Senator Bernie Sanders has been in the campaign trail for the past twelve months seeking the Democratic Party's nomination for its presidential candidate. He has been in the Congress for over twenty years but his views and actions very often transcended the party lines. He is not part of the Washington establishment, a term used to identify lawmakers disciplined to operate within the parameters defined by the Speaker and Senate leaders. Sanders is not a favourite in the Oval office nor in the Capitol Hills. He represents a vision distanced by both the Republican and the Democratic leadership.
Since 1960 the President and the Congress have very often chosen political trajectories that were opposed by the people. President Johnson got involved in the Vietnam War in the name of protecting democracy from the threat of communism. The administration secured participation of a coalition of countries in the warfare. But as the casualties soared South Korea, Philippines, Thailand and Australia withdrew from the coalition leaving the United States alone in the battlefield. The people in the United States resented the high cost and human casualties and demanded termination of the war. The President undermined the losses and exaggerated the success in the battlefield. Johnson's commitment that restoring democracy to Southeast Asia was the only antidote to Marxism-Leninism exceeded the limits the United States could accomplish. People in thousands came out in the streets protesting the war and Johnson decided to leave the matter to his successor. His Republican challenger, Richard Nixon, got elected pledging immediate termination of the war. By the time the United States withdrew from Vietnam, 58,000 American soldiers were dead.
In mid-2002 President George W. Bush secured a bi-partisan Congressional approval to invade Iraq. Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama and a few other senators opposed the resolution as they believed the war would have unintended consequences. Thousands of people at home and millions across the world vehemently opposed the war even before a single shot was fired. But the Bush administration was determined to go to war. Iraq was invaded in defiance of the wishes of the people.
The premises on which the invasion was carried out was proved unfounded. Consequently, the entire region became destabilised, millions of people were displaced and about a million were killed. The sectarian conflict destroyed the social bond existed so long and resulted in the emergence of a radical outfit in the name of Islamic State (ISIS) which now controls parts of Iraq and Syria. The United States also suffered a colossal damage. Over 4,400 soldiers were killed and 32,000 severely wounded. The war cost the USA US$ 770 billion. The American troops have now returned to the battlefield to assist combating the ISIS but with no tangible result. The cost of on-going wars in Iraq and Afghanistan placed heavy stress on the US economy.
The manipulative actions of the Big Businesses caused housing bubbles and ultimately led to a great recession. The government provided bail-out funding to rescue the banks and institutions but all was not well spent. The CEOs of many institutions drew large chunks of money as emoluments and siphoned off the money abroad. Millions of houses risked foreclosures, infrastructures deteriorated, retail shops were reduced and thousands were laid off. Unemployment soared over 10 percent. Banks chosen to channel bail out money to prevent foreclosures resorted to malpractices and utilised only part of the funding with little respite to beleaguered home owners. The Obama administration took more than five years to contain the recession and inject some degree of stimulant in the economy.
Against this backdrop, Bernie Sanders joined the presidential race. He challenged the mechanism through which the Democratic Party selects its nominee for the White House. Sanders remonstrated that the Wall Street and the Big Businesses provide huge funding to the delegates and super-delegates to support a particular candidate, who in their judgment, will safeguard their interests. He characterised this as corrupt, immoral and convoluted. The mechanism disenfranchises the popular electorates. In the primaries a candidate requires endorsement of 2,383 delegates to win the nomination but about 500 super-delegates are already weighed in favour of Hillary Clinton. The system is rigged by the conglomerates of big businesses. The most recent report suggests that the Republican candidates and Hillary Clinton secured almost one billion dollars from the Wall Street in favour of their campaign funding. In contrast, Sanders sought individual donations. Over seven million people donated at an average of $27 to Sanders's campaign fund.
The United States is one of the richest countries in the world. In 2015 its GDP (gross domestic product) amounted to $16.3 trillion. The economy grew five times larger since early 1950. America is the home of the best-known universities and hospitals in the world. It has embraced different nationalities from all over the world. But over the years society is getting fragmented. In absence of regulations the benefits of economic advancement is not equitably shared by different segments in society. Sanders argued that the top 0.10 per cent of the population own as much as the bottom 90 per cent and 57 per cent of all new income accumulates to top one per cent. As a consequence, rich are getting richer and the middle class is getting squeezed. Now 45 million people are living in poverty and about 30 million have no health insurance coverage.
The growing income inequality breeds contempt in society. Sanders has advocated levying higher taxes on the rich and wealthy and tax breaks for the low-income groups. On average, an American pays around 23 per cent of his/her income as taxes while the Big Businesses evade taxes under different loopholes and their net payment does not exceed more than 5.0 per cent of their income. An overhauling of the taxation system has been overdue but the lawmakers being friends of the Wall Street and conglomerates of Big Businesses have not undertaken any serious reform. Instead, Republican heavyweights have proposed abolition of the Internal Revenue Services.
High tuition fee at the college and universities has been a huge disincentive for the students from the low-income groups to pursue higher education. On average, a student comes out with a master's degree with a loan varying from US$250,000 to 300,000. It would take several years to repay the loan together with the interests accumulated. Sanders suggested tuition-free education for all students. The revenue collected at higher rates of taxes from the rich would offset the cost. Education unites when income inequality fragments the society.
About 11 million undocumented immigrants are in the country. President Obama in 2014, through an executive order, allowed temporary residency to those who have stayed for a long period, have had no criminal records and are prepared to pay taxes. This is intended to allow about 4.0 million immigrants to seek residency in the United States and get united with their family members. Sanders has endorsed this action and said this would pave the way for a long-term solution of the problem. He opposed deportation of about 500,000 people a year.
Impact of global warming has been increasingly felt by the people but the actions taken by the administration fell short of the requirement. Natural gas, though cleaner than coal, does produce carbon dioxide emissions and the global warming policy relies on gas replacing coal to meet medium-term goal. Sanders has demanded aggressive response and suggested imposing carbon tax on Exxon Mobile and Shell companies.
Sanders's views have resonated with the young people. His election rally, held on April 18 at Brooklyn, had an attendance of 30,000 people - something unprecedented in New York. Sanders has formidable adversaries in the Wall Street, Capitol Hills and inside the Democratic party. He has bumpy road ahead.
The writer is a former official of the United Nations
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