Transcript: Sen. Bernie Sanders’s speech at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on April 12, 2014 – Part 11

Part 11 – Partial transcript of remarks by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on April 12, 2014:

Now, and I mean in truth, I don’t know how to juggle. You know, people say, “Why did you put this thing first and that thing second?” They’re all enormously important. They’re all about the future of America.

But I want to now get to another issue, which may be in a way supersedes everything else, and that is what for many people is not a particularly sexy issue but it is right in the heart of everything and that is campaign finance. [Applause]

Now, a few years ago, the United States Supreme Court made a decision that had people to say the least scratching their heads. And they said in the Citizens United case – and by the way, my understanding is that Citizens United is one of the hosts of the Republican event over there – that they said that corporations are people and equally important that individuals could now spend as much money as they wanted in the political process because they have the First Amendment right of freedom of speech to do that.

What is the impact of that case and what’s the impact of the recent McCutcheon that we heard a couple of weeks ago?

And here is the impact that I want you to think very, very seriously about.

Everybody in Vermont and New Hampshire, we all have different opinions about this, that and the other thing. That’s called democracy.

But I would hope in respect especially to those who fought and died to defend democracy and our way of life that there is not a difference of opinion that in the United States of America billionaires should not be able to buy elections. [Applause]

Now, let me give you a very concrete example of what I’m talking about. It’s happening, literally today, in the other side of town right here in New Hampshire.

A few weeks ago, we saw a remarkable spectacle in Las Vegas, Nevada. They have a lot of spectacles in Las Vegas but this one was really quite remarkable. And that is Sheldon Adelson, worth many, many billions of dollars, called – beckoned Republican candidates for President to come to Las Vegas to tell him what they would do for him and how they would support his agenda.

Now, I understand I’m stepping on sensitive toes here. You think that New Hampshire has the first presidential primary in the country, right? The Adelson primary is now the first primary in America, and the difference between the New Hampshire primary and the Adelson primary tells you everything you need to know about what’s happening in politics today.

In New Hampshire, candidates come and they’re Democrats and they’re Republicans and they hold town meetings and they talk to people, and people end up voting. Get one vote, and people vote for the Democratic, Republican, whatever they like. That’s called democracy.

What the Adelson primary is about – and if we don’t change it, this is the future of American politics – is a billionaire saying, “Tell me what I want to hear, and if I like what you’re telling me, I am prepared” – and remember, Adelson earned $11 billion more last year – “I’m prepared to put hundreds of millions of dollars or maybe $1 billion into your campaign. It doesn’t matter to me. I have so much money, it really doesn’t matter.”

Obama, in the last presidential elections, spent a little over $1 billion. Mitt Romney spent a hair less. Both spent over $1 billion. These guys could take $1 billion out of their pocket today, they would not notice it was gone.

So what you are looking at now is a situation where billionaires are going to control the political process, and if we do not get our act together, we are moving rapidly down the road to an oligarchic form of society where billionaires control not only the economic life of a nation but the political life as well.

And my friends, of any issue that I hope we bring people from all political persuasions – I don’t care if you’re a conservative or progressive or whatever you may be – we have got to fight to defend American democracy and not allow billionaires to take it over. [Applause]

And by the way, while it is absolutely true that the Republican and right-wing billionaires are spending a lot more money, there are Democratic billionaires spending money as well, and we’ve got to oppose that as well.

And that is why I very strongly support – I’m not much into constitutional amendments. You know, there are some people out there with 50 different constitutional amendments everyday. I’m not into that. But I do believe and I have introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. [Applause]

And in my view, we need to move toward public funding of elections. [Applause]

Honest people can and do and will have differences of opinion. That’s called democracy. I don’t claim to have all the answers to everything.

But I think what we want is campaigns that are based on ideas and not simply the ability of billionaires to flood the airwaves with ugly 30 second ads.

Now, when I talk about campaign finance, people say, “Yeah, it’s an important issue.” But let me tell you why it is so important and what is going today with regard to campaign finance.

On election back in 1980, David Koch – and I’m using this just as an important example. Most of you don’t know this. But David Koch back in 1980 – one of the Koch brothers – ran for Vice President of the United States on the Libertarian Party, and he ended up out of his own pocket financing much of the campaign. And that’s all fine.

But I want to take you down a road now because I want you to understand this. I want you to understand what was in the 1980 Libertarian platform that Koch ran on and which he got 1% of the vote on, which in 1980 the ideas that he espoused were considered extremist, whacky, kooky, way out of the mainstream.

Today, the political tragedy of the time is those extremist ideas are now mainstream in the Republican Party.

And I want to give you some examples. I’m going to give you quotes from the Libertarian platform of the 1980 party Koch ran on.

“We urge the repeal of federal campaign finance laws and the immediate abolition of the despotic Federal Election Commission.” Do you understand what that means? Do you understand that two weeks ago, Clarence Thomas in a decision said exactly that, and that that is where the Republican Party today in 2014 is moving. They want to end all restrictions on campaign finance. You know what that’ll mean is that a handful of billionaires will sit in a room and say, “We’ll put $20 million into New Hampshire. Let’s put $150 million into California. And $30 million into Vermont.” And for these guys, it is a drop in the bucket.

