Sen. Bernie Sanders Belongs on the Sunday Shows

“With a $1.6 trillion deficit,” Sen. Bernie Sanders told Jon Stewart recently, “it is insane to think that the only way you’re going to move toward a balanced budget is by slashing college Pell grants, by cutting Medicaid, by converting Medicare into a voucher program, by cutting programs that working class and middle class people desperately need.”

The Senator on social security: “Social Security has a $2.6 trillion surplus. It could pay out every benefit owed for the next 26 years. It is not going bankrupt. It’s not going broke.”

On income inequality: “You have so few who have so much and so many that have so little. Those are themes not usually discussed here in Washington, for kind of obvious reasons.”

Senator Sanders is a bold voice, and one that’s missing every Sunday. He’s a passionate advocate for the middle class and yet his last morning show appearance came late last year.

Compare that to Sen. John McCain, who leads everyone with 10 appearances this year alone. His friends and ideological allies, Sens. Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman, round out the top seven interviewees this year, with six and five appearances each.

The Sunday shows often set the tone for the upcoming political week. As the same voices drone on, the Senator’s absence means the political and media elites are overlooking the forces squeezing working and middle class Americans.

Will you call or write the network producