The Democratic debate in Las Vegas this week generated headline after headline, as Elizabeth Warren compared billionaire Michael Bloomberg to Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s closing remarks were interrupted by protestors.
But one candidate who emerged relatively unscathed was Bernie Sanders, the clear Democratic nomination front-runner and unabashed socialist.
Sanders lost the Democratic nomination in 2016 to Hilary Clinton, but as Sanders’ popularity appears to grow, the two questions now are just how much of America is feeling the Bern?
And, what exactly does it mean to feel the Bern?
Who is Bernie Sanders?
The 78-year-old politician was born in New York on 8 September, 1941 to Jewish parents and has said his upbringing in a tiny Brooklyn apartment made him attuned to class issues.
Sanders applied for conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War but was too old to be drafted when his application was ultimately rejected.
He’s carried that objection to military interventions throughout his political career.
“Bernie believes that military intervention should be a last resort, not a first resort. The bloated defense budget must be cut,” his campaign website reads.
From 1980, he served four terms as mayor of Burlington, Vermont and in 1990 became the first Independent to be elected to the US House of Representatives in 40 years.
The Independent politician caucuses with the Democrats, and has served as United States Senator from Vermont since 2007.
He is married to Jane Sanders and has four children, Levi, Heather, Carina and David.
Sanders suffered a heart attack in October last year with questions remaining around the politician’s health.
What's Bernie Sanders net worth?
While nowhere near the staggering wealth of fellow Democratic candidate, Bloomberg, Sanders’ net worth isn’t anything to sniff at.
His net worth of US$2.5 million (AU$3.8 million) as of April last year is more than 25 times the size of the median American household’s net worth. He amassed his millions from his three books, including bestseller Our Revolution: A Future to Believe in, along with real estate, investments and government salary.
Bernie Sanders’ ‘Tax on Extreme Wealth’
Despite his considerable wealth, one of Sanders’ main campaign platforms is to introduce a wealth tax.
Wealth inequality in America is at an all-time high. It's time we make millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share. pic.twitter.com/tbKZbDJYKL— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) March 13, 2019
Sanders would tax the estates of those who inherit more than US$3.5 million and implement a 77 per cent tax rate upon billionaires’ estates.
“At a time when millions of people are working 2 or 3 jobs to feed their families, the three wealthiest people in this country own more wealth than the bottom half of the American people,” Sanders has said.
“Enough is enough. We are going to take on the billionaire class, substantially reduce wealth inequality in America, and stop our democracy from turning into a corrupt oligarchy.”
He says such a system would halve the wealth of billionaires within 15 years.
Will Bernie Sanders tax the middle class?
Another of Sanders’ campaign pillars is Medicare for all. However, he faces the same challenges his Democratic peers face: convincing America that universal healthcare is worth the cost.
Sanders in June last year said income taxes for the middle class would have to go up to cover it.
But, he added that savings in medical costs would offset the hike.
“People who have health care under Medicare for All will have no premiums, no deductibles, no copayments, no out of pocket expenses,” Sanders said.
“Yes, they will pay more in taxes, but less in health care for what they get.”
What does Sanders campaign on?
In addition to Medicare, tax and military, Sanders holds strong views on climate change, womens’ and LGBTIQ peoples’ rights.
Sanders has described abortion as “health care”, and a decision that should rest with the woman.
As mayor, in 1983 he signed a Gay Pride Day proclamation and has long spoken out in favour of marriage equality and opposes the current government’s ban on transgender people working in the military.
One of the most-publicised pieces of legislation, the Green New Deal is co-sponsored by Sanders. The Green New Deal calls for a rapid and radical transition to clean energy production and more equitable financial policies.
Will Bernie Sanders win?
The Nevada debate shows Sanders is frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, according to CNN’s Poll of Polls. But can he beat incumbent US President Donald Trump?
Political reporter and co-host of podcast The Antifada Jamie Peck described Sanders as aligning more closely with the Democratic Party voter base than Biden, another front-runner.
“Sanders’ supporters believe his decades-long record of fighting for social and economic justice and criticizing the corrupt political establishment will turn out people in the general election who don’t habitually vote — a group that skews young, poor and non-white,” Peck added.
And, as USA Today opinion columnist Jason Sattler noted, Sanders has the ability to actually unite the Democratic Party and beat Trump. He also noted that Independent is the most popular party affiliation across America, and that Sanders tends to beat Trump in head-to-head polls.
It’s a point not lost on the leader of the free world.
Leaked audio from 2018 allegedly has Trump expressing his belief that Clinton would have been more difficult to beat in 2016 if she’d chosen Sanders as her running mate, rather than Tim Kaine.
"Had she [Clinton] picked Bernie Sanders it would've been tougher. He's the only one I didn't want her to pick," Trump is heard saying.
And as Sanders’ run continues, Trump continues to pay close attention.
“Wow! Crazy Bernie Sanders is surging in the polls, looking very good against his opponents in the Do Nothing Party. So what does this all mean? Stay tuned!” Trump wrote on Twitter in January.
Responded Sanders: “It means you’re going to lose.”
It means you’re going to lose. https://t.co/CVBKoKq8DT— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 12, 2020
As 3 November 2020 draws closer, America is definitely staying tuned.
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