So if you allow unlimited spending in anyway directly to candidates independent, we will certainly lose the foundation of American democracy. That is what they were talking about 34 years ago, and in fact that is what is happening today.

Here’s another plank 1980 Libertarian Party, and I quote “We favor the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.” Well, they haven’t succeeded but they’re trying. If you read the Ryan budget just passed by the Republican House last week, that budget would end Medicare as we know it and move it toward a voucher type program.

In other words, what it would say is “We’re going to give you when you’re 65 or 67” – and they probably want to raise the age for Medicare eligibility anyhow – “We’re going to give you a check, and here’s a check for $7,000 or $8,000 and you can go to any private insurance company that you want.” Well, if you have cancer, that’ll last you about – hmm – one day – maybe. But that is their plan on how they want to deal with Medicare.

In terms of Medicaid and other health care programs, the Ryan budget does not end Medicaid, but it would take health insurance away from 40 million Americans over a 10 year period by cutting Medicaid by more than $1.5 trillion, and it would also end the Affordable Care Act. Remember what the Koch brothers said back in 1980.

This is also what they said, and I quote “We favor the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system. Pending that repeal, participation in Social Security should be made voluntary.” Well, many of my Republican colleagues believe just that.

Furthermore in 1980, Koch brothers Libertarian Party platform stated “We oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains tax. We support the eventual repeal of all taxation. As an interim measure, all criminal and civil sanctions against tax evasion should be terminated immediately.”

Well, today the Republican Party does not believe in the end of all taxation. They don’t. But the recently-passed Ryan budget, passed by the Republican House, provides a $5 trillion tax break for the wealthiest people in this country and large corporations. The Ryan budget would provide an average tax break of at least $200,000 a year for millionaires.

And lastly – and again, see what’s happening today; this was talked about in 1980. Libertarian Party staked out a very clear position on the minimum wage: “We support repeal of all laws which impede the ability of any person to find employment such as minimum wage laws.” Do you understand what they’re saying? Many people don’t. They’re saying “We are not only opposed increasing the minimum wage, we want to do away with the concept of minimum wage” because our freedom-loving friends at the other end of town today believe that you should have the freedom if you’re in a high unemployment area to work for $3 an hour.

You don’t want the government coming in, and they should have the freedom to throw all of their crap into the rivers and lakes and air, pollute our society, because you don’t want to restrict them from doing that and limit their freedom. And if you’re all hungry, you have the freedom not to be able to feed your families because we don’t believe in nutrition programs. And if you’re 65 or 70 and you are sick, you have the freedom to die because we don’t believe in federal Medicare or Medicaid. [Applause]

And that is the essence of what the Koch brothers and all of their organizations believe in: Freedom for billionaires to get richer. Freedom for companies to continue polluting our nation and moving us in a disastrous way with regard to climate change. Freedom of Wall Street to continue to go about their greedy illegal ways to disrupt our entire economy. That’s their definition of freedom.

So to my mind, here’s where we are right now. I’ve touched on a lot of issues, and all of them – without exception and there are many other issues I didn’t even say a word about that are terribly important as well.

But where we are in this moment of history is pretty clear to me, and that is whether or not – and it is not easy; I’m not here to tell you it happens by snapping your finger – whether or not we can bring about a political revolution in this country which demands and urges millions and millions of working people, middle-class people, young people, old people, people who are so disgusted with the political system today – They don’t want to vote; They don’t want to go near it; They turn off their TV sets when they see the ugly ads – can we somehow bring them into the political process.

And here is the very good news – on every single issue based on every poll and I look at these polls that I have seen – that these guys – the Koch brothers and our right-wing Republican friends – are talking about, they maybe represent 10% of the American people, 15% of the American people.

You go to conservative states – go to Mississippi, go to Alabama, go to Oklahoma – stand on a street corner and say, “Do you believe that we should cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and give tax breaks to billionaires?”, and they will laugh at you. Nobody believes that. Very few people believe that.

And what our job is to understand is that there are issues – I’m 100% pro-choice all my life; I believe in gay marriage. Vermont has led the nation on that. But we have to understand there are differences of opinions. I respect other people’s differences of opinion. But our challenge is can we breathe together – working families all over this country – to stand for an America which makes sure that every single person has at least a modest standard of living, that our kids do well, that we end the international embarrassment of having the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world, that we do well by our seniors. Can do that? I think we can.

So what the challenge is about is whether we move in that direction, bringing tens of millions of people together, getting them involved in the political process, having meetings like this all over America, having debates, having discussions, and expanding and strengthening our democracy. That’s the way I think we’ve got to go.

And then there’s another way, which the guys at the other end of town are talking about, and that is a handful of billionaires pumping hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars into campaigns, having candidates come before them and getting the litmus test that they will support the billionaire agenda.

That’s where we are in America – either we strengthen democracy or an oligarchy, and I vote for democracy. Thank you very much. [Applause]


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