BS: The Speech

Sanders, Bernie 2011. The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class. New York: Nation Books.

The simple reality is that the middle class of America is collapsing, poverty is increasing, and the gap between the very wealthiest people and everyone else is getting wider. How did this happen? Why did it happen? What can we do about it? These are issues that had to be talked about, and talked about in a way that is not often heard in Washington. (Sanders 2011: x)
These two aspects characterize Sanders' campaign for presidency now in 2015 as well. Almost all his campaign speeches consist of statements about the simple reality which includes the items listed here as well as a whole host of new ones. And the way that Sanders presents the simple reality - beyond the mere fact that he seems to be the only one talking about them - is that he talks about them in a specific way, usually not only stating the problem but pointing to a solution and frequently referencing a concrete policy he has already supported or has tried to pass in the past. As many have noted, it is highly unusual for American politics to be so straightforward. That's part of why he has managed to captivate even a foreigner like me, which is why I am now reading this book.
Given the enormous political power that goes with this concentration of wealth, in terms of lobbying capabilities, campaign contributions, and media ownership, is the United States on its way to becoming an oligarchic form of society with almost all power resting in the hands of a tiny few? (Sanders 2011: xi)
Something that many people have had at the back of their minds. America is the land of the richest of the rich. It seems unavoidable that the richest of the rich wuld manipulate their socioeconomic environment to their own best advantage. As I understand it, Bernie's argument is that it isn't unavoidable and there may yet be something the American people can do about it (e.g. build a massive grass-roots movement and make the change that Obama promised but never delivered).
While I didn’t have a prepared script for the speech, I mostly worked off of previous speeches I had given or articles that I had written and occasionally excerpts from some books I had read. I would read a few lines or pages, and go off from there. (Sanders 2011: xii)
This is reminiscent of Montaigne in his essay on Pedantry: "I go here and there culling out of several books the sentences that best please me, not to keep them (for I have no memory to keep them in) but to transprant them into this work, where, to say the truth, they are no more mine than in their first places."
I have four kids and I have six grandchildren. None of them has a whole lot of money. I think it is grossly unfair to ask my kids and grandchildren and the children all over this country to be paying higher taxes in order to provide tax breaks for billionaires because we have driven up the national debt. That is plain wrong. (Sanders 2011: 4)
Ah, his constant reference to his children and grandchildren makes a little more sense in this light.
These are the same people who either want to make significant cuts in Social Security or else they want to privatize Social Security entirely. (Sanders 2011: 7)
One of the facts on politifacts that Bernie Sanders purportedly gets flat-out wrong is the Republican effort to "abolishing Social Security", which the politifacts writer has pointed out as false, commenting, "Privatize, not abolish". Here it turns out that Bernie used the correct language in his 2010 speech, and perhaps just made a small mistake with choice of words when addressing how Texas Republicans specifically are doing it. On the other hand I wonder if privatized Social Security is Social Security at all. Isn't it oxymoronic?
This comes from Barbara Kennelly. [...] "Diverting $120 billion in Social Security contributions for a so-called ‘tax holiday’ may sound like a good deal for workers now, but it’s bad business for the program that a majority of middle-class seniors will rely upon in the future." (Sanders 2011: 9)
Curiously, with all the videos on youtube I've watched, I've yet to hear Bernie addressing senior citizen issues directly. On one occasion, though, I swear when he said something like "universal health care to all people" I heard old instead of "all". If Sanders does become the 45th president of United States I'm sure a more pronounced discourse on ageism is going to ensue.
I think if our goal is to create the millions and millions of jobs we need, and if our goal is to make our country stronger internationally in a very tough global economy, I would much prefer, and I think most economists would agree with me that a better way to do that, to create the millions of jobs we have to create, is to invest heavily in our infrastructure. (Sanders 2011: 10)
Yup, this book reads like a companion piece to Sanders' presidential campaign. Infrastructure is not a sexy thing, as John Oliver pointed out, but I wonder if it doesn't go against the American honor that the European Union is investing so much in bettering infrastructure that soon enough, if not already, the contrast between the unions on the ground is going to look very bleek, for americans.
