he apparently sees a role for the U.S. Supreme Court in the matter of what he believes to be growing corporate power: “At a time of growing corporate power, I also want to ascertain her views as to how the courts can protect the rights of workers and consumers against the abuses of large and powerful corporations.”57
Sanders supports raising the minimum wage to $15.58 He has introduced legislation mandating that businesses with more than 15 employees offer 10 days of paid sick leave to each worker,59 as well as sponsoring legislation requiring 12 weeks of paid maternity and paternity leave and seven days of paid sick leave per year. He has said he has a “serious problem” with Uber and similar services, calling them “unregulated,” although he has not specifically proposed new regulations.60
On another regulatory front, he came out in support of the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to regulate the Internet under “net neutrality” rules.61
Sanders voted in favor of the federal regulation of fracking for natural gas.62
Sanders also voted against a bill that would have provided more rights for property owners who are in land disputes with government.63
He also introduced the Climate Protection Act of 2013, which would have required, among other things, a “carbon pollution fee” on any manufacturer, producer or importer of a carbon polluting substance; federal money to local government to support preferential parking programs for carpools; and a requirement for natural gas fracking operators to disclose chemicals used in fracking projects.64
Energy & Environment
In December 2015 Sanders unveiled an ambitious plan to curb what he sees as the threat of global warming. His proposals include reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050; taxing carbon; banning drilling offshore and in the Arctic; opposing all oil pipeline projects; prohibiting export of oil and natural gas; banning fracking for natural gas; banning mountaintop removal coal mining; and putting a moratorium on renewing nuclear plant licenses.65 He also pledged that he would enact policies to get 50 percent of the country’s energy from “clean” sources by 2030.66
Other elements of his plan include significant subsidies for solar, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric power, as well as spending money on electric car charging stations and high-speed rail for both passenger and freight traffic.67
Sanders opposes the Keystone XL pipeline project,68 and he voted to extend the oil drilling ban in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.69 In November 2015 he introduced legislation that would prohibit new leases of public lands for coal, natural gas, or oil exploration and development.70
Sanders has a consistent and vocal record of seeking to extend new taxes and regulations on American business in the name of combating the effects of climate change. He has voted in favor of moving a cap-and-trade bill to a vote71 and co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) that would create a carbon tax.72 He has also introduced legislation that would require the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to calculate a “carbon score” for federal legislation that would project net greenhouse gas emissions created by the enactment of a federal bill or resolution.73
Sanders has been a supporter of the agricultural community which is a dominant player in Vermont’s economy.74 The dairy industry accounts for more than 70 percent of Vermont’s agricultural sales, 75 so it is not surprising that Sanders has opposed the phaseout of dairy economic supports.76 He has also opposed the phase-out of economic support to the sugar industry as well.77 Like some of his conservative colleagues in Congress, he has supported legislation that would limit farm subsidies based on income.78
Sanders is unabashedly opposed to the privatization of public sector programs. He tends to communicate this opposition by stating Republicans want to “abolish” programs like Social Security, Veterans’ Affairs health care and Obamacare. He does not seem to distinguish between abolishing a program and privatizing it.79 As part of his criminal justice reform agenda, he has called for an end to allowing private companies to operate prisons.80
Budget & Spending
Sanders has opposed budget reforms such as the requirement for Congress to balance the federal budget,81the requirement of a two-thirds majority to vote to raise taxes,82 and a ban on earmarks.83 He also supported raising the debt limit in 2014.84
Sanders has proposed spending $1 trillion over a five-year period on public infrastructure such as roads, bridges and airports,85 and combined with his other spending proposals he would increase total federal spending by at least $18 trillion over the next ten years if his policies were implemented.86 The bulk of that new spending would be for a single-payer health care system.
