BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company…
JILL STEIN: We have to first fix the broken political system. It is the mother of all illnesses and we can fix it.
CHERI HONKALA: The last thing that we have in this country is our voice and our democracy and once that's taken away from us we're really in trouble.
BILL MOYERS: And…
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: I don't think any sane person believes that this economy or the middleclass is really going to recover until we deal with the greed, the recklessness, and the illegal behavior on Wall Street, in my humble opinion. Fraud is the business model for Wall Street.
BILL MOYERS: Welcome – to some ideas you didn’t hear at the Republican and Democratic conventions. Both parties spent their time blaming each other for the fix we’re in, and offering themselves as the cure. But we’ve been governed for years now by one or the other of them, see-sawing back and forth in controlling Congress and the White House, so self-absorbed and corrupted by money that neither seems willing or able to cope with reality, or even to grasp what’s happening to everyday Americans. By their very nature, neither party’s capable of providing the radical critique we need – a blunt, even brutal assessment of a political system so dysfunctional as to call into question the survival of democracy.
For that, we need independent voices and third parties. So, here we go:
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is the longest-serving Independent in the history of Congress: 16 years in the House of Representatives, five now in the Senate. Before he went to Washington he served four terms as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, during which time the city was recognized as one of the most livable in America.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: I am here to take a stand against this bill, and I am going to do everything I can to defend this bill.
BILL MOYERS: You may recall what happened two years ago when Senator Sanders, having finished his usual Vermont breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, walked on to the floor of the Senate and began speaking:
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: What our job is is to appeal to the vast majority of the American people to stand up and to say: Wait a minute. I do not want to see our national debt explode. I do not want to see my kids and grandchildren paying higher taxes in order to give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires.
BILL MOYERS: He spoke on for eight and a half hours…
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: We should be embarrassed, Mr. President…
BILL MOYERS: Castigating the agreement President Obama and the Republicans had made to extend the Bush tax cuts for the ultra-rich, lower their estate taxes, and jeopardize the future of the Social Security Trust Fund by diverting revenue away from it to other purposes.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: We have got to stand tall and draw a line in the sand and simply say: Enough is enough.
BILL MOYERS: Around 7 that evening Bernie Sanders finished, and what happened next was phenomenal. The Senate server, overwhelmed, went down – crashed. The switchboards were jammed. And like sparks from a hundred thousand watch fires lighting up the distant hills and hollows, his words flew across the country. That speech is now this book entitled, "The Speech."
I spoke with Senator Sanders earlier in the week.
Good to have you.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Great to be with you, Bill.
BILL MOYERS: I watched the Democratic Convention, as perhaps you did. And I heard all the speeches about opportunity and solidarity. And I saw that vast array of faces, of every color, every age, every gender. And I thought, "There are still two Democratic Parties in this country, the party out across the country of everyday folks like Michelle Obama's parents, working paycheck to paycheck. And then there's the Washington Democratic club, the corporate lawyers, the lobbyists, the Wall Streeters like Robert Rubin and Peter Orszag." And I was wondering, as I watched, if Obama wins reelection, which party goes back to the White House with him? The party of the country or the party of the club?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Well, we certainly hope it will be the party of the country, the party of 25 million Americans without any jobs, the party of people struggling to keep their heads above water, the party of the people who want to see health care for all of us. But there is no question, Bill, of the enormous impact that big money has, certainly on the Republican Party, but on the Democratic Party as well. And I fear very much that unless we galvanize public opinion, unless we create the kind of progressive grassroots movement the big money interest will continue to dominate.
BILL MOYERS: Tell me how that money works. I mean, you've been on the inside 20-some-odd years, as I sit. How does it actually work? We hear "money in politics."
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Well, this is how it works. And this is what people do not appreciate. And it's true for Republicans and Democrats, as well. You do not know how many hours every single week, how many hours every single day people walk into the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee or the Republican Committee. And you know what they do? They dial for dollars. They dial for dollars, hour after hour after hour.
BILL MOYERS: Who are they calling?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: They're calling a list of people who have money. That's who they're calling. And what happens when you do that day after day, month after month, your worldview becomes shaped by those people. And most of the money coming into your campaign coffers comes from those people. And you begin representing their perspective.
BILL MOYERS: Well, there are more--it's more than that, isn't it? Because you just released a long report on the billionaires.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: --who are pouring money into the—
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Absolutely. We have right now, and this should frighten every American, as a result of this disastrous Citizens United decision, we're looking now at people like the Koch Brothers, putting in one family, $400 million. Adelson, worth $20 billion, putting in $100 million. We have over 23 billionaire families making large contributions, and I think that's a conservative number.
So what you are looking at is a nation with a grotesquely unequal distribution of wealth and income, tremendous economic power on Wall Street, and now added to all of that is you have the big money interests, the billionaires and corporations now buying elections. This scares me very much. And I fear very much that if we don't turn this around, Bill, we're heading toward an oligarchic form of society.
BILL MOYERS: But the people who are in charge of this system and could therefore change it are the people who benefit from the dialing for dollars. So what's the solution when you have the fox in charge of the henhouse?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Well, the immediate political solution is a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. The longer-term solution is people all over this country saying, "We're not going to give up the democracy that has made this country great, so that a handful of billionaires can control the political process. We ain't going to allow that to happen." We need public funding of elections, which I think is probably the most important thing we can do politically. Billionaires cannot and should not be allowed to buy elections.