So you are talking about water pipe being in Rutland, Vermont—and this is true all over the United States—laid in the Civil War. The result is, we lose an enormous amount of clean water every day through leaks and water pipes bursting all over the United States of America. (Sanders 2011: 11)
Ugh. No wonder Americans drink bottled water even at home.
Some of us believe if this country is going to prosper and succeed in the global economy, we have to have the best educational system in the world from childcare through college. (Sanders 2011: 17)
American exceptionalism. Also, a difficult thing to achieve, seeing as so many other countries have had free university education for so long. It would take a miracle for America to catch up, I think.
When we went to school, we used to read in the textbooks about Latin America, and they used to refer to some of the countries there as “banana republics,” countries in which a handful of families controlled the economic and political life of the nation. I don’t wish to upset the American people, but we are not all that far away from that reality today. (Sanders 2011: 22)
Huh. I learned in school that "banana republics" were countries colonized to produce a single crop (which, as I understand, still goes on - e.g. Monsato and soybeans in certain Latin American countries), so that everything else has to be imported, making the country economically dependent on the colonizer country. The political elite part could definitely be a part of it. Wikipedia affirms both aspects: "Banana republic is a political science term for a politically unstable country, whose economy is largely dependent on exporting a limited-resource product, e.g. bananas. It typically has stratified social classes, including a large, impoverished working class and a ruling plutocracy of business, political, and military elites". He's not far off. America's main export these days seems to be entertainment (movies, music, books, hilarious politics, etc.), so that most everything else significant (food, technology) must be largely imported. The part about social conditions seems true enough as is (Sanders of course goes on to present the figures, as he almost constantly does).
What happened last year, as I think most Americans know, is the Supreme Court made a very strange decision. The Supreme Court decided that corporations are people and they have the right of free speech and the right without disclosure—all of this is through the Citizens United Supreme Court decision—to put as much money as they want into campaigns all over the country. (Sanders 2011: 23)
The strangeness of Citizens United, for me, became apparent when I read a congressional bill and found that it had to specifically emphasize that "The term "domestic financial institution" means a financial institution that is a United States person." (S.2277: 3) That is, it's not a given. It's not a natural assumption. It's the kind of thing that you have to constantly explain, to put out there, for it to make any kind of sense.
So my view—and I think it reflects the views of the American people—is that of course we want to see the people of Bangladesh and the people of China do well. But they do not have to do well at the expense of the American middle class. We do not have to engage in a race to the bottom. Our goal is to bring them up, not take us down. But one of the results of our disastrous trade policies is that in many instances wages in the United States have gone down. (Sanders 2011: 25)
This is where it begins to seem more idealistic than about ideas, but given that he's discussing trade agreements and he does have policy in mind for that, the ideals still seem to be anchored in ideas. The ideal of not competing with the low wages of East-Asian countries but bringing the wages up all over the world is something I imagine the whole world, not just Americans, could get behind.
I could not get one Republican vote to provide a $250 check to a disabled veteran trying to get by on $15,000 or $16,000 a year. But Mr. Dimon, who made $110 million in the last five years, will get a $1.1 million tax break if this agreement is passed. Now, that may make sense to some people. It does not make a lot of sense to me. (Sanders 2011: 27)
That's a significant aspect of why Sanders is now popular and deemed not only sympathetic but empathetic: he puts the needs of the many in front of the wants of the few. That egalitarian notion has not been felt in American politics in a while, it would seem.
As it turns out, while small business owners in the State of Vermont and throughout this country were being turned down for loans, not only did large financial institutions—and I am talking about every major financial institution—receive substantial help from the Fed, but also some of the largest corporations in this country—not financial institutions—also received help in terms of very low interest loans. [...] The “emergency response,” which is what the Fed described their action as during the Wall Street collapse, appears to any objective observer to have been the clearest case that I can imagine of socialism for the very rich and rugged free market capitalism for everybody else. (Sanders 2011: 30)
I've heard this phrase from somewhere, perhaps Bill Maher or Jon Stewart. Probably the latter, because, if I remember correctly, Sanders went on the Daily Show when this book was published. Yup.