Sanders is a longtime supporter of a universal, single-payer health care system.87 His plan, released in January 2016, would establish a federally run health system with no co-pays, deductibles or other patient payments, and appears to cover all medical services,88 although many details are lacking.89 His campaign estimates the plan would cost $1.38 trillion per year (presumably on top of current federal health expenditures for Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, and other programs), paid for through a 2.2 percent premium on income, a 6.2 percent employer tax on payroll, and higher tax rates on income over $250,000, starting at 37 percent and topping out at 52 percent for income above $10 million. Capital gains and dividend income would be taxed as regular income, and the estate tax rate would be raised as well. Another $310 billion a year would be raised by eliminating what would be the obsolete tax deduction for employer-provided health benefits.90
He voted in favor of Obamacare,91 which he believes is a precursor to a fully government-run system.92 He is a co-sponsor of legislation to repeal the so-called “Cadillac tax” on high-cost employer-provided health plans.93
He is opposed to any private sector solutions in health care, including health savings accounts94 He also opposes allowing small businesses to pool together to save costs on health insurance95 and limiting liability in medical malpractice suits.96
He voted against the 2003 legislation creating a Medicare prescription drug benefit97 and characterized it as “written by the insurance companies and the drug companies.”98 He has co-sponsored legislation allowing prescription drugs to be re-imported from countries with price controls99 and also to permit Medicare to directly negotiate prices with drug companies,100 which many consider to be a form of price controls.
Sanders has also proposed eliminating patent protections for all pharmaceuticals, instead offering government-funded prizes for drug innovation. Under his proposal the government would determine how valuable a drug was by considering the severity of the condition treated, the size of the affected population, and other information, and provide an award to the drug’s developer.101 All drugs would then be produced as generics.
He is a vociferous opponent of Medicaid block grants.102
Sanders voted against President Bill Clinton’s welfare reform bill in 1996 – a bill that created work requirements for welfare recipients and received bipartisan support.103
He’s introduced a bill that would increase Social Security benefits and impose the program’s payroll tax on income above $250,000 (currently income above $117,000 is not subject to the payroll tax), 104 as well as increasing benefits for low-income seniors.105 and maintains that the current Medicare program is the vehicle for a universal health care system in the United States.106
Sanders voted in favor of the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill.107 Among other things, the bill would have allowed illegal immigrants to remain in the country while seeking legal status and providing a pathway to citizenship (often called “amnesty”). He has opposed building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border,108 opposed prohibiting illegal immigrants convicted of violent crimes from being granted legal status,109 and opposed legislation that would allow local authorities to enforce immigration laws.110
He has spoken against expanded immigration, however, expressing concerns that low-wage immigrants would compete with American citizens for jobs.111
Sanders opposes free trade and gave an extended speech on the Senate floor explaining his opposition to trade agreements with Colombia, Korea and Panama. He voted against the North American Free Trade Act and opposed extending permanent normal trade relations with China – a bill that President Clinton signed in October 2000.112
Sanders has a mixed record on corporate welfare, opposing the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank but then supporting home-state dairy producers with agricultural subsidies. He also has an expansive and bizarre definition of corporate welfare, such as his insistence that Walmart receives corporate welfare because some of its employees also receive public assistance.113 He has denounced subsidies for fossil fuel producers, but his legislation to repeal subsidies mostly targets standard business deductions and accounting practices that apply to all companies.114 He has also supported subsidies for “green” energy producers including windmills and solar panels.115
He supports the renewable fuels standard, which requires refiners to blend specific volumes of ethanol, biodiesel, and other fuels into gasoline and diesel.116
His proposal to do away with drug patents and replace them with government-funded prizes for developing new treatments would give significant discretion to political appointees to distribute billions of dollars to favored or preferred individuals, institutions, and companies, based on highly subjective criteria.117
Banking & Finance
Sanders has proposed bringing back the Glass-Steagall Act’s separation of commercial and investment banking118 and vowed in January 2016 he would order the breakup of “too big to fail” banks, within one year, through Dodd-Frank’s regulations.119 He also pledged to limit ATM fees and cap interest rates on credit cards and other loans at 15 percent.120
In January 2016 he said his Federal Reserve reforms would include requiring it to focus on full employment,121 as opposed to the current twin goals of full employment and sound monetary policy. Sanders opposed the Fed’s decision in December 2015 to raise interest rates, citing concerns that doing so would stunt economic growth and slow job creation.122 He also voted for legislation requiring an audit of the Federal Reserve.123
In 2011, Sanders created a “panel of experts” to help him draft legislation that would reform the Federal Reserve. He did this in the wake of a report that faulted “apparent conflicts of interest by bank-picked board members at the 12 regional Fed banks.”124 The “panel of experts” assembled by Sanders were all, with the exception of one, members of academia and not practitioners in the financial or banking industry.
