July 10, 2021
photo above: Credit… Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for The New York Times
WN: Go for it, Bernie!
At 79, Bernie Sanders is a man on a mission, laser-focused on a list that represents trillions of dollars in government spending that he deems essential. When I stray into other subjects, the senator jabs his finger at his piece of paper or waves it in my face, like Van Helsing warding off Dracula with a cross.
“Maureen, let me just tell you what we’re trying to do here,” he says. “We’re working on what I think is the most consequential piece of legislation for working families since the 1930s.”
Sanders, long a wilderness prophet in Washington, a man who wrote a memoir bragging about being an outsider, admits that it is strange to be a key member of The Establishment. As the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, the democratic socialist is now pulling the levers in the control room.
He has changed the whole debate in the nation’s capital. He is the guy trying to yank his party back to its working-class roots and steer President Biden in a bolder, more progressive direction.
Mirabile dictu [Wonderful to relate]: A president and senator who are both pushing 80, men who were underestimated and dismissed for years in Democratic circles, are now teaming up to transform the country. It’s the Bernie and Joe show.
Sanders passionately believes that the only way to undo the damage done by Donald Trump and Trumpism is by showing that government can deliver, that good policy can overcome dangerous conspiracy theories and lies.
“I would have loved to run against him, to tell you the truth,” he says of Trump. “He’s a fraud and he’s a phony. That’s what he is, and he has to be exposed for that.”
Even with Trump out of office, Sanders feels we are still on the precipice. Democrats need to speak to the struggles of the white working class, he says, something that “sometimes part of the Democratic elite does not fully appreciate.” He adds: “We’ve got to take it to them. I intend, as soon as I have three minutes, to start going into Trumpworld and start talking to people.”
“It’s absolutely imperative if democracy is to survive that we do everything that we can to say, ‘Yes, we hear your pain and we are going to respond to your needs.’ That’s really what this is about. If we don’t do that, I fear very much that conspiracy theories and big lies and the drift toward authoritarianism is going to continue. You got all these folks out there who are saying, ‘Does anybody pay attention to me?’”
“Who denies the realities of what he is taking on?” Sanders says, digging into some eggs over easy and white toast. “Does anyone deny that our child care system, for example, is a disaster? Does anyone deny that pre-K, similarly, is totally inadequate? Does anyone deny that there’s something absurd that our young people can’t afford to go to college or are leaving school deeply in debt? Does anybody deny that our physical infrastructure is collapsing? Does anybody except anti-science people deny that climate change is real? Does anyone deny that we have a major health care crisis? Does anyone deny that we pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs? Does anyone deny we have a housing crisis? Does anyone deny that half the people live paycheck to paycheck?”
Sanders, who has talked about spending up to $6 trillion on the reconciliation package, says he will not support a two- or three-trillion-dollar bill. “That’s much too low.”
Sanders was a lonely voice on democratic socialism for decades; now he has a squad to keep him company.
He lights up talking about “Alexandria, Rashida, Ilhan, Pramila, Ayanna from Massachusetts,” noting that “they really came from very much the same place that I was coming from, and they all came from different parts of the world.”
Still, Sanders is not in lock step with the most progressive members of his party on everything. He says, for example, that he prefers “fundamental reform” to defunding the police.
“A cop’s life is a difficult life,” he says, sounding like the mayor he once was. “Schedules are terrible. Salaries, in many cases, are inadequate. It’s a dangerous job. It’s a job with a lot of pressure. We need to significantly improve training for the police. In certain communities, what is going on is absolutely unacceptable. It must be changed, period. We cannot have racism in policing. If you go to Black communities or Latino communities, they want this protection.”
When I ask Sanders if he thinks A.O.C. could be president someday, out comes the list.
“That’s not what I want to get into,” he barks. “I want to get into what this legislation is about.”
He rolls his eyes at fashion. “I’m not chic,” he says. “I’m the least chic person in the world. Trust me.”
He’s also unimpressed by billionaires and their toys.
“You have the richest guys in the world who are not particularly worried about earth anymore,” he says. “They’re off in outer space.” People are sleeping on the streets, but “Mr. Bezos is worth $200 billion and now he wants to get a spaceship. That’s very nice. That’s what this legislation is about, Maureen. I want to talk about this legislation.”
But wait, what does he think of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s lurking around A.O.C.’s office and calling her “a little communist”?
“You’re getting off the subject here,” Sanders chides, before relenting: “Look, she is the future of a segment of the Republican Party which is delusional, which tends toward violence.” He adds: “It’s not just Jan. 6. It’s taking place at state capitols. There’s people walking around with guns.”
Please click on: Ascension of Bernie Sanders