Furthermore—and this is an issue I have worked on for a number of years. We know every major religion on Earth—Christianity, Judaism, Islam, you name it—has always felt that usury is immoral. What we mean by usury is that when someone doesn’t have a lot of money and you loan them money, you don’t get blood out of a stone. You can’t ask for outrageously high interest rates when somebody is hurting. That is immoral. (Sanders 2011: 37)
This is probably the stuff he talked about at Liberty University. Fun fact: in my native language 'usury' is liigkasuvõtmine, literally "taking too much profit".
At present, one in four of the Nation’s bridges is either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. (Sanders 2011: 40)
Is either broken or doesn't work.
I appeal to my conservative friends. I am not a conservative, but many conservatives have spent their entire political careers saying we cannot afford to drive up the national debt, that it is unsustainable. I agree with that. So vote against this agreement because it is driving up the national debt. In a significant way it is doing that by giving tax breaks to people who absolutely don’t need it. (Sanders 2011: 49)
Here's the reason conservatives are drawn to Sanders and perhaps at least part of the reason why Sanders gives speeches in red states.
[Mr. BROWN of Ohio:] This is not class warfare. Lots of people I know have a lot of money. I don’t have any ill will for them. But why would we help those people who have done so very well and then have our children pay for it? (Sanders 2011: 58)
It would indeed appear that Sanders' ideas are not grounded in Marxist ideology as much as in the harsh realities of U.S. socioeconomic situation.
We have a job to do and the job is—I know some people do not believe it. It is a rather radical concept. But our job is to represent working families, the middle class, and not the wealthiest people in this country. (Sanders 2011: 64)
define:radical - relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough; of or going to the root or origin. That government should work to benefit working families is indeed a rather radical concept, for should be the fundamental aim of government, at least at the root of it. Its fruits today of course are rotten, but that might just change.
Let me be frank: We are not going to do better unless the American people stand up and help us. We are going to need a lot of phone calls, a lot of e-mails, a lot of messages so that all of our colleagues in the House and Senate understand the American people do not want to see their kids having to pay off the debt incurred by giving tax breaks to billionaires. (Sanders 2011: 71)
This part sounds like his calls for a political revolution in his current speeches. By "not going it alone", here he would seem to mean that, if elected, he would need popular support, communal-mindedness (the majority being on the same page), and constant communication so that the voice of American people would actually be heard by the House and Senate. Currently this is not so.
A recent study came out and suggests that the uninsured now are about 50 million Americans. Fifty million Americans have no health insurance now. We hope health insurance reform will make a dent on that. I think it will. But as of today, without the major provisions of health care reform being implemented, 50 million Americans are without any health insurance. (Sanders 2011: 116)
It did. Also, I just had a very vivid feeling of déjà vu, as if I've read this exact passage and replied in this exact manner before. Alas, I was mistaken. I falsely remembered the following excerpt: "What formerly was the domain of individual or small group - economic support, health, education - now is the responsibility of the government. With the passage of the Medicare Bill, for example, medical care became a human right, and with the transformation of a privilege into a right, the social view of health and disease becomes a dominant concern of our time (Simmons 1963)." (Ruesch 1972[1966]: 31), to which I replied that "Half a century later, medical care in the US is still an issue".
I mean, I am throwing these statistics out, and the reason I am doing that is I want people to appreciate that if you are hurting now, stop being ashamed. It is not, yeah, we can all do better. Every one of us can do better. But you are in an economy which is contracting, especially for the middle class and working families. (Sanders 2011: 117)
This seems to be Sanders's underlying message, the silver lining that borders all his numerous statistics and outlines their function. Someone (Chomsky? Maher? Cenk?) said that many lower class Americans, due to poor "class-consciousness" or whathaveyou, imagine themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires (quick Google search attributes this powerful phrase to Ronald Wright). That is, Bernie Sanders, as a democratic socialist, is constantly pointing out the sad state of affairs in order to help Americans get over their temporarily embarrassed millionaires complex and realize that they are indeed hurting. But once you get over that shame, once you come to grips with the fact that "the game is rigged", if enough people realize it and do something about it, it might change.