Sanders voted for Sarbanes-Oxley125 and Dodd-Frank,126 two pieces of legislation in recent years that imposed significant regulatory burdens on financial institutions and accounting practices at major corporations. He opposed the Troubled Asset Relief Program, often described as a bailout of Wall Street, because it didn’t address “too big to fail” or what in his view was insufficient regulation of financial markets.127 He has proposed taxing stock, bond, and derivatives trading to finance his higher education plan.128
Sanders called for allowing Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Code (currently reserved for municipalities), and called for debt restructuring that “protects [Puerto Rico’s] people without harming ordinary investors and pension funds in the United States” while also demanding that “vulture funds” take a significant loss on distressed debt they purchased.129 He also said any debt issued in violation of Puerto Rico’s constitution should be declared void, which could significantly diminish the ability of states, municipalities, government agencies, and other entities to borrow.130
He is a proponent of allowing the U.S. Post Office to offer basic banking services such as checking and savings accounts, check cashing, and possibly small loans.131
Sanders was an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War and was a member of the anti-Vietnam War party, the Liberty Union Party.132
Following the June 2015 referendum in Greece on austerity, Sanders lauded the victory of the “no” side that rejected making economic reforms and further budget cuts in exchange for continued financial aid from Europe.133
In 2014, on the cusp of the Russian occupation of Ukraine, Sanders advocated for economic sanctions against Russia over military intervention – a policy position that was shared by many in both major political parties.134
In the course of his career, Sanders has defended Israel.135 In 2014, when confronted in a town hall by Vermont constituents over Israel’s military actions in response to rockets launched by Hamas, Sanders observed that he thought Israel had “overreacted” but explained Hamas had been launching rockets from populated areas. He became extremely agitated and testy when anti-Israel constituents argued with him and defended Hamas.
He supports normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba.136 In 1996, he voted against increasing sanctions against the island nation.137 In 2014, Sanders was part of a congressional delegation trip to Cuba. The purpose of the trip was to “discuss human rights, trade and health care issues in Havana and also travel to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.”138 He believes that the economic embargo has cost American businesses billions of dollars while Canadians and Europeans are creating jobs through their investment in Cuba.139 Sanders applauded Obama’s December 2014 announcement to begin talks to restore diplomatic relations with the small communist country.140
Sanders praised the Obama administration’s negotiated deal with Iran regarding its nuclear weapons program, calling it “a victory for diplomacy over saber-rattling.”141
As mayor of Burlington, Sanders regularly spoke out on foreign policy issues, generally favoring Marxist causes overseas and expressing vehement opposition to President Reagan’s anti-communist policies. He visited Nicaragua and called the country’s dictator “heroic,” and also travelled to Cuba where he sought a meeting with Fidel Castro but settled instead for a meeting with the mayor of Havana.142 He spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union as part of a “sister city” delegation.143
In 2006, Sanders helped to negotiate a deal with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez to provide low-cost heating oil to Vermont citizens, widely viewed as part of a campaign by the strongman to curry favorable media attention in the U.S. and embarrass then-President George W. Bush.144
During the first Democratic presidential debate, Sanders identified climate change as the top threat to U.S. national security.145
War on Terror
In more recent military action, Sanders supported the Afghanistan war146 but but called for a timeline that outlined the plans for troop withdrawal.147 He opposed using military force in Iraq,148 and believes ISIS is a threat but believes the countries in the region where the terror group is active should lead the fight against it.149
He has announced his opposition to U.S.-imposed no-fly zones in Syria.150
During the second Democratic debate, Sanders said climate change has or will lead to an increase in terrorism.151
He has called for the U.S. to accept more refugees from Syria but has not put any number on how many should be allowed in, saying it’s not possible to do so “until we understand the dimensions of the problem.” 152
He opposed both the Patriot Act and its reauthorization153 and supported President Obama’s effort to close Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. naval station that has been used to house captured terrorists since 2002.154
