Sanders to Democrats: If You Support Progressive Policies, “You Win Elections”

On Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) explained to Democrats that, if they want to win elections this fall and beyond, they must support and implement popular progressive policies like student debt cancellation and resist pressure from deep-pocketed donors to give sweeping tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy.

In an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, Sanders said that Democratic candidates and lawmakers must position themselves firmly behind the working class and fight against corporate greed, rather than work to feed it.

“If Democrats are going to do well in 2022, in my view, they’ve got to stand up very firmly for working families,” the Vermont progressive said. “Now is the time, if you want to win an election, to say … ‘I’m prepared to take on greedy, powerful corporate interests who are enjoying record breaking profits while you Americans can’t afford health care, can’t afford to send your kids to college and are working for starvation wages.’ That, to my mind, is how you go forward and win.”

Backing policies like student debt relief is one such way that Democrats can be on the side of working families, he said.

“I have the radical idea that good policy is good politics. And it is good policy to cancel student debt in this country,” he said, noting that he would have gone further than President Joe Biden did in his debt cancellation plan. “If you do what the people want, and not what the corporate world wants, billionaire campaign contributors want, you win elections.”

On the flip side, Republican efforts to stop student debt relief from ever reaching borrowers will “hurt them politically,” Sanders said, noting that polls have found that canceling student debt is widely popular.

Progressives have long maintained that supporting popular movements like Medicare for All or more recently the growing labor movement is a strong way to gain political power and support from voters. This theory stands in sharp contrast to the way that modern mainstream political candidates from both major parties run their campaigns, soliciting donations from corporations and rich donors — and perhaps promising benefits to them in return — in order to outspend their opponents and win.

While money remains a powerful force in politics, recent wins from progressives running against corporate-backed opponents suggest that progressives may be right in their assessment of the electoral landscape. Though big donors still successfully defeat progressive candidates who vow not to take corporate funds, primary wins from progressive candidates like Pennsylvania’s Rep. Summer Lee or Oregon’s Jamie McLeod-Skinner this year are bucking the trend.

Democrats are in need of a boost if they want to maintain control of Congress this fall. Recent polls have found that, while Democrats may be experiencing a surge in support due to moves like the student debt cancellation plan, they will need further support in order to keep their majorities in the Senate and the House.

Sanders also emphasized in his interview that recent successes from the labor movement could be a major vehicle for political change — and an opportunity for Democrats to demonstrate which side they’re on.

Recent news with the potential railroad strike, for instance, has exposed “the most ugly type of corporate greed imaginable” from railroad owners, he said. Because of strict attendance policies, workers are often not even able to take time off if they or their spouses are ill — and workers and rail unions say railroad owners are so adamant in their refusal to acquiesce to workers’ time off demands that they’re willing to risk tanking the U.S. economy and push their workers to strike.

Workers’ willingness to stand up to rail owners and other labor activists’ struggles are a powerful rebuke of growing corporate greed, Sanders said.

“People are standing up, fighting back,” he said. “What you are seeing right now are workers saying ‘enough is enough. You guys on top — you can’t have it all.’ We need an economy that works for all of us. Unions are one vehicle that help people get decent wages and working conditions.”