Bernie Sanders is consistent.
The independent senator from Vermont proved that when he visited Spencer on Sunday. He ran through a greatest hits list of his policy ideas and then took questions at a town meeting at the Clay County Fair and Events Center.
Sanders, one of more than 20 people vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, stopped in Spencer as part of a four-day swing through Iowa. Spencer was the senator’s second-to-last stop of the trip, which wrapped up in Sioux City later that night.
Many of Sanders’s policy ideas he first championed – and claims helped bring to the forefront of political discourse – during the 2016 Democratic primaries were again discussed Sunday. Those included Medicare for All, income and wealth inequality, climate change, taxation, campaign finance and more.
Sanders acknowledged Iowa’s role in helping him challenge Hillary Clinton, to whom he ended up losing the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
“Four years ago, we began the political revolution,” Sanders said to a crowd of over 300 people. “I am here today to ask you to travel with me down the road so that we complete what we started four years ago.”
And though four years have passed, Sanders’s goal is the same.
“What I am saying today is that I am not running for president just to win,” Sanders said. “I am running for president because, together, I want to see us transform this country and create a nation, a government, an economy that works for all of us, not just wealthy campaign contributors.”
Sanders began the town meeting addressing the economy. He said that though the unemployment rate has continued to decrease under President Donald Trump, as it had been under then-President Barack Obama, that data point doesn’t tell the entire story.
“When we think about what’s going on in America, is it simply true what Trump is saying: ‘Everything is great, the economy is doing great.’ Is that true?” he asked the crowd.
Numerous voices in the crowd responded no.
Sanders said Trump’s vision of the economy does not account for high childhood poverty rates, high infant mortality rates, and what he called a “dysfunctional” childcare and pre-K system in the U.S. Nor does it take into consideration problems with education, including teacher pay, school districts struggling to fill teacher positions, college costs and student loan debt.
“You’ve got millions of people in this country (who) are struggling to pay off outrageous levels of student debt for the crime of getting the education that they need,” Sanders said. “Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”
Then there are wages, which have not risen as quickly as economists feel they should be under current favorable economic conditions.
“What about the wages that workers are making?” Sanders asked. “How many people do you know here in Iowa or in Vermont who are working two or three jobs to cobble enough income together to pay the bills for their families? So let us be very clear that in America today you cannot make it on nine bucks an hour or ten bucks an hour.”
Sanders pointed out that 40% of older workers in American have no savings as they approach retirement, leading to higher levels of stress.
“I go all over the country and I see stress on many people’s faces,” Sanders said. “And the stress is they are worried what is going to happen, how are they going to survive.”
Young people are also feeling the stress, he said.
“Despite huge increases in productivity and an explosion in technology – guess what, young people – the likelihood is unless we turn it around, your generation is going to have a lower standard of living than your parents,” Sanders said. “You’re leaving school more in debt. The jobs you get, in many cases in real dollars, pay less, (it’s) harder for you to find affordable housing.”
Wealth, income inequality
That brought Sanders to income inequality. He said wealth inequality is worse in the U.S. than at any point since the 1920s. He said CEOs of large corporations “make 300 times what their workers make.”
Sandes also touched on his belief that the federal minimum wage needs to be increased to $15 per hour, a level that he called a “living wage.” He noted he felt that way in 2016 and added that six states have already passed legislation that moves minimum wage to $15.
“More importantly, that wild and crazy idea will be passed by the House of Representatives within the next couple of months,” Sanders said to applause from the crowd.
Bernie said he has introduced the companion bill to that legislation in the Senate and asked for Iowans’ help.
“I need your help to tell Senators Ernst and Grassley that people cannot make it on $9 and hour,” Sanders said. “They’ve got to vote with us for $15 and hour minimum wage.”
That effort is part of the Sanders campaign’s overall economic message.
“Trump is right when he says that the economy is doing better,” Sanders said. “But it is doing really, really well for the people on top and what this campaign is about is to create an economy that works well for all of our people.”
To do that, Sanders said “the corrupt political system” must be dealt with. He railed against billionaires who he said have far too much influence in elections.
“You’ve got a corrupt political system which was made worse by this disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which we are going to overturn, which allows billionaires to buy elections,” he said.
Sanders also walked the crowd back in time, noting that four years ago, he was bringing up the same issues he is still discussing, including climate change.
He said that four years ago he was asked by a TV moderator what believed is the greatest national threat to the country. Sanders answered climate change.
“And literally, if my memory is correct, the moderator laughed,” Sanders said. “People are not laughing now. Because whatever world Trump may live in with regard to climate change, the scientists are very clear. And what they are clear about is that we have all of 12 years to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to substantially cut back on carbon emissions, to move to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.”
A ‘political revolution’
Sanders several times noted it was during the 2016 Iowa Caucuses that he first shared his policy stances.
“Four years ago, I came to Iowa and, as I recall, around four percent in the polls,” Sanders said. “And I think it is fair to say that most people in Iowa had never heard of the junior senator – yes, I am the junior senator from Vermont, Pat Leahy is older than me.”
Sanders recalled how he travelled the state in 2016, holding 112 meetings. They ended up speaking to, by his estimate, 73,000 people.
“We came into Iowa at four percent in the polls,” Sanders said. “On caucus night, we ended up with 50% of the vote. Because we surprised everyone here in Iowa, we ended up going to New Hampshire where we did well and we ended up winning 22 states in America. We ended up getting over 13 million votes and we ended up with over 1,700 delegates to the Democratic National Convention.”
That was not enough for him to defeat Clinton, but it created momentum.
“My point here is whether the issue is criminal justice and a movement to decriminalize and legalize marijuana, whether it is seeing significant movement toward raising the minimum wage to a living wage, whether it is seeing the trade unions in this country become more militant as they stand up and fight for their workers, whether it is the effort to make sure the wealthy and powerful start paying their fair share of taxes, we are making progress,” Sanders said. “And in many ways, that political revolution, that change in the political conversation in America started right here in Iowa four years ago.”
The “political revolution” began four years ago, Sanders said.
“I am here today to ask you to travel with me down the road so that we complete what we started four years ago.”
Feature image: Bernie Sanders speaks about his campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination at the Clay County Fair and Events Center in Spencer.