Something has gone on in the Nation as a whole. You are not in this alone. When we talk about working-class families all across the country seeing a decline in their income, it is not because people are lazy, it is not because people do not work hard, it is not because people are not trying to find jobs. What we have is an economy which is rotting in the middle, and we have to change the economy. (Sanders 2011: 117)
Already in 2010 he sounds like he's running for president. But it makes sense, insofar as he's now running for president probably exactly because his speech, this speech, touched and roused a lot of people. It may even be said, to apply the cliche slogan, that people felt the Bern.
We don’t talk about poverty in America anymore. We don’t talk about the homelessness in America very much anymore. Trust me, it is there. It is three blocks away from where I am speaking right now, a very large homeless shelter. (Sanders 2011: 120)
Another aspect about Sanders' campaign worth attention that many have taken notice of: he talks about these economic issues that are not discussed seriously anymore these days.
I remember talking not so long ago to somebody from Scandinavia. I think it was Finland. He was saying: Of course, we have rich people in our country, but there is a level at which they would become embarrassed. (Sanders 2011: 123)
It was Pekka Lintu.
Does anyone seriously believe in the United States of America we take intellectual development seriously? I was reading today—I do not remember the guy’s name, who it was—a basketball player or a baseball player just signing a contract for untold tens of millions of dollars. Yet you have teachers starting off at $30,000, $32,000. Is anyone going to suggest in a serious way we reward people who become childcare workers or teachers? (Sanders 2011: 137)
The younger the age of investment in human capital, the higher the rate of return on that investment. If society invests early enough, it can raise cognitive and socio-emotional levels and the health of disadvantaged kids. One doesn’t need to be a psychologist to understand that. If kids get off to a good start in life, if they have the intellectual support, the intellectual development, and the emotional support, those kids are much more likely to do well in school, much less likely to drop out, much less likely to be a burden on society, much less likely to end up in jail, much less likely to do drugs, et cetera. (Sanders 2011: 143)
It's a good point, but now I'm interested in the term "socio-emotional". I wonder how much Sanders is influenced by the sociology of emotions that went on in the 80s and 90s.
The Walton family itself would get more than double in a tax break what some of us are fighting for for over 50 million seniors and disabled vets. We can’t afford to give $14 billion to help some of the people in this country who are struggling the hardest. We cannot do that, but somehow we can afford to give $32.7 billion in tax breaks to one of the richest families in this country. If that makes sense to anybody, please call my office. (Sanders 2011: 150)
It is true that the this book is repetitive, but I would argue that that's a positive. Here, for example, he phrases, for the n-th time, but in the most concise way, the contrast between giving 50 million seniors and veterans who live on $15K a year a one-time $250 check amounting to $15 billion total. That law did not pass. But the law which he is arguing against in his speech, that is, in this book, that gave double that to billionaires who didn't need it, passed. It is no wonder that he sounds pissed and decided to run for presidency. The very same paragraph ends with what amounts to the fact that underlies his current success:
It doesn’t make sense to me, and I don’t think it makes sense to the vast majority of the American people. (Sanders 2011: 150)
The passing of time seems to prove Bernie Sanders right on this front. We are now seeing that the vast majority of the American people do indeed agree with him.
The legislation I introduced last year, S. 2746, the Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist Act, would break up these large financial institutions. That legislation would require the Secretary of Treasury to identify every single financial institution and insurance company in this country that is too big to fail within 90 days; and after one year, the Secretary of the Treasury would be required to break up these institutions so their failure would not lead to the collapse of the U.S. or global economies. (Sanders 2011: 187)
Sanders has made this one of his campaign promises. Should look into this.
The tenth largest credit card issuer in this country is charging 79 percent interest rates, and we allow that to go on. These are crooks. These are no different than the gangsters who beat up people on street corners when they didn’t get payment back, except now the gangsters are wearing three-piece suits and sitting in some fancy suite on Wall Street. [...] Let’s be clear. When credit card companies charge over 20 percent interest on credit cards, they are not engaged in the business of making credit available. What they are involved in is extortion and loan sharking—nothing essentially different than gangsters, except they dress a lot better. That is all it is. It is thievery and we tolerate it, and we bail them out. (Sanders 2011: 197)
"Like nothing shady ever happened in a fully furnished office? You ever hear about Wall Street Morty? You know what those guys do in their fancy board rooms? They take their balls and dip 'em in cocaine and wipe 'em all over each other. You know Grandpa goes around and he does his business in public because grandpa isn't shady." (Rick and Morty S02E02)
Maybe we should concentrate on helping people who are trying to get by eating food from dented cans or people who can’t afford to drive to church on Sunday because they can’t afford the price of a gallon of gas. Maybe we should remember who sent us here and who made this country. (Sanders 2011: 213)
It's out there that Sanders is non-Christian, but here he is either being rhetorical to appeal to Christian viewers-listeners-readers, or... does he believe God made Europeans immigrate to Americans to form the United States?