BILL MOYERS: I was taken that I think 64 villages, towns in Vermont, your home state passed resolutions calling on Congress to endorse a constitutional amendment. What's of that? In fact, when my readers on our website heard that you were coming, a lot of questions were submitted to us online. One of them says, "I've been following Senator Sanders' intention against the Supreme Court Citizens United for two years now. Why has so little happened?" That's from Craig Crawford.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Well, first of all, this is what happened, has happened. It's not only Vermont. We have a total of six states whose legislatures and governors have come out in support of a constitutional amendment. And just very, very recently, we have the president and his advisors talking about, perhaps, not as strong as I would like, the need for a constitutional amendment.
And millions and millions of people have signed petitions. We had a petition on our website, over 200,000 people signed it. So it is slower than I would like it to be. But I think interestingly enough, Bill, it is not just progressives who are disgusted. I think your average conservative looks around and says, "Is this really what America's supposed to be when a handful of families can buy the political process?"
BILL MOYERS: What does it take to pass a constitutional amendment? We’ve done it 25 or 26 times in the history of our country but it’s a difficult process, isn’t it?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: It is going to be a long process, but this is what I like about the process. I think in the process we're going to educate the American people about one of the most serious problems facing this country. And that is that virtually no piece of legislation will get passed in Congress unless it has the okay of corporate America and big money interest. So the corrupting, absolute corrupting impact of big money is something we have to address.
And I like the idea of taking it from state to state, legislature to legislature, having the people debate what kind of democracy do they want. I'm very proud. You know, I come from the State of Vermont. We still have town meetings. People get up and they argue about how much money they spend on the town plow. That's what democracy is about.
BILL MOYERS: Do you have to dial for dollars?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: I am very fortunate. I have. I have. But I do it a lot less. We raise our money, I have to tell you, I'm very proud of this. We have 130,000 individual contributions, averaging about 40 bucks a piece.
BILL MOYERS: Senator, what's your take on why so many young people and progressives are disillusioned with President Obama?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: In my view, President Obama ran the best campaign for president that I have seen in my lifetime. He did what is enormously difficult, get young people involved, get working people involved, have a vision out there, get people excited. That's not easy stuff. He did it.
What I think happened is, in a sense, the day after the election, he said to all of those people, all of that grassroots activism, "Thank you very much. Now I got to sit down and work with Republicans. And I got to start compromising. And I'm not going to fight for the vision that I campaigned on."
For example, every speech that I give, I talk about the crooks on Wall Street and what their illegal behavior has done to this economy. And people say, "Bernie, why aren't these guys in jail? Why isn't the Obama administration taking these people on? Why aren't we breaking up these large banks?" From the White House, do you hear much about that? You don't.
The power of big money, coming forward with the bold initiatives that get excited, say to them, "Listen, we got some right-wing extremists running the House. I need your help. We're going to change our disastrous trade policies. We are going to create a jobs program to put millions of people to work. But I can't do it taking on all the money guys. I need millions of people standing with me." Have you heard that from the White House?
BILL MOYERS: No, what we hear is continuing calls for bipartisanship, even as Republicans have waged the most partisan and obstructionist agenda in modern history. And even the other day, the president said, "I'm sure that after I'm re-elected, the Republicans will work with me." I mean, I don't understand that, frankly. And you've been down there all of this time. From his speeches, he seems to be a fighter. But from his behavior, he caves.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: I don't understand it, either. Look, there's nothing wrong with bipartisanship. If you and I disagree and we can come up with a decent compromise that's good for the American people, let's do it. But when you have people whose main function in life is to obstruct and destroy every single initiative, when you have the Republican leader in the Senate say, "Our main goal is to make sure that Obama is a one-term president."
And you keep reaching out. And they keep cutting you and cutting you and cutting you, there comes a time when you say, "Hey, I got to stand up to you. I have to rally the American people." He has not done that. Is he a fighter? I think that you have a very competitive guy, in terms of himself getting reelected. I think this guy's going to work like a dog.
BILL MOYERS: That's his career.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: That's right. He's a tough guy in that sense. In terms of public policy, standing up for Republicans, I think we're looking at a different president.
BILL MOYERS: Well, we're coming to a potential serious conflict between the election and the inauguration, no matter who wins. And you made that eight and a half hour speech, because of that agreement, to extend the Bush tax cuts and to do all of that. And we're facing this crisis over the deficit, over social services and the safety, and the safety net over the Bush tax cuts. Do you think Obama will cave again as he did the last time, sending you to the floor of the Senate? I don't think the Senate can take another eight and a half hour speech.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Here's where we are. And here's the-- you want to add another irony on top of all this, Bill, is that the American people support what the president is talking about and are vigorously opposed to what the Republicans want. Every poll that you and I have seen, including polls from Tea Party sympathizers, you know what they say? "Do not cut Social Security. Don't cut Medicare. Don't cut Medicaid. Ask the wealthiest people in this country to start paying their fair share of taxes. And by the way, take a look at military spending as well." That is what, by and large, the American people are saying.
BILL MOYERS: The polls show that? The polls show that?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Polls show that. So you would think that even if you were a hack politician who didn't believe any of this, you would stand up and fight for those principles. What I am going to do working with some of my progressive colleagues is say, "No, we are not going to balance this budget on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick, and the poor. Social has not contributed one nickel to the deficit. We are not going to cut Social Security."
I am waiting. And we're doing everything that we can to beg the president, "Get up and say what you said four years ago.” And that is you're not going to cut Social Security. That's what the American people want to hear.
BILL MOYERS: You know, everyone seems to agree that our deficits are unsustainable, that something has to give. And many Democrats, some privately, some publicly say Social Security has to be quote "fixed." Now I was there in the White House with President Johnson when Medicare was passed. And I've often said that if Democrats don't take the lead in fixing Medicare, the opponents will. How do we fix Social Security and Medicare? From a progressive standpoint?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Okay, they're two separate issues. Okay. Social Security, as you know, is funded by the payroll tax. So despite what our right-wing friends are going to tell us, Social Security has not contributed one nickel to the deficit, because it's funded independently. In fact the Social Security Trust Fund, according to the Social Security Administration, has a $2.7 trillion surplus. Surplus.
Can pay out every benefit for the next 21 years. When Barack Obama ran for president four years ago, he had a very simple and good idea. He said, "Okay, let's lift the cap on taxable income so that instead of having a ceiling of $110,000 now, you lift that cap, start at $250,000." And you know what, Bill? You do that, just that one simple thing, Social Security will be solvent for the next 75 years. That's your solution to Social Security.
Medicare, Medicaid are more complicated issues. And that takes us to the whole issue, why we end up spending more per capita on health care than any other nation, any other major nation. In my view, we have got to move toward a Medicare for all, single-payer system. And by the way, I hope that Vermont leads the nation in that direction.
BILL MOYERS: Well, you know, I, another of the letters that came in on our website were from a man named Chrys Barnes. “How can single payer advocates rise from the ranks of marginalized fringe groups to getting an actual seat at the bargaining table?”
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Well, in my state, by the way, we're not marginalized. We have a governor who now supports a Medicare for all, single-payer system.
BILL MOYERS: Governor Shumlin.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: That's right. And we have a legislature that does. And we have the people who do it. I would say to your writer there, that I think the action is probably in the short term, at least, not going to take place in Washington. It's going to take place in the state level. And if Vermont or perhaps some other state can show that you can provide health care to every man, woman, and child in a cost-effective way, other states are going to say, "You know what? We would like to do that, as well." It spreads; Washington finally acts. But currently, the system is dysfunctional. It is a disaster. It is enormously wasteful. We need fundamental changes.
BILL MOYERS: Do you look at the Democratic leadership as your leadership? And if you do, doesn't that compromise you as an Independent?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: I'm a compromised every day of my life. It's a hard life. You know, there are Democrats, including Harry Reid, who are good friends of mine and who I work with. And there are other people in the Democratic caucus, who on many issues are no different than Republicans. So what you got to do is you do the best that you can.
In terms of the Fed, for example, the Federal reform. We got into the financial reform bill, Dodd-Frank important language, which for the first time provided an audit of the Fed so that we learned that $16 trillion was lent out to every major financial institution, et cetera, et cetera. So--
BILL MOYERS: Low-interest loans that they were getting. It wasn't just the bailout, right? It was the—
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Above and beyond the bailout.
BILL MOYERS: Exactly, right. We're coming up on the fourth anniversary of the collapse of this economy. We were on the cliff and almost over. Do you think the reforms that have come in the consequence, in the aftermath of that, is sufficient to prevent it from happening again?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Do we have eight and a half hours to talk about the issue?
BILL MOYERS: You had that one shot in your life. Don't think you’ll get it again.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Bill, look, I don't think any sane person believes that this economy or the middleclass is really going to recover until we deal with the greed, the recklessness, and the illegal behavior on Wall Street, in my humble opinion. Fraud is the business model for Wall Street. Right now, to answer your question, of course, the answer is no. We made some modest, modest little steps, which the moneyed interests are now trying to push aside.
We now have in this country six financial institutions led by J.P. Morgan Chase, which collectively have assets equivalent to two-thirds of the G.D.P. of the United States of America. Over $9 trillion. They write half of the mortgages in this country and two-thirds of the credit cards, okay? Three out of the four large financial institutions that we bailed out because they were too big to fail are today bigger than they were before we bailed them out.
Now, if this were Teddy Roosevelt were president of the United States, what do you think he would say? He’d say, "Break these babies up." Let's create a system where the financial institutions actually invest and lend money into the productive economy, where businesses are trying to produce products or create services, not the kind of casino, this horrendous, ugly casino that we have on Wall Street.
BILL MOYERS: But Senator Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate said to me and to others that the banks, Wall Street, those six firms now own the Senate.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: That's right. That's all absolutely right
BILL MOYERS: How are you going to, how are you going to get a reform there, when they—
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Well, that takes us back to another issue that Dick and I and others are working on. And that is public funding of elections. I'll give you an example. I was on-- when I-- it was in the House. It was on the House Financial Services Committee. So Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin and all of these guys and they said, "We have to deregulate Wall Street. We have to allow the commercial banks to merge with the investor banks, to merge with the insurance companies, so they can compete globally."
