The media isn’t taking Bernie Sanders seriously as a presidential candidate because he doesn’t seem to have a realistic path to winning the nomination. But he does have a large and highly engaged fan presence on the internet, and his Tuesday Q&A session on Reddit was full of moments that illustrate why his fans love him so much. He is an utterly self-confident, utterly fearless exponent of liberal and social democratic ideals in a country where such notions are rarely shouted from the rooftops.
He’s a politician who doesn’t care about hitting his next quarterly fundraising numbers or what he can round up 60 votes for in the Senate. He’s just here to speak the truth as he sees it. Here, excerpted from the Q&A, are 11 answers that exemplify why he’s such a hero to online progressives.
1) Delivering student debt relief
sambogina: Is there funding in the [free college tuition] bill to alleviate the debt currently possessed by recent and past college graduates?
Bernie Sanders: Great question. Our legislation not only would make tuition free at public colleges and universities, it would also cut student debt in half. It is absurd that millions of college graduates today are carrying debts of $50,000, $60,000, $100,000 or more. Our legislation deals with the issue of student debt in a very significant way.
2) Ending the war on drugs
ynmidk: could you update us on your position regarding the war on drugs?
Bernie Sanders: Let me just say this — the state of Vermont voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and I support that. I have supported the use of medical marijuana. And when I was mayor of Burlington, in a city with a large population, I can tell you very few people were arrested for smoking marijuana. Our police had more important things to do.
Colorado has led the effort toward legalizing marijuana and I’m going to watch very closely to see the pluses and minuses of what they have done. I will have more to say about this issue within the coming months.
3) Curbing government surveillance
Gavinrara Fonara: Do you think that wiretapping of American citizens is necessary for security of America and Americans?
Bernie Sanders: I voted against the USA Patriot Act and voted against reauthorizing the USA Patriot Act. Obviously, terrorism is a serious threat to this country and we must do everything that we can to prevent attacks here and around the world. I believe strongly that we can protect our people without undermining our constitutional rights and I worry very very much about the huge attacks on privacy that we have seen in recent years — both from the government and from the private sector. I worry that we are moving toward an Orwellian society and this is something I will oppose as vigorously as I can.
4) Reforming a broken political system
denibir: what are your thoughts on electoral reform in the United States?
Bernie Sanders: The major issue in terms of our electoral system is truly campaign finance reform. Right now, we are at a moment in history where the Koch brothers and other billionaires are in the process of buying politicians and elections. We need to overturn Citizens United with a constitutional amendment. We need to pass disclosure legislation. We need to move toward public funding of elections. We also have got to see an increased federal role in the outrageous gerrymandering that Republican states have created and in voter suppression. These are the main issues that I’ll be tackling in the coming months.
5) Helping regular people make a difference
carrol_quigly: what is the best way for us to influence our legislators?
Bernie Sanders: In terms of getting the attention of elected officials, writing letters and emails as well as phoning is very important. But, what is even more important is grassroots organizing. Putting together a meeting of 100 people about an issue and inviting that elected official to that meeting to hear comments would be a huge step forward in making politicians aware that you know what’s going on and that you want your concerns addressed. I have done hundreds of town meetings as an elected official and urge citizens to organize them as fast as they can.
6) Staying out of new wars
Afrisker: What is your opinion about possible US ground military operation in the Middle East against ISIS or Bashar Assad in Syria?
Bernie Sanders: I voted against the war in Iraq and I voted against the first Gulf War. I am strongly opposed to sending American combat troops into Iraq and Syria. At the end of the day, the war against ISIS will only be won when the Muslim countries in the area fully engage and defeat ISIS and other groups that are distorting what Islam is supposed to be about. The United States and other western countries should be supportive of the efforts of those governments, but cannot lead them. The nightmare, which I believe a number of Republicans want to see, is perpetual warfare in the quagmire of the Middle East.
7) Future-proofing the economy
ImLivingAmongYou: What do you think will have to be done regarding massive unemployment due to automation permanently killing jobs with no fault on the people losing these jobs?
Bernie Sanders: Very important question. There is no question but that automation and robotics reduce the number of workers needed to produce products. On the other hand, there is a massive amount of work that needs to be done in this country. Our infrastructure is crumbling and we can create millions of decent-paying jobs rebuilding our roads, bridges, rail system, airports, levees, dams, etc. Further, we have enormous shortages in terms of highly-qualified pre-school educators and teachers. We need more doctors, nurses, dentists and medical personnel if we are going to provide high-quality care to all of our people. But, in direct response to the question, increased productivity should not punish the average worker, which is why we have to move toward universal health care, making higher education available to all, a social safety net which is strong and a tax system which is progressive.
8) Standing firm against nuclear power
plainplainplane: Could you give some opinions on emerging nuclear technology?
Bernie Sanders: I believe that climate change is perhaps the most significant planetary crisis that we face and we have got to be extremely bold in transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels and towards energy efficiency and sustainability. The fact is that investing in solar, wind, geothermal and energy efficiency is far more cost-effective than nuclear plants. Further, I do not support more nuclear power plants when we do not know how we get rid of the toxic waste from the ones that already exist.
9) Ending corporate control of the political system
littlenicky174: realistically what can be achieved when [corporate] interest are so intertwined with current political campaigns and current issues?
Bernie Sanders: Excellent questions. You are right. People in general and young people in particular are increasingly alienated and disillusioned with the political process. The middle class is disappearing, the rich get richer, young people cannot afford college, the crisis of climate change is ignored, and Congress continues on its merry way paying attention to the needs of billionaires and multinational corporations. The truth is that we are in a very difficult political moment. But despair of giving up is just not an option. I would not be doing what I am doing if I did not believe that this country could provide health care to all as a right; that we could lead the world in transforming our energy system and dealing with climate change; that we could make education affordable for all. My strong belief is that it is imperative that we maintain our vision of what American can be, and that we fight hard to make that happen. DO NOT GIVE UP.
10) Working toward a universal basic income
Stack0verfl10w: What is your stance on Universal Basic Income(UBI)?
Bernie Sanders: So long as you have Republicans in control of the House and the Senate, and so long as you have a Congress dominated by big money, I can guarantee you that the discussion about universal basic income is going to go nowhere in a hurry. But, if we can develop a strong grassroots movement which says that every man, woman and child in this country is entitled to a minimum standard of living — is entitled to health care, is entitled to education, is entitled to housing — then we can succeed. We are living in the richest country in the history of the world, yet we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major country and millions of people are struggling to put food on the table. It is my absolute conviction that everyone in this country deserves a minimum standard of living and we’ve got to go forward in the fight to make that happen.
11) Emphasizing grassroots organizing
BEEPBOPIAMAROBOT: What, specifically, do you feel you can realistically accomplish in your first term as President that my age bracket can get excited about?
Bernie Sanders: The answer is that everything depends upon the kind of strong grassroots movement that we can develop. If we do not have tens of millions of people actively involved in the political process, there is very little that any president can do because of the power of big money over the political and economic process. So what I have said time and time again is that we need a political revolution in this country, which means that 80 percent. of the people vote, not 40 percent, and which means that people demand that Congress represent the middle class and working families of this country and not just the billionaire class.