Sen. Bernie Sanders is embracing his anger. A new book details what he's angry about
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Senator Bernie Sanders is embracing his anger. He's shown a lot of it during more than 30 years in Congress. In the 1990s, he attacked both parties for their defense spending.
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BERNIE SANDERS: I know you're upset about it. I know you're hoping and praying that maybe we'll have another war, maybe somebody will rise up. But it ain't happening.
INSKEEP: In 2015, he began seeking the Democratic nomination for president. And Sanders told me then that people should not be afraid because he calls himself a democratic socialist.
SANDERS: I don't want to get people nervous, falling off their chairs, but Social Security is a socialist program.
INSKEEP: When Donald Trump won the presidency, Sanders noted that even Trump promised to preserve that program.
SANDERS: Yes, you're damn right we're going to hold him accountable and remind him of what he said.
INSKEEP: He could also challenge people on the political left when they insisted that Democrats say Black lives matter.
SANDERS: Because it's too easy for, quote-unquote, "liberals" to be saying, well, let's use this phrase. Well, what are we going to do about 51% of young African Americans unemployed?
INSKEEP: Now Bernie Sanders has written a book about his recent campaigns and legislation. He titled it "It's OK To Be Angry About Capitalism." When we spoke, he traced that anger to his childhood in Brooklyn in the 1940s and '50s.
SANDERS: There was a lot of stress in the house over money. Often, there would be arguments. My mother would like to do this or that. And we just didn't have enough money to do that. You know, it's not that we were living in desperate poverty. We were not. My father worked every day of his life and made a living. But economically, we were not going anywhere. My mother had a dream, which doesn't sound terribly radical now, she wanted to own her own home. She died young. And she never - we never achieved that dream. We lived in a rent-controlled apartment for my whole youth.
INSKEEP: Is that where your anger comes from? You put anger right in the title of your book.
SANDERS: It's - what it is, understanding that we live in the richest country in the history of the world, and you got over 60% of the people living paycheck to paycheck.
INSKEEP: The socialist senator from Vermont aligns with Democrats. He was an important voice in the first two years of President Biden's administration, though he gives the Democratic Congress of those years a mixed record. He was proud of the American rescue plan responding to the pandemic.
SANDERS: But I was bitterly disappointed in Build Back Better, what many of us said is OK and the president said. We dealt with the emergency. Let's deal with the structural crises facing America. Our child care system is a disaster. Our health care system is dysfunctional. Kids can't afford to go to college. Let's deal with the existential threat of climate change. Let's deal with income and wealth inequality. We came within two votes of legislation which would have been transformative for the working families in this country.
INSKEEP: Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
SANDERS: That's correct.
INSKEEP: Senator Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Sinema of Arizona enraged Democrats by blocking sweeping social legislation. Though Manchin later negotiated a smaller version, Sanders still labels both corporate Democrats.
SANDERS: These are folks who get a whole lot of money from wealthy people and large corporations. And they do their bidding.
INSKEEP: I was going to ask if you're still angry at someone like Joe Manchin. It sounds like you are. From his perspective, he's representing a very conservative state that votes for Republicans for president hugely and needs to bring them something that they can believe in. Do you sympathize with his political situation?
SANDERS: No. In 2016, when I was running for president, I won a landslide victory in West Virginia.
INSKEEP: In the Democratic primary.
SANDERS: In the Democratic primary, right.
INSKEEP: But there's a general election.
SANDERS: I understand. But the issue is - and again, I don't want to get into West Virginia politics. In my view, politicians do well - and West Virginia is one of the poorest states in America. In my view, politicians do well when they stand up and fight for working people.
INSKEEP: You write about the working class. I made a note here, Page 286. You can't win elections without the overwhelming support of the working class. It seems that many Republicans now agree with you and openly court the working class and get a lot of working-class votes. Why do you think that is?
SANDERS: Well, that is an enormously important political issue. That is the most important political question of our time. But what I think has happened over the years - and this is no great secret. As a result of a lot of corporate contributions, the Democratic Party has kind of turned its back on the needs of working-class people. And then you have a gap there where you have people like Trump coming along and saying, you know what the problem is? It's immigrants. It's gays. It's transgender people. And to get people angry around those issues rather than Democrats saying, hey, I'll tell you what the problem is. The problem is the wealthy are getting richer. Corporations have enormous power. We're going to take them on to create a nation that works for you, not the 1%.
INSKEEP: Your Republican colleague, Marco Rubio of Florida, talks a lot about the working class, alleges that Democrats have turned against the working class. And if I were going to summarize his critique, I might say that Democrats, in his view, are overwhelmingly concerned with the worries of college-educated, affluent liberals and have forgotten about ordinary people. Is he right?
SANDERS: Well, what the polls tell us and what exit polls tell us, which is very sad to me, is white working-class people voting Republicans. And you're seeing Latinos more and more voting Republicans. You're seeing more Black men voting Republican. And that bothers me as somebody who is of the worker, son of the working class, that bothers me that that is happening.
INSKEEP: Let's talk about what you think you can get done in this Congress, this particular Congress. People will know you're the chairman of a powerful committee that oversees health care and other issues. You can try to move legislation through there. But you have the Senate that you have and a Republican House, a closely divided but Republican House. What do you think is something that you could make law in the next two years?
SANDERS: I'll tell you. We had a hearing just the other day. There are - obviously what I want to see, a Medicare for All system, ain't going to happen. No Republicans support it. Half the Democrats won't support it. But this is what we can do. We can expand primary health care and community health centers to every region of the country. I've worked very hard on this issue with some success. We now have 30 million people accessing community health centers in my state of Vermont, leading the country, one-third of our people do. What does that mean?
INSKEEP: And it's federal subsidies helping these...
SANDERS: Well, these are federal programs. You walk into a community health center. You get affordable health care, dental care - dental care is a big issue - mental health counseling and low-cost prescription drugs. Republicans understand that in red states, it is very hard, often, for people to access a doctor.
INSKEEP: Sanders believes that some rural Republicans will support expanding those health centers. And this may be the most interesting side of Bernie Sanders. Though he stands out because of his socialism, his politics depend, in part, on his pragmatism.
Even though you say it's OK to be angry about capitalism, there's a place for capitalism in the world as you envision it.
SANDERS: Yes, there is. Yes, there is.
INSKEEP: If you made all the rules, there would still be large corporations.
SANDERS: Well, I don't know about that. But look; there's nothing in that book that suggests that it is bad for people to go out and start a business, to come up with innovation. That's great. That's good. What is bad is when a handful of corporations control sector after sector.
INSKEEP: I feel like there are a lot of Republicans who are trying to pick up on that theme. They've got their own approach to it. They talk about the social power of corporations as much as the financial power of corporations. But do you see some common ground there?
SANDERS: Well, I think what they sense correctly is a dissatisfaction on the part of the working class of this country.
INSKEEP: Senator Bernie Sanders is the author of "It's OK To Be Angry About Capitalism." Senator, thanks for coming by.
SANDERS: Well, thank you for having me.
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