Bernie Sanders sees red lights flashing for election

April 17, 2024
Bernie Sanders in the JFK Jr. Forum, Photo by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer


By Anna Lamb | Harvard Staff Writer
April 17, 2024

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders sees warning lights flashing in America.

"In our country today, we are moving rapidly toward an oligarchic form of society," Sanders told a packed room at the Harvard Kennedy School last Friday. "What we are seeing now, and what I think we have never seen before, is a very small number of incredibly wealthy and powerful people who are significantly increasing their power over both our economic and political systems."

Sanders, a progressive who is an independent but caucuses with the Democrats, was joined by award-winning journalist and current IOP fellow Allison King on Friday to discuss issues facing the nation ahead of the 2024 elections. Sanders, an Institute of Politics fellow in 1989, sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and 2020, and at the center of his platforms was income and wealth inequality, which he said has gotten worse.

Sanders noted that on a recent trip to Los Angeles he witnessed large numbers of people "sleeping out on the streets," and he spoke to residents who say they are "paying 50, 60, 70 percent of their limited incomes on housing." He visited a Black community in Baltimore that was a food desert, without a single grocery store, and older people isolated in their homes.

"The very wealthiest people are doing phenomenally," Sanders said. "Meanwhile working people all over this country are struggling."

During his talk, Sanders quoted Federal Reserve statistics showing $50 trillion in wealth has been redistributed from the bottom 90 percent to the top 1 percent over the past 50 years.

The inequity has spilled over into politics, he said. "What you are increasingly seeing is not campaigns between candidate X and candidate Y. You're seeing campaigns against this super PAC versus that super PAC," financed by "hundreds of millions of dollars coming in from the billionaire class to defeat candidates who stand with workers and who will support the ruling class in America."

Sanders' remedy? "I think what we have to do is create a real political revolution in America, which understands that we have a very formidable and powerful enemy who really are truly greedy people," he said.

The economy is widely expected to be a major campaign issue, with concerns over consumer prices, which have been moderating in recent months, at the top.

Sanders told the audience the major factor in inflation is corporate greed — that food manufacturers and oil companies can be blamed for high prices hurting American’s pockets at the grocery store and the gas pump.

He also underscored the need to support workers who have continued to yield high productivity across sectors with a 32-hour workweek.

"Workers have not benefited from the increased worker productivity and technology — people on top have," he said. "So I think it is time that workers benefit from it."

Sanders' talk also repeatedly underscored one of his other major congressional agenda items — Medicare for all.

"What is the role of government in society?" Sanders asked. "It would seem to me when you boil it down, it's to create a society in which people live long, happy, and productive lives … despite this huge expenditure on healthcare, our life expectancy is significantly less than … many, many countries'."

Sanders did a talk at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health earlier in the day, critiquing the nation’s healthcare system and highlighting his belief that healthcare is a human right.

When asked whether he supports President Biden's bid for re-election, Sanders applauded Biden's support of issues such as student debt relief, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and organized labor.

"Let’s not forget this," Sanders said. "Joe Biden is the first president in American history ever to walk on a picket line during the strike."

During the talk, Sanders was also asked about his stance on the Israel/Gaza conflict, on which he has taken a humanitarian stance on the side of Palestinians. Sanders has urged the president to cut funding to Israel for weapons and leverage U.S. political power to get aid to Gaza.

"My view was that if somebody invades your country and does terrible things, you have the right to defend yourself," Sanders said. "But what Israel has done in the past many, many months since that invasion has been engaging in a war not against Hamas, but it has been a war against the Palestinian people."

And when asked about advice he would give to students looking for jobs after graduation, he said he hoped many of them would "choose to stand on the side of justice, and not on the side of big money."

"We need strong voices who will stand up for the poor, who will stand up taking on the fossil-fuel industry so our planet is not destroyed, will stand up for a sane foreign policy, who will stand up for military policy to not spent 10 times more than more than the next 10 countries combined," he said.

"You are getting the best education America can provide. And I think you need to make very fundamental decisions. We are on the Titanic, and it's going down. And you are about to decide whether or not you can play a role in preventing that destruction."

Photo by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer