Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) made income inequality a buzzword of the Democratic primaries in 2016, and now is seeking the nomination once more in what looks to be a more competitive field in 2020. The independent senator and self-described democratic socialist from Vermont made waves three years ago when he mounted a surprisingly strong challenge to Hillary Clinton with an unapologetically left-wing message. His outsider campaign was able to mobilize the progressive base of the Democratic Party by introducing new ideas — including tuition-free college and “Medicare for all” — into the fold, a number of which have become mainstream platforms in a revamped Democratic Party.
Now he is running for president.
Here is what Bernie Sanders stands for:
1. Bernie Sanders on Higher Education
- Free College
Bernie Sanders has been one of the leading advocates for tuition-free public college, arguably introducing the idea into national discourse during the 2016 Democratic primaries. Sanders’ College for All Act seeks to eliminate tuition and fees for families making under $125,000 per year. While it doesn’t eliminate tuition fees outright, it would provide states with a total of $47 billion per year in federal funding to eliminate undergraduate tuition at public universities across America.
In a 2017 opinion piece published by Vice Impact, Sanders argued that the United States needs to vastly improve the education of its workforce in order to compete in the world economy. Noting that the United States has slipped from first in the world in college graduation rates to eleventh in 2017, his contention is: “The main reason is because the ever-rising cost of higher education puts college out of reach for many families or requires students to take on a mountain of debt.”
“It’s time to change that dynamic,” he continued. “It’s time to make public colleges and universities tuition free for the working families of our country. It is time for every child to understand that if they study hard and take their school work seriously they will be able to get a higher education, regardless of their family’s income. It’s time to reduce the outrageous burden of student debt that is weighing down the lives of millions of college graduates.”
- Community College
Sanders’ tuition-free higher education plan extends to community college students. Under the College for All Act, community college would be tuition-free for students of all income levels.
- Student Loan Forgiveness
Sanders’ proposed higher education overhaul also includes major reforms to the student loan system. The College for All Act restores the student loan formula that was in effect until 2006, lowering student loan interest rates by almost half, from 4.32 percent to 2.32 percent for undergraduate students. The legislation also ensures that rates never rise above 8.25 percent and enables borrowers to refinance their loans based on the interest rates for current students.
2. Bernie Sanders on Social Justice
- Income Inequality
Income inequality is the central issue of Bernie Sanders’ campaign. The self-declared democratic socialist has essentially built his national reputation around the issue, and many of his policies, from taxes to healthcare, are geared toward closing the income gap. As he stated in a 2014 tweet, “A nation will not survive morally when so few have so much, while so many have so little.”
Sanders has introduced legislation that would increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, a measure supported by many of Sanders’ 2020 competitors, including Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren. He has proposed a tax plan that would target the richest Americans, including a major overhaul to the estate tax that includes a 77 percent tax on billionaire estates.
- LGBT Rights
Sanders has a long track record of supporting LGBT rights. In 1983, when he was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he passed a resolution declaring “Gay Pride Day.” In 1996, he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defined marriage under federal law as the union of one man and one woman. The law, which passed 342 to 67 in the House of Representatives and 85 to 14 in the Senate, was ruled unconstitutional in 2015, paving the way for nationwide recognition of same-sex marriages in 2015.
Sanders also supported Vermont’s 2000 civil union law and 2009 law legalizing same-sex marriage. He voted against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the 1993 legislation that banned openly gay people from serving in the military, and likewise supported its repeal in 2010. He has come out against President Trump’s efforts to ban transgender people from serving in the military and has defended the right of transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity.
- Criminal Justice
Sanders supports reforms to the criminal justice system and reducing incarceration across the country. He has voiced support for alternative sentencing in non-violent drug offenses, and is opposed to mandatory minimums for non-violent offenses. He has also called for an end to private prisons and has called for investment in education and job training.
Sanders has a track record of criticizing mass incarceration that dates back to the 1990s. However, he has faced criticism from some racial justice advocates for prioritizing economic issues over matters of racial justice. During his 2016 presidential campaign, Sanders was criticized by Black Lives Matter activists, who contended that he had overlooked issues related to criminal justice reform and race. On two separate occasions, activists from the racial justice organization interrupted Bernie Sanders events — first, a town hall meeting with Sanders and Martin O’Malley and, later, a campaign rally in Seattle. Sanders was accused of framing racial inequality and mass incarceration as products of economic inequality, not as distinct problems in their own right.
Since, he has become more outspoken about racial and criminal justice issues and has firmly aligned himself with the Black Lives Matter movement, even co-hosting a major rally in California to spotlight mass incarceration and protest the construction of a new jail that would cost $2.5 billion in taxpayer money.
3. Bernie Sanders on the Environment
- Climate Change
Sanders is a strong advocate of legislation to combat climate change. He has stated that the United States has a “moral obligation” to confront climate change and has received a 92 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters for his voting record on issues related to climate change.
In 2013, he worked with then-Senator Barbara Boxer to introduce a multifaceted climate bill that included a number of strong measures to reduce the extent and impact of climate change, including a fee on carbon emissions at their source that would have returned three-fifths of the proceeds back to U.S. residents in the form of a dividend. They also introduced a companion bill that would have eliminated some subsidies for fossil-fuel companies. He was also a major figure in the opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and has called for a ban on new offshore drilling.
- Sustainability and Clean Energy
Sanders supports transitioning to renewable energy sources and taking measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He supports the use of energy-efficient “smart grids,” energy transmittal systems that can detect and react to local usage changes. Sanders opposes investment in nuclear and coal over safer and cleaner renewable energy sources and has stated that he believes in investing between $8 billion and $13 billion per year in alternative energy sources, including solar, wind, geothermal and biomass. He also supports setting a national standard requiring 25 percent of U.S. energy to be sourced from renewable power by 2025.
4. Bernie Sanders on Immigration
Sanders stands in favor of comprehensive immigration reform and believes in a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He voted in favor of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act 2013 Senate bill, a bipartisan effort that would have created a path to citizenship and increased security along the southern border, doubling the amount of border control officers and creating new fencing around the border. The Act, which passed the Senate by a wide margin, was not taken up for consideration by the House of Representatives.
He has also stated his opposition to Trump’s border wall, believes in restructuring the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and recently appointed Bélen Sisa, an undocumented immigrant, to the position of deputy press secretary for his campaign. Sisa, who arrived in the U.S. from Argentina as a six-year-old, is a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and is reportedly losing DACA protection within a year.
5. Bernie Sanders on Marijuana Legalization
Bernie Sanders supports ending the federal prohibition on marijuana and leaving the decision on whether or not to fully legalize the drug up to states. He believes in leaving the decision to legalize the drug up to the states, stating, “In my view … every state in this country should have the right to regulate marijuana the same way that state and local laws now govern sales of alcohol and tobacco. Among other things, that means that recognized businesses in states that have legalized marijuana should fully be able to use the banking system without fear of federal prosecution.”
In February 2019, Sanders co-sponsored the Marijuana Justice Act, which was reintroduced by Cory Booker. The proposed bill would legalize marijana on the federal level, expunge past convictions, and reinvest in communities disproportionately affected by the criminalization of marijuana.
“600,000 people, disproportionately people of color, were arrested for possession of marijuana in 2017,” Sanders tweeted his support. “It is time to decriminalize marijuana, expunge past marijuana convictions and end the failed war on drugs.”
6. Bernie Sanders on Gun Control
In 2016, Sanders’ position on gun control was further to the right than most in the Democratic Party. As a senator from Vermont, reportedly the most gun-friendly state in the country, he favored a middle-of-the-road solution to the gun control issue that would bridge the cultural divide over guns and appease gun owners and gun control advocates alike.
He faced some criticism from the left for his stance in 2016, and has come out more strongly in favor of gun control in the lead-up to the 2020 primaries. In his campaign announcement speech, he stated, “I’m running for president because we must end the epidemic of gun violence in this country. We need to take on the NRA, expand background checks, end the gun show loophole, and ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons.”
7. Bernie Sanders on Net Neutrality
Bernie Sanders has come out strongly in favor of net neutrality and has denounced the FCC’s decision to repeal measures ensuring net neutrality. In a statement regarding the FCC’s decision, he said, “The end of net neutrality protections means that the internet will be for sale to the highest bidder, instead of everyone having the same access regardless of whether they are rich or poor, a big corporation or small business, a multimedia conglomerate or a small online publication. At a time when our democratic institutions are already in peril, we must do everything we can to stop this decision from taking effect.”
Sam Benezra is a graduate of Ohio University with a B.A. in History from the Honors Tutorial College. He is a native of Brooklyn, New York. Sam enjoys writing on a variety of subjects, including science, music, politics, film. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling, playing guitar, and writing songs.