You had to be a moron to actually believe that. I didn't believe that. I don't think most of the American people thought that Alan Greenspan made any sense at all. Wall Street over a ten-year period, Bill, spent $5 billion dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions. And they got what they wanted with Democratic support.
BILL MOYERS: And?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: We are where we are. And how do you take them on?
BILL MOYERS: Yeah.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Well, you need a political revolution. You need a grassroots mobilization which says among other things, "You got to break these banks up.” We need a financial system which supports the productive economy and job creation.
BILL MOYERS: But that's a conundrum, because, you know, some people criticize you because you're what they call "too cordial" to the Democratic Party. On the other hand, some people who support you say, "Well, if he is not cordial to the Democratic Party, he won't be able to slip a progressive idea in here and there." That's a tight rope to watch, isn't it?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: It is. It certainly is. You know, ever since my-- when I was first elected back in 1990 to the House—
BILL MOYERS: As a socialist.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: As an Independent. But, if you ask me, am I a democratic socialist, consistent with what goes on in Scandinavia? I am.
BILL MOYERS: Which means?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Which means that health care should be a right of all people, that higher education should be a right and kids shouldn't graduate $50,000 in debt, which means that we should pass legislation that represents the interests of working families, not big money interest, which means that we should be aggressive in reversing global warming and protecting the environment for future generations. You know, which means that workers earn a decent wage. All of these ideas, which people have talked about from Eugene Debs on, you know, for 200 years.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, but somewhere in socialist heaven, Senator Patrick Moynihan is looking down and say, "Go on, Bernie, go on, I’m with you” Right, right?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Maybe.
BILL MOYERS: But, you know, the right says that Obama is a socialist. They keep calling him a socialist. Can you prove he's not a socialist?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Can I prove he's not a socialist? Yeah. Look at his record. He is not a socialist. I mean, that's-- I mean, to be a socialist, a democratic socialist is to say, "Hey, we have 15 percent of our people unemployed today, that's the reality, or underemployed, some, close to 25 million workers. We are going to have a jobs program to put those people back to work. We're going to deal with the deficit in a progressive way."
Bill, among all of the other issues out there, what really drives me a little bit nuts, and we don't talk about it, is distribution of wealth and income in this country. Distribution of wealth, I want people to listen up on this one. You got one family, the Walton Family of Walmart, that now own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of the American people. One family, top one percent owns 41 percent of the wealth in America. The bottom 60 percent, you want to take a guess? Now I'm going to ask you the question.
BILL MOYERS: No, I ask the questions. You can ask it and answer it.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: It's less than two percent. Can you believe that? One percent owns 41 percent. Bottom 60 percent owns less than two percent. And with that grotesquely immoral and unfair distribution of wealth and income, these billionaire guys putting this money under their mattresses. They are saying, “I’m the Koch brothers, I got $50 billion. Hey, that’s not enough, I need to invest $400 million in this campaign so I get more tax breaks on whatever it may be.” So they’re using their money and their power to create an even more unfair America.
BILL MOYERS: Are we at a tipping point between what we think of as democracy and oligarchy, which is the political rule by the wealthy?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Bill, I think we are. I think if you add up this grotesquely unfair distribution of wealth where so few have so much money. When you look at the economic power of Wall Street and other very powerful corporate entities, and then you look at Citizens United and the ability of these people to fund elections, I believe, you know, you may have the trappings of a democracy. But I believe for all intent and purposes, you're looking at a situation where a handful of families will control the economic and political life of this nation, unless we educate, organize, and take these guys on.
BILL MOYERS: How do you explain as an experienced politician, the fact that despite the Republican Convention and the Democratic Convention and all that's happened, we have a country that's divided 45 percent to 45 percent, maybe 46 percent to 46 percent, with about three percent to five percent of the voters undecided? And most of the experts say that's where the-- that's where the election will be decided with three percent to five percent. How do you explain that close division?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Okay, I look at it a little bit differently. This is what I think. I think we know where the Republicans are. The Republican Party over a period of years has moved from what we call a center-right party. And we used to have governors and senators coming from Vermont, who were Republicans. But you know what? They were sane human beings that actually were concerned about education, the environment, more conservative than you and me. They weren't crazies.
The party has now moved to the extreme right, all right? That's the Republican Party. The problem is the Democratic Party, if you go out, it is beyond my mind, Bill, that you have a Democratic Party of F.D.R. of L.B.J. that today is losing by a significant percentage the White working class of this country and senior citizens. The party that created Social Security and Medicare is losing the vote of seniors and white working class people. How does that happen?
It happens because they are not there making it clear. Listen to Roosevelt's speeches in 1936. He'd say, "Hey, the big money interests hate me. I welcome their hatred, 'cause I'm standing with the unemployed and working peoples." You hear that coming from too many Democrats right now? So yeah, the Democrats have become a party which does some good things, environment, women, gay issues, very good. Protecting white, well, not white, any working class people. They're not strong.
BILL MOYERS: How do they get them back? Not that you're in the business advising Democrats, but what, how do they get them back?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Well, let me tell you for a start. President of the United States goes on television, holds a press conference just to say, "Ladies and gentlemen, I just want to tell you, there's a lot of pressure for me to cut Social Security. Ain't going to happen. Bill comes before me, I'm going to veto it. Social Security is solvent. I'm going to make it solvent for 75 years. And I want every working person in this country to know Social Security will be there for them."
