The buzz and the massive crowds surrounding Bernie Sanders’s run for president (the latest is 7,500 turning up in Maine) has taken jaded political observers by surprise and has them puzzled about exactly who Sanders is and what he stands for and why people seem so enthused about him. Some are suggesting that he may have already peaked and that after a good early showing, perhaps even winning the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, he will flame out. He has so far avoided getting dragged into the mudslinging and trivialization that is now routine in US politics and he says he would welcome the opportunity to debate anyone, anywhere on the issues.
His strength is that he does not shy away from the socialist label but embraces it as an opportunity to talk about the Scandinavian model that he thinks the American people are woefully ignorant of and would embrace if they knew what it was. His problem is that he has not as yet managed to gain a great deal of support from minority voters although the economic issues he focuses on are crucial to their well being.
Bernie Sanders is an independent in the US Senate. Although he caucuses with the Democratic Party, he is not a member of the party. Some characterize him as so out of touch with the mainstream that his only role is to tilt at windmills and not achieve anything. And yet, over time, he has displayed a political savvy that has enabled him to get things done even when Republicans had the majority.
Lee Fang describes how he managed to get through a bill that expanded health care coverage for a lot of poor people by instituting a system of community health clinics, at the same time as the Republicans were vigorously fighting increased access to affordable health care via the ACA (Affordable Care Act or Obamacare).
Despite the inherent limitations of a self-described democratic socialist who eschews the norms of Beltway fundraising, the Democratic presidential candidate from Vermont has won legislative victory after victory on an issue that has been dear to him since his days as Burlington’s mayor.
That issue is the simultaneously benign and revolutionary expansion of federally qualified community health clinics.
Over the years, Sanders has tucked away funding for health centers in appropriation bills signed by George W. Bush, into Barack Obama’s stimulus program, and through the earmarking process. But his biggest achievement came in 2010 through the Affordable Care Act. In a series of high-stakes legislative maneuvers, Sanders struck a deal to include $11 billion for health clinics in the law.
The result has made an indelible mark on American health care, extending the number of people served by clinics from 18 million before the ACA to an expected 28 million next year.
As one would expect, the program was largely met with plaudits from patients and public health experts, but it has also won praise from even the biggest Obamacare critics on Capitol Hill. In letters I obtained through multiple record requests, dozens of Republican lawmakers, including members of the House and Senate leadership, have privately praised the ACA clinic funding, calling health centers a vital provider in both rural and urban communities.
To Sanders, the clinics have served as an alternative to his preferred single-payer system. Community health centers accept anyone regardless of health, insurance status or ability to pay. They are founded and managed by a board composed of patients and local residents, so each center is customized to fit the needs of a community. No two health centers are alike.
In rural North Carolina, ACA-backed health centers now provide dental and nutrition services, while in San Francisco, the clinics provide translation services and outreach for immigrant families. In other areas, they provide mental health counseling, low-cost prescription drugs, and serve as the primary care doctors for entire counties. They have also served as a platform for innovation, introducing electronic medical record systems and paving the way with new methods for tracking those most susceptible for heart disease and diabetes.
Sanders has given an interview to The Nation magazine where he explains how he came to have his views and sets out his vision for America that he is promoting under the slogan “A Political Revolution”. He explains why he keeps a laser-like focus on the core economic issues.
The Republicans get away with murder because what they do and what they want is not seen, is not understood by the American people, because it’s not talked about…. So I think the more that we can confront Republicans about their ideology of tax breaks for the billionaires and cuts to every program that is a benefit to the American people, and can expose them for their subservience to the billionaire class—I think that wins for us every single time.
Back in 2005 Matt Taibbi shadowed Sanders for a month and observed him as he patiently worked the chronically dysfunctional Congressional system that seems designed to either do nothing at all or do only what powerful lobbies want. Sanders allowed Taibbi to closely follow him so that could see first-hand and report on how Congress actually worked because, as he said, “Nobody knows how this place is run. If they did, they’d go nuts.”
(You can go to Sanders’s website to join the campaign and contribute and here to see where he stands on the issues. Despite the media trying to paint him as some kind of extremist candidate, a majority of Americans actually support him on most of the issues he stands for.)
A friend of mine who is repelled by the “socialist” label admitted to me that she took an online quiz the other day to see which candidate most nearly reflects her views. She was chagrined to admit it was Sanders.