Regarding Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified information about domestic surveillance programs, Sanders suggested he should be punished but it should be tempered because “Snowden played a very important role in educating the American people to the degree in which our civil liberties and our constitutional rights are being undermined.”155
Military Budget & Preparedness
Sanders has a long history of opposing major weapons systems and increases in capabilities. In 1995, for example, he introduced legislation that would have eliminated the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal, and in 2002 he proposed a 50 percent cut to the military budget.156 He has regularly cited the defense budget as one area he would look at for spending cuts, citing what he believes to be significant fraud, waste, and abuse by contractors.157
Prior to the 9/11 terror attacks, Sanders routinely introduced legislation to cut U.S. intelligence spending. Since those attacks, he has not introduced similar legislation.158
Judiciary & Crime
Sanders supported the confirmation of Obama nominees (and now sitting Justices) Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.159,160 In a publicly released statement, Sanders applauded Obama’s nomination of Sotomayor, as he felt it addressed the ethnic and gender imbalance that exists on the U.S. Supreme Court. Judging from his statement supporting her nomination, he apparently sees a policy-setting role for the Supreme Court in the matter of what he believes to be growing corporate power: “At a time of growing I also want to ascertain her [Sotomayor’s] views as to how the courts can protect the rights of workers and consumers against the abuses of large and powerful corporations.” 161
Sanders voted to confirm the nominations of both justices.162
Sanders has been a vociferous opponent of the court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, calling the opinion “disastrous.”163
He has pledged that, if elected president, he will “have a litmus test in terms of my nominee to be a Supreme Court justice and that nominee will say that they are going to overturn this disastrous Supreme Court decision.”164
Sanders praised the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell (Obamacare tax credits), calling it a “common-sense reading of the Affordable Care Act.”165 He similarly cheered the Obergefell v. Hodges (same-sex marriage) decision, saying that the court “fulfilled the words engraved upon its building: ‘Equal justice under law.’”166
In lieu of supporting truth-in-sentencing programs (requiring those sentenced to fulfill their full sentences, essentially abolishing the parole system) he has supported funding for alternative incarceration programs.167 He has supported replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment and has co-sponsored a resolution that requires DNA evidence for federal executions.168,169 He has also said the federal ban on marijuana should be repealed, giving states the authority to regulate it.170
Free Speech & Religious Liberty
His First Amendment record has been largely geared toward curbing corporate speech. In 2011, he introduced a constitutional amendment that would exclude corporations from the First Amendment right to spend money on political campaigns. This was in reaction to the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision, which determined the U.S. government cannot put limitations on election advertisements funded by corporations, unions or other groups.171
His global warming agenda includes “[b]ring climate deniers to justice” and references support for think tanks skeptical of his views on climate change, suggesting possible legal action against those who fund or promote a contrary agenda.172
Sanders was a co-sponsor of the Media Ownership Reform Act of 2005, which would have reinstated the “fairness doctrine” in talk radio,173 which most observers believe would curtail conservative-oriented speech.
Asked at a forum in Iowa about a perceived lack of diversity on public broadcasting, Sanders suggested that “we need some big changes” in the media so Americans who are in economically dire straits “see a reflection of their life, of their reality, in media.” He specifically cited CNN, NBC, and ABC, as well as soap operas, as examples of media that fail to reflect the views he believes they should, suggesting he may see an expansive role for the government in guiding a wide range of broadcast programming.174
In 1985 Sanders, an enthusiastic supporter of the communist dictatorship in Nicaragua, backed the regime’s decision to shut down La Prensa, a newspaper critical of the regime, suggesting that since the country was in a war and the paper wasn’t supportive of the regime it was acceptable to silence the dissenting voice. He frequently compared the regime’s actions to hypothetical situations in which U.S. newspapers were advocating the overthrow of the government or violence, saying in the U.S. those newspapers would have been shut down.175
Sanders voted against a constitutional amendment protecting religious liberty,176 and he was critical of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case protecting religious employers.