I think that would be dramatic. Number two, an issue that, again, there's been a lot of collusion between Democrats and Republicans about. And that is our disastrous trade policy. When I was in the House, the corporate entities, Chamber of Commerce, “free trade, NAFTA, CAFTA, permanent normal trade relations with China, will be the greatest thing since sliced bread.” All right?
The end result is that in the last ten years, we have seen 55,000 factories in America shut down, millions of decent-paying jobs lost. You go out to elderly people and they say, "I can't buy a product made in America anymore. Where are the factories? Where are the decent-paying jobs?" So I would like to see the president get up there and say, "You know what? We're going to rethink our trade policies. I want corporate America to start investing in America, not in China."
Other things that he could be doing, certainly, I think the much maligned stimulus bill, to my mind, was one of the most important pieces of legislation passed in my lifetime, in my state, money into bridges, into roads, into Head Start, into sustainable energy, created 6,000, 7,000 jobs when we needed it a whole lot. You need more of that. I just got off a plane a little while ago. Believe me, our airports are in trouble. Roads, bridges, schools, water systems, waste water plants. Let's put people back to work.
BILL MOYERS: There was a report just last weekend on N.P.R., National Public Radio, 8,000 bridges in this country in need of serious reconstruction. And that would put a lot of people to work. But you can't seem to get Washington's attention on those particularities.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Look, you got in-- this is an example where the president has got to go to every state in this country and say, "We can create jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure." And then he has to remind people that when Clinton left office and Bush came in, we had a $236 billion surplus.
And I happen to believe that Paul Ryan and his friends are total and absolute hypocrites on the deficit issue. They voted for two wars, didn't pay for it, gave a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the rich, didn't offset it. Passed a Medicare Part D prescription drug program, written by the insurance companies, $400 billion over a ten-year period, didn't pay for it. Now, after all of that, they think we have to cut Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid.
BILL MOYERS: This is going to be the big issue after the election, when we face the problem of those staggering debts, the Bush tax cuts and the other issues that are facing us. What will you be watching for in that period when we're on the edge of the so-called fiscal cliff? And the president, it'll be Obama. He'll still be in the White House, even if he loses in November, negotiates with the Congress. What are you going to be watching for?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Well, it's taking place right now. I don't have to watch after the election. Right now, you have CEOs, meeting with Democrats and Republicans, trying to work out some kind of deficit reduction plan. If some of us and the American people are not successful in stopping them, there will be cuts in Social Security, I suspect Medicare and Medicaid. Not anywhere near as Draconian as what the Republicans, let alone, want.
There is an answer to the deficit crisis. And that is when you have this grotesquely unequal distribution of wealth and income, somebody's going to have to say, "Hey, what, you're a billionaire, you know what, you're going to have to contribute." One quarter of American corporations don't pay anything in taxes. We're losing $100 billion a year, because these companies are stashing their money in the Cayman Islands. There are ways to deal with the deficit without attacking the middleclass and working class of this country, who are already reeling and in pain.
BILL MOYERS: Senator Bernie Sanders, thanks for being with me and happy birthday to you.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Thank you very much, Bill. My pleasure to be with you.
BILL MOYERS: Senator Sanders belongs to no party – he’s truly an independent. But my next guests not only belong to a party -- the Green Party -- they are its nominees for president and vice-president. Both plunged into politics, as you will hear, from real life experiences.
Jill Stein graduated from Harvard Medical School and became an internist specializing in environmental health, especially pollutants in the air that threaten young children and aging adults.
Her running mate, Cherie Honkala, is a single mother who knows what it is to be homeless. Last year she ran for sheriff of Philadelphia on a platform of ending foreclosures and evictions. She’s also the co-founder and national coordinator of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. That’s a non-profit organization with members all across the country.
Welcome to you both.
JILL STEIN: Thank you.
CHERI HONKALA: Happy to be here.
BILL MOYERS: I first heard of you about ten years ago when the Clean Elections Law -- public funding for state elections was up in Massachusetts where you were living at the time. And the people in Massachusetts voted two to one for clean elections, for public funding of state elections. And yet sometime later the Massachusetts legislature, a Democratic legislature, on an unrecorded vote overturned that judgment. They vetoed the public will.
JILL STEIN: It was that fight that really catapulted me into the world of political battle. I had not been a member of a Party, I had never been to a political meeting before then. And you know, to see that all these groups which had joined together, and I came to it as a mother and medical doctor, very concerned about our health care system falling apart and also about an epidemic of chronic disease descending on our kids which as a mom I took really, really seriously and as a doctor was fighting it tooth and nail, saw that money was always taking over.
A number of groups got together across labor, environment, health care, you name it, and all of us said we've got a common predator here, it's money in politics. Let's get it out. We actually passed that referendum by a two to one margin.
BILL MOYERS: It's amazing actually.
JILL STEIN: Huge. And the minute we passed it the legislature began to resist it, to try not to fund it. And then finally they wound up repealing, as you said a legislature that was about 85 percent Democratic. So it could have, you know, overridden any veto and so on. It had the power to actually clean up our political system.
And that said to me the fight here is much bigger than any one issue. It's really about a political culture. If we want to fix what ails us we need to fundamentally fix the political system. At that point I was recruited to run to office and I did it as a desperation move. Everything else was failing us and I realized it was time to fundamentally transform our political system and work with a party that was actually committed to getting money out of politics.
