Interview With Bernie Sanders

Representative Bernie Sanders (I-VT) recently spoke with The Vermont Cynic. With a substantial lead in the polls, Sanders has focused more on supporting John Kerry’s presidential bid than his own bid for re-election.

Vermont Cynic: How important is this year’s election? And why is it critical for college students to be active participants?

Bernie Sanders: I think that this election is the most important election in American history, or at least modern American history. It is especially important for young people; what my campaign is trying to do is to get as many people involved in the political process as is possible. Because if young people are not involved the issues that they are concerned about are just not going to be heard. If we continue to have voter turnouts among young people around 15-20 percent with 80 percent not voting then the issues like financial aid for college, the environment, women’s rights, and the potential draft are just not going to be dealt with as strongly as they should be. If Bush is reelected women are going to loose their right to choose, Roe vs. Wade will be overturned, women will not be able to control their own bodies. I think that that is unfortunate and wrong, most people do. But that is what Bush wants to do…Worry about the issues, if you think that president Bush has done a good job then you should vote for him. I think that he has done a terrible job for middle class working families, for young people, for the environment, for women’s rights then I think that he should be defeated in November.

VC: What will Senator Kerry’s most valuable asset be as president?

BS: That he is not George W. Bush. Of course it is important who Kerry is, but it is far more important to make an assessment of what has happened in the last four years. If people think that this country is doing well economically, if people are satisfied with our foreign policy in Iraq, if they are satisfied with the most disastrous environmental policy in modern history, if they are satisfied with a president who wants to take away a women’s right to choose, and if they think that the type of financial aid that is going into colleges is adequate then they should vote for George W. Bush. This is a campaign about the last four years, it’s a referendum on president of the United States. My view of Bush is that he is the most extreme right wing president that we have seen in the modern history of this country. What he is doing is terrible for the environment, terrible for women’s rights, terrible for college students in terms of financial aid. [With him] the next four years will be even worse. So my main interest in this campaign, to be very frank, is to see that George Bush is not reelected. On all of those issues Kerry is better. Do I have disagreements with Senator Kerry? I sure do, but they pale in comparison to my concern with another four-year with President Bush. I think that people should understand and not be manipulated by Washington Republican operatives, the real issue of this campaign is weather or not the guy who is president has done a good job or not. If you think so then vote for him, if not then it is time for a change. And while people may have disagreements with John Kerry there is no question that on all of those issues Iraq, financial aid, healthcare, woman’s rights, the environment, Kerry is far superior to Bush.

VC: What, in your opinion, are the proper steps that should be taken with Iraq considering the interests of the American people, the American soldiers and the Iraqi people?

BS: The bottom line is that I am one of those people who not only voted against the war, but who led the opposition to giving the president the authority to go to war. I have been very strongly against the war because I thought that it was in fact counter-productive to the war on terrorism, which is something that we must fight. Terrorism is a very, very serious problem but I think that putting $200 billion into Iraq has deflected attention away from al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and has not been a good thing for us in terms of the war on terrorism. It has alienated people throughout the entire world, and you cannot fight a war on terrorism if so many people throughout the world are looking negatively at the United States. America is now held in lower esteem, not only in the Muslim World, but also all over the world. That is clearly not good for us and not good for the war on terrorism. One of the things that we do have to say is that we need far more international support than we currently have. Terrorism is an international problem; it’s not just an American problem as we saw recently in Russia, Spain and as we saw in a number of other countries. America should not have to go at it alone so to speak. I think that we have to internationalize it, I think that we have to pay a lot more attention to the needs of people in the Muslim World and in the developing world and to make sure that they understand that we are on their side and not their enemies. Otherwise, you will have people like Osama bin Laden just recruiting terrorists under an anti-American banner.

VC: The hawkish rhetoric is not only coming from the White House, people like your opponent, Greg Parke, have claimed that it is people like you who are responsible for 9/11. How do you reconcile this great disparity between both sides?

BS: Well, I think that it is unfortunate that people like my opponent would use the tragedy of 9/11 in such a pathetic way. To say that any American is responsible for 9/11 is a pathetic statement and I don’t think that anyone would take it seriously. But this is what the extreme right wing in America would like people to believe. That those of us, for example, who voted against the war, or those of us who have had concern for the functioning of the CIA and the other intelligence agencies are so called quoted unquote responsible for 9/11 is too absurd of a remark to actually respond to. Mr. Parke is actually an extreme right-winger and is part of an extreme right-wing movement that I think is very dangerous for this country.

VC: Roughly half of America’s eligible voters do not vote. How do we engage these people in the political process?

BS: Well, I probably do more of that than anyone else in Vermont does. By the time this campaign is over I will have had over 50 meeting to register voters. We will be speaking to thousands of people in Vermont to, bringing them out and trying to engage them in the political process. If anyone tells you that they don’t want to vote and that their vote does not matter, you tell them that that is a stupid assertion. That’s what happens in a democracy everyone has one vote, that’s called democracy. If people don’t vote then people who have the money and the power will vote, and will use money to influence what goes on to the detriment of everyday people. I think that anyone who says that voting doesn’t matter is really quite stupid.

VC: The average student graduates with nearly $20,000 loans. What changes need to be made to make college more affordable to for most people?

BS: Student debt is a disgrace. For the first time in modern history lower income student are applying in lower number than used to be the case because they don’t want to get out of college $30,000-$40,000 thousand dollars in debt. That is what happens when you are lower income. Clearly the answer is, instead of giving tax breaks to million and billionaires what congress and the president has to do, which he has not, is substantially increase financial aid. In fact what we can and should do is to make sure that everyone in America who wants to go to college should be able to do so without coming out in debt. The current system is a disaster, the cost of education is soaring, and more and more people are finding it harder and harder to afford it and more and more people are coming out deeper and deeper in debt and that is not right.