Sanders has generally supported legislation that maintains policymaking and policy control at the federal level, including immigration law,177 natural gas fracking,178 education179 and health care.180 However, he has called for federal laws against marijuana to be repealed, saying it should be left to each state to decide whether to legalize the use of cannabis.181
Sanders supported the No Child Left Behind education bill182 but later supported an overhaul of the legislation that would end the requirement that schools show progress toward meeting federal goals.183 Sanders opposed standardized testing in schools because it “narrows school curriculum and constrains the development of critical thinking and creativity.184 He is opposed to school vouchers and parental choice in education.
Sanders has generally supported individual gun rights and been critical of many but not all gun control measures.185 He voted in favor of legislation protecting gun manufacturers from negligence lawsuits in cases where a crime is committed using a gun they made,186 and opposed legislation imposing a waiting period and federal background checks in the early 1990s.187
In a March 2016 debate he reiterated his opposition to making gun sellers and manufacturers liable when firearms that are legally sold are later used in crimes.188
He did vote for the 1994 assault weapon ban,189 and voted for similar legislation in 2013 that also would have required background checks on private firearm sales.190 He has expressed doubt about the effectiveness of gun control in stopping crimes, saying recently “If you passed the strongest gun control legislation tomorrow, I don’t think it will have a profound effect on the tragedies we have seen.”191
Sanders has a consistently pro-choice record.192 He voted against banning the late-term procedure known as partial birth abortion,193 and has staunchly defended public funding of Planned Parenthood.194 He voted against legislation prohibiting taking a minor across state lines for an abortion in order to avoid state parental notification or consent laws,195 and he has vowed to only nominate Supreme Court justices who will uphold Roe v. Wade.196
Sanders is a supporter of same-sex marriage, and applauded the Supreme Court’s decision on the issue.197 He has voted against legislation that would amend the constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman,198 and also voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.199 He has suggested he wouldn’t seek to revoke the tax-exempt status of religious groups opposed to same-sex marriage, citing religious liberty.200
Sanders has opposed ending the practice of using race as a factor for college admissions.201
Sanders has few vulnerabilities in terms of ethics or instances where he has changed positions, although there are a few examples, as is to be expected of someone who has spent more than 30 years in public office.
His biggest vulnerability in a general election and possibly in the primary will be a long and extensive history of statements that reflect far-left and Marxist views. For example, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the Nicaraguan communist dictatorship in the ’80s and praised long lines for bread as a sign of a healthy economy.202 He also suggested that Nicaragua was setting a positive example for Latin American countries to follow, and he praised Cuba’s communist dictatorship for having solved homelessness and hunger after traveling there and being given a tour.203
Sanders has few actual legislative achievements to his credit, the legacy of holding starkly anti-corporate views that are well out of the mainstream even of the Democratic Party. This lack of accomplishment is likely to be seized on by rivals in 2016.
Another weak point is his lack of interest in reaching too far beyond relatively like-minded people for advice and insight. Of the 19 people he invited to an advisory group to help draft Federal Reserve reform legislation, only one had any financial experience in the private sector. The remaining members of the group were either at academic institutions or public policy and think tank organizations.204
Coming from nearly all-white Vermont, Sanders has little familiarity with the racial politics that are crucial to securing the Democratic nomination. He has already stumbled a few times on this issue, according to those who follow the intricacies of the issue, such as failing to mention immigration or problems facing the African-American community in his announcement speech.
Sanders’ generally unimpressive speaking and political skills have not yet proven to be a liability on the campaign trail, but it is questionable whether he would have the ability to overcome a high-profile blunder of the sort that all candidates make at some point.
Please select up to 4 candidates.