BILL MOYERS: I remember your saying-- somewhere I read your saying that a hunger for justice was born in you the night you and your young son were evicted from your home.
CHERI HONKALA: Yes. For me it was a very personal thing. I found myself homeless in a car in the Twin Cities and could have frozen to death--
BILL MOYERS: In Minnesota?
CHERI HONKALA: In Minnesota. I knew that that was probably happening to, you know, thousands of other families across the entire country. And so yes, definitely that night there was a hunger for justice that was born. And I just felt that it was a real disgrace in a country that has more abandoned properties than homeless families that we could have that situation.
And then it was a couple years ago that I was sitting in my office and the Green Party approached me and said, "Cheri, if you're serious about this foreclosure crisis we have an idea. And if you would run for Philadelphia sheriff and refuse to throw families out their homes--" because that's what the sheriff's department does in Philadelphia.
And I immediately got on the phone, called mentors of mine and they said, "You know, you have an opportunity to talk about the devastation that the majority of the people in this country are disconnected, that they don't really see happening on a daily basis. We watch other kinds of images, we hear different things on the news, but we're not hearing about those eight million families that have lost their homes." And so-- I decided that I would run-- as the people's sheriff and refuse to throw families out of their homes.
BILL MOYERS: You once said that politics is the mother of all illnesses.
JILL STEIN: Yeah-- exactly, you know, I got into this as a medical doctor and a mother really worried about this epidemic of chronic disease, seeing in our kids obesity, diabetes, asthma, cancer, learning disabilities -- skyrocketing rates. We didn't used to have that in kids. This was new, going back about 20 years -- 20, 25 years. And I said to myself, you know, it's not in-- our genes didn't change overnight. Our genes didn't change.
Something's going on in our communities. Got to work with our communities, found that in spite of great solutions we had that our political system was obstructing those solutions whether it was cleaning up our air with renewable, clean renewable energy or recycling waste instead of burning it or implementing a single payer Medicare for all system, they're not interested because they're getting paid.
Our lawmakers are getting paid not to be interested. So it basically means if we want to implement these solutions that create the jobs that we need, that can put an end to the foreclosure crisis and all the rest, if we want to do that we have to figure fix the broken political system. It is the mother of all illnesses and we can fix it.
BILL MOYERS: Cheri, what have you learned running about our political system that you didn't know before?
CHERI HONKALA: That we really have a responsibility to get off of the sidelines and to get involved in saving our democracy in this country. We're really in trouble. The amount of corruption, the lack of participation. The number of people in this country that are just planning to sit out this next election is absolutely demoralizing.
The fact that people that are out there watching this program today don't even know a thing about the Green Party, because there's all these ways that both the Democrats and the Republicans have kept us out of the debates, have kept us out of the media, you name it, that's a serious thing. Because the last thing that we have in this country is our voice and our democracy and once that's taken away from us we're really in trouble.
BILL MOYERS: If you made it to the White House what would you do on the first day?
JILL STEIN: For starters I think we would fire Wall Street because Wall Street is all over the White House from the Treasurer's office to--
BILL MOYERS: Jill, you can't fire Wall Street.
JILL STEIN: However --
BILL MOYERS: You can't fire the people who provide the money.
JILL STEIN: If you are dependent--
BILL MOYERS: They can fire you.
JILL STEIN: If you are dependent on that money, and that is exactly the point. That is exactly why you want to be a part of a political party which is not being held hostage by its Wall Street funders. And that's why I think, you know, you don't want to go into the voting booth and give them a mandate for four more years of the same with two candidates who are fundamentally being funded by Wall Street and corporate America that is raking us over the coals.
BILL MOYERS: But America is a capitalist democracy. You have to deal with the realities and power of capital and the needs of institutions that feed capital into the system, right?
JILL STEIN: Of course, and unfortunately our current capitalist system doesn't do that. You know, it provides capital to the very tippy top that's already got plenty. You know, small businesses have been absolutely crushed by this system. And the stimulus packages that the president and Congress have provided have been entirely inadequate to the job. They've provided mostly tax breaks which as we know is an extremely expensive way to create jobs.
And I think the American people object to what's called the realities, those political realities which are essentially the backroom deals that those politicians make in order to get the campaign contributions. So they come to office owing return favors. We don't come to office owing those favors. We have nothing but public interest support.
So we owe favors actually to the public to implement the agenda that they want, a Green New Deal to create jobs, health care as a human right, forgiving student debt, bailing out our students and our homeowners and not our bankers. We do have the money to do this. We're just squandering trillions on wars, Wall Street bailouts and tax breaks for the wealthy.
BILL MOYERS: Your Green New Deal. What is that? What's the essence of it?
JILL STEIN: It is an emergency program to solve two problems: the unemployment crisis and the climate crisis. And it basically uses the model of the New Deal which got us out of the Great Depression, created a lot of jobs in the 1930s. We can do that. It directly creates jobs in our communities, and at the same time that it creates jobs it also jumpstarts the green economy that effectively spells an end to climate change and makes wars for oil obsolete.
It makes national dollars available at the local level so our communities can decide what kinds of jobs they need to become sustainable.
