Politics

Here are Bernie Sanders' Stances On 5 Major Issues You Care About

April 30th 2015

By:
Laura Donovan

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) just announced he is running for President of the United States, making him the second most high profile candidate to join the race for the Democratic nomination. The unapologetic liberal has earned a reputation as an outlier in the U.S. Senate, largely due to his socialist proclivities and aversion toward "big money" and the undue influence of corporate America.  

“When I came into the House, no one knew what to do with me,” Sanders told the New York Times in 2007. “I was the only representative from Vermont, so I had no one to help me. And I was the only Independent, so no one knew where to put me in terms of committee.”

Sanders openly praises the socialism of Scandinavian governments and believes the U.S. could benefit from following suit.​ Though he's the longest serving Independent member of Congress, he endured several hard losses at the beginning of his political career. The Brooklyn native moved to Vermont with his first wife in the 1960s, when he worked as a carpenter, freelance writer, filmmaker, and researcher, according to The New York Times. After those jobs didn't fulfill him, Sanders gave politics a shot. In 1971, he unsuccessfully ran for Senate under Vermont’s Liberty Union Party (LUP). In 1972, he lost the state's gubernatorial election, and he faced two more failed campaigns before becoming mayor of Burlington in 1981. In 1990, he was elected the first Independent member of the House in 40 years. He moved on to the Senate eight years ago, and in 2010, Sanders famously filibustered President Barack Obama's tax cut plan by speaking for 8.5 hours on the Senate floor

Here is where Senator Sanders stands on some of the major issues you care about: 

1. Education

Sanders resents the notion that college is a privilege, not a right. Speaking to HuffPost Live at the beginning of April, he said, "I think what we need to do is say yes, higher education should be a right. Not for everybody, people who have the ability, people who have the desire, because that makes our country stronger."

When it comes to free college, Sanders said, "The folks who control the politics in America, the people who control the media aren’t particularly interested in that discussion. They’re doing just fine. The top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. 'What's your problem? Things are going just great.'"

Sanders added that Denmark is doing something right by providing universal healthcare and mostly free higher education. "But that's democratic socialism," Sanders continued. "We don't want to talk about that, do we? We love the current system, where we have massive wealth and inequality."

The Senator's own upbringing in “solidly lower middle class” New York likely informed his views on the relationship between income inequality and education. “A lack of money in my family was a very significant aspect of my growing up,” he said last year. “Kids in my class would have new jackets, new coats, and I would get hand-me-downs.”

Earlier this year, President Obama called for free community college to make education more accessible to lower income individuals. Sanders said we need to take the proposal further and offer two tuition-free years of college to prospective students. “We need a revolution in the way higher education is funded,” Sanders said in a speech at Johnson State College. “In the United States, all people who have the desire and the ability should be able, in this changing economy, to receive all the education they need regardless of their income."

Sanders said it's "absurd" that some are discouraged from pursuing higher education because of costs.

"This is absolutely counter-productive to our efforts to create a strong economy," he continued.

2. Marijuana

Sanders has voiced support for medicinal marijuana use, and he's also aware of the fact that an increasing number of Millennials want the substance legalized. "It is a trend, but I think it has a lot of political support from young people especially," Sanders told TIME last year. "It probably will continue to move forward. Colorado led the way. Other states I expect will follow. I have supported the increased use of marijuana for medical purposes, and I can tell you when I was Mayor of the City of Burlington, which includes the University of Vermont, I don’t recall that anybody was arrested for marijuana use. And I have real concerns about implications of the War on Drugs that we have been engaged in for decades now with a huge cost and the destruction of a whole lot of lives of people who were never involved in any violent activities."

Though he smoked pot when he was young, Sanders wouldn't outright advocate for recreational marijuana use, as he feels the U.S. has more pressing issues to address right now.

"I’m going to look at the issue," he continued. "It’s not that I support it or don’t support it. To me it is not one of the major issues facing this country. I’ll look at it. I think it has a lot of support and I’ll be talking to young people and others about the issues. But there are two sides to a story."

During a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session, Sanders noted the injustice of regular people being penalized for drug use while wealthier members of society often get away with similar offenses, "There is no question but that the rich and powerful live under a different system of justice than ordinary Americans. If you are a Wall Street executive who engaged in reckless and illegal behavior which helped crash the economy leading to massive unemployment and human suffering, your bank may have to pay a fine but nothing happens to you. If you're a kid smoking marijuana or snorting cocaine, you may end up in jail for years. The truth is that the billionaire class with all of its power and all of their lawyers can protect themselves very effectively from criminal prosecution."

3. Immigration

While Senator Sanders supports the rights of children whose parents enter the country illegally, he told The Washington Post in 2013 that he is skeptical of some guest worker programs. "What I do not support is, under the guise of immigration reform, a process pushed by large corporations which results in more unemployment and lower wages for American workers," he told the publication. "You have massively high unemployment for young people, yet we're talking about expanding visas so that young people from abroad can serve as life guards, become ski instructors, become front desk people, when young people in this country desperately need jobs to pay for a college education ... I'm very dubious about the need to bring foreign unskilled labor into this country. These are kids, young high school graduates, and the unemployment rate is just extremely high. I do not understand why they cannot hire those people and need foreign labor."

For undocumented immigrants currently in America, Senator Sanders is both a supporter of the DREAM Act and opposed to many deportations. Last September, Sanders criticized the president for pushing back an executive order that would delay the deportation process. Immigration activists cheered Sanders's aggressive pursuit of immigration justice. Activist Monica Reyes said in a statement, "Unlike Hillary Clinton, Senator Sanders showed he understood the urgency to keep families together, though was still sensitive to the political complexity."

When Obama issued his executive order on immigration reform later in the year, Sanders said in a statement, "I’m a strong supporter of immigration reform and of the need to provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. I support President Obama’s action to help working families stay together. I think everyone agrees that the current immigration system is broken. The Senate passed an immigration reform bill more than a year ago but House Republicans refused to even consider it. They have left the president with little choice but to act on his own."

4. The Environment

In 2012, Sanders took to the Senate floor to blast Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Ok.) for doubting the severity of climate change. Because of Inhofe's seniority in the Republican party, Sanders feared his climate change skepticism would sway conservatives not to do anything about the crisis at hand.

"The bottom line is that when Senator Inhofe says global warming is a hoax, he is just dead wrong, according to the vast majority of climate scientists," Sanders said. “For better or worse, when Sen. Inhofe speaks, the Republican Party follows. And when the Republican Party follows, it is impossible to get real work done in the Congress."

 

In 2007, Sanders and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act of 2007, which aimed to set out "a roadmap of targets, requirements and incentives that EPA will use to reduce U.S. emissions and help stabilize global atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases," according to Sanders's website.

5. LGBT Rights

Sanders is a known supporter of gay marriage. In the 1990s, he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which permitted states to refuse to acknowledge same-sex marriages that were granted in other states. So when the Supreme Court heard arguments about its constitutionality in 2013, Sanders said, "I hope the court strikes down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. It was a bad idea when it was enacted in 1996. That’s why I voted against the law in the first place and why I am a cosponsor today of a bill to repeal the discriminatory law." 

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