If the American people stand up and by the millions let their Senators and Congressmen and the President know, we can win this thing. We can win this battle. It is not too late yet. That is what I hope will happen. (Sanders 2011: 218)
In retrospect is was too late and it didn't happen. Despite that, it is possible that when Sanders is the 45th president of the United States, a political revolution will occur.
If you were a health care lobbyist this year, trust me, you are doing very well. They were all over this place, making sure we did not pass a strong health care bill, for example, a Medicare for all, a single-payer program, which I support. (Sanders 2011: 221)
One of the main ways the American political system is corrupt. Earlier in the book Sander says: "They [the big financial institutions] have enormous power over our economy. They have enormous power over our political life. Their lobbyists are all over this place. You can’t walk down the hall without bumping into some of their lobbyists."
So if we are serious about creating the jobs we need, I think what we have to do is start making significant investments in our crumbling infrastructure; that is, rebuilding our bridges, our roads, our water systems, broadband, cell phone service, public transportation, our rail system, dams. (Sanders 2011: 236)
I do hope that communal internet connection is included in that, and that American people can escape the yoke of big cable companies in the future. (On second thought, yeah, that's probably covered by "broadband".)
I know many mayors and Governors would very much like to think they could turn their backs on the infrastructure because it is not a sexy investment. It is not a sexy investment. (Sanders 2011: 236)
Wow, so that's where John Oliver got that from.
I don’t know if the Presiding Officer or I alone will be able to convince some of our Republican friends or maybe some of our Democratic friends to make this into the kind of proposal we need for the working families of this country, and for our children, for our next generation. (Sanders 2011: 242)
This seems to be the key to Sanders' current presidential campaign. When he criticizes Obama and says that he recognizes that no president, not the best president ever, can do it alone. Having read this book I now understand what he means: no matter who becomes the president, the Republicans are always going to be there to gridlock and stop good laws that benefit the common people from passing. That is obviously why Sanders calls for a political revolution: he hopes that if enough people pressure their representatives it may be possible that those representatives may actually start representing their constituents instead of the lobbyists and campaign donors. So, in effect, what Sanders wants is for people to become more active in the political realm: to call and write to their senators, congresspeople, to convince their representatives to make the choices that the majority of people want them to make. Sanders's political record as a mayor that could be called up any time of the day to solve real issues seems like the ideal. This ethos is best summarized in the following argument:
So I think rather than asking the working families of this country to have to compromise, instead of asking our kids to pay more in taxes to bail out billionaires, maybe—I know this is a radical idea—but maybe we should ask a handful of our Republican friends to join us. Maybe a handful of honest conservatives over there who have been telling us for years their great concerns about deficit spending and a huge national debt, maybe they should be prepared to vote against the proposal which raises the national debt and our deficit by giving tax breaks to some of the richest people in the world. Quite frankly, I don’t think I am going to be able to convince them. I don’t know that the Presiding Officer is going to be able to convince them. But I think their constituents can convince them. I think the American people can convince them. (Sanders 2011: 242)
Ultimately, Sanders's whole deal depends on one simple question: whether you the people have the power or not. Sanders seems to presume that the American people have power over their government.
I apologize to anybody who has been listening for any length of time. I know I have been, to say the least, a bit repetitious. (Sanders 2011: 242)
Nah, it's fine. As one goodreads reviewer suggested, this actually makes for a more effective read in the sense that major points are driven home numerous times. The other book from this decade that I'm currently reading (I don't read much new literature) titled Make it Stick (2014), about effective learning practices, is largely about that. This was a pretty good read.


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