So it creates jobs for teachers. Let's hire back those hundreds of thousands of teachers who've been laid off, nurses, childcare after school, home care, elder care, violence prevention, drug abuse rehabilitation, affordable housing construction. It allows people to go down to an employment office and get a job in public works and public services. And it also provides funding for small businesses and startups at the community level.
BILL MOYERS: What do you say when someone says you're utopian. You want what is impractical and impossible?
CHERI HONKALA: You know, my whole life has been about dealing with reality and being as pragmatic and as practical as possible. And we have managed to feed, house and clothe thousands of people with absolutely no resources. We're experts at being resourceful but resource-less.
And we are also experts at really seeing the massive amounts of abundance and how it never gets in the hands of the actual people. And in my neighborhood or anyplace else across the country, watching families open up their refrigerator and nothing being in there, and then watching the massive amounts of food that is thrown away on a daily basis. In Philadelphia there's 40,000 abandoned properties. There's something really wrong with that picture. And it's really this whole issue about, like, who's in control and who's making the decisions and, you know, the wrong priorities. And the priority has to be the American people and not corporate greed.
BILL MOYERS: You have said, Jill, we can and must shift to an economy in which 100 percent of our electricity is generated renewably. But we're headed in the other direction toward more fossil fuel, more drilling, more fracking and even on public lands. And the majority of people seem to like the jobs that creates and the local prosperity that comes with that “drill, baby, drill.”
JILL STEIN: And people would like even more if they could have jobs and local prosperity without destroying their climate, without polluting their air and their water and without basically, you know, riding us into a devastating future and in fact a devastating now because our water and our air and our climate are unraveling around us right now.
BILL MOYERS: You've said that to achieve your platform would require quote, "A World War II-scale mobilization." Two questions. Where's the money coming from? And secondly, World War II required a lot of sacrifice from people. What sacrifice are you asking us to make? First, where's the money coming from?
JILL STEIN: So the money comes from downsizing the military. We're now spending $1 trillion a year on a bloated military industrial security complex which doesn't make us more secure. So we can cut that back. It's been doubled. Our military budget doubled over the last decade. We can cut it back by half to where it was before and be more secure on account of it and more secure for spending our dollars here at home and creating a stable and prosperous and sustainable economy.
So hundreds of billions of dollars can come from redirecting military dollars which are being squandered. They can also come from tax dollars which are not being paid now by the very rich. And we're not only talking about a millionaire's surtax which--
BILL MOYERS: Soak the rich again, there they come again, soak the rich.
JILL STEIN: Well, isn't it about time? Instead of soaking the poor how about we have some level playing field here?
BILL MOYERS: So is that the sacrifice you expect of many Americans to-- more taxes?
JILL STEIN: Those who are most equipped to contribute to a society in which they, themselves, benefit more than anyone need to start stepping up to the plate. I mean, we have an absolutely unsustainable economy and tax structure right now. Why should Wall Street be except from a sales tax?
If you put a small sales tax on Wall Street transactions you not only generate hundreds of billions of dollars a year which could fund our Green New Deal, but you also rein in this reckless speculation in gambling on Wall Street which is a good thing all around.
And one last thing where the dollars come from which I want to say as a doctor -- to go back to this point.
Right now, we are spending over $2 trillion a year on a sick care system. Seventy-five percent of those dollars are being spent on chronic diseases that are avoidable at a tiny fraction of the cost if we were doing the right thing upfront by way of pollution prevention so we don't have the air pollution aggravating the asthma, the heart disease, the strokes and all the other things that are linked to air pollution, and it goes far beyond air pollution as well.
To have a healthy local organic diet with fresh fruits and vegetables which are absolutely critical. We are essentially poisoning ourselves three times a day with our industrial diet. And an active transportation system, that is the makings of a health care system which can recoup trillions of dollars over the next decade in chronic disease and its cost being avoided.
CHERI HONKALA: If you travel around the country and are involved in this anti-poverty movement that I'm involved in and have seen the devastation in my neighborhood--
BILL MOYERS: It's in Philadelphia?
CHERI HONKALA: Yeah, in Kensington, Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. And we already live in a war zone and people are trying to figure out daily across this country how to sell their labor in order to survive.
And the drug war is absolutely out of control and so if you want to cut back on crime, if you want to prevent a social explosion it's going to happen in this country.
People are not going to continue to, in the neighborhoods that I live in, watch their kids go to bed at night with nothing to eat. It's just not going to happen, not in a country that has an abundance where they can see right out their window seven blocks away, large buildings, folks with lots of money, and then expect their three or four kids to go to bed with no food.
BILL MOYERS: You've been at Charlotte at the Democratic National Convention among the very people who are terrified that you will do to them in November what Ralph Nader did in 2000 when he helped defeat Al Gore and deliver the victory to the Republicans.
JILL STEIN: The exit polls actually show that Nader drew equally from Democrats and Republicans, but the vast majority of his votes actually came from independents who otherwise would not have been voting in that race. And we see this over and over again in our campaign.
We are hearing from Republicans who are saying that they have a reason to come out and vote and that they'll be supporting us. We actually hear that in equal quantities to Democrats. So I just want to point out that that mythology is very self-serving for a political establishment whose goal is to essentially eliminate political competition.
BILL MOYERS: But I'm sure you know that the Democrats in Charlotte are fearful that that will happen again. I mean, the mythology as it might be lives in their psyche.
CHERI HONKALA: You can't really spoil something that's already rotten.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
CHERI HONKALA: We know that-- anybody that really knows politics understands that we're really dealing with a one party system in this country that's backed by corporations that doesn't really represent poor and working people in this country. And I think the thing that's far more scary is that the majority of the American people without programs like yours wouldn't even know that there's any other options. And so if we really live in a democracy then we should allow other independent parties to get access to the media, to have ballot access, to be able to be heard and to have the American people really decide who they want to run this country.
JILL STEIN: Because if you look at the record, you know, and there's been a politics of fear that has been touted and drummed into the voting public, fear campaigns and smear campaigns against independent politics for a long time, but especially since the Nader race over the last ten years. So--
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, both parties I have to say make it very difficult for you and any third party to be on the ballot in one state after another.
JILL STEIN: And why do they do that? They are very afraid that if people get wind of the fact that we could actually change things, that we actually have a choice that is of, by and for the people that actually restores our democracy and begins to push forward these solutions that people don't need to be convinced of, as you say people are already supporting them in substantial majorities-- if word gets out that there's a way to make it happen, you know, then all bets are off on what actually could happen.
And what we point out is that over the past decade of this politics of fear it has actually delivered everything that we're afraid of. But to look at American history, it's the politics of courage that has always moved us forward.
So we had it during abolition with the Liberty Party that helped drive that abolition agenda into the Republican Party which just happened to be a small party that won the presidential election at a time of great social transition and made that agenda a reality. During women's suffrage there was both a social movement on the ground as well as a women's party that kept driving the agenda into the political dialogue.
During the Labor Movement you had people fighting and dying on the streets for a 40-hour workweek, for safe workplaces, for child labor laws, for social security, for the rest of it. And you had independent parties, socialist, labor, progressive parties that could articulate the agenda and the vision and bring the demands into the realm--
BILL MOYERS: All right--
JILL STEIN: --of politics.
BILL MOYERS: Why don't you set out to take over the Democratic Party the way the conservatives over the last 40 years have taken over the Republican Party?
JILL STEIN: You know, been there, done that for about ten years. Wasn't that what the Obama election was all about? It was this--
BILL MOYERS: But it took the conservatives--
JILL STEIN: --incredible--
BILL MOYERS: --40 years.
JILL STEIN: Well—
BILL MOYERS: From Barry Goldwater forward, Jill.
CHERI HONKALA: We don't have that time. I think that Dr. Martin Luther King said it the best. He said that when you have an emergency sometimes you have to ignore the red lights, be the ambulance drivers and drive through the red light. And that's what time it is now in America. And we've got to stop saying that something is not possible because is it possible.
BILL MOYERS: Why is it possible, what do you mean?
CHERI HONKALA: There's always a beginning.
BILL MOYERS: Are we at some tipping point?
CHERI HONKALA: Yes, we definitely are at a tipping point. Again, speaking to the amount of children that are going hungry every day in this country, the eight million families that have lost their homes to foreclosure -- my nieces are African American and they lived in their home for 20 years, a little house on the corner of 38th and Tenth Street in Minneapolis.
Now today, you know, my nieces are living in my mother's little living room right now because they were one of the victims that lost their homes to foreclosure.
Right after Obama came into office I went with a bunch of women that were in foreclosure. We flew to Washington D.C., we decided that we were going to work with the Democrats. We were going to figure out how to keep these families in their homes. And today none of these women are in their homes. And so that's what time it is right now. People that are used to living a good standard of living, living in their homes for 20-some years are not going to adjust to just living on somebody's couch. They have had—
BILL MOYERS: What are they going to do? What really are they going to do?
CHERI HONKALA: --work ethics, they've worked their whole lives.
They're going to begin to say that this is enough, they're going to take off their glasses. They're going to realize that there really hasn't been two choices, that there's been corporate America that has been putting forward the agenda for both the Democrats and the Republicans and that it's time to build something new, it's time to build an independent political party that represents their interests.
JILL STEIN: And I have to say that there are a lot of good people who have been working for decades to do that and for whom the Obama election was really the culmination of a lifetime of work and who saw and participated in and created a mobilization like none we had ever seen before. And to see us only accelerate in the wrong direction and to see good progressives who are continually wiped out, silenced, taken off the ballot. It happens in the Democratic Party. It happens in the Republican Party, too. Money is firmly in control. These are not public interest institutions. These are Wall Street-sponsored institutions and at the end of the day if you don't toe the party line you will be silenced, you will be wiped out, you will be taken off the stage. You will not be admitted into the debates
We need to be working with a party that's very clear that its interest is the public interest and it doesn't take corporate money. That is the quality assurance that it will not be corrupted. And we need to move forward together. And as Alice Walker says the biggest way people give up power is by not knowing they have it to start with. We actually have it.
BILL MOYERS: Cheri Honkala and Jill Stein, candidates for vice president and president on the Green Party ticket. Thank you for being with me.
CHERI HONKALA: Thank you, Bill.
JILL STEIN: Great to be with you, Bill.
BILL MOYERS: That’s all for this week. Senator Bernie Sanders has agreed to a live chat next week at our website, BillMoyers.com. Go there for the details and ask your questions of the independent Senator from Vermont.
That’s at BillMoyers.com. I’ll see you there and I’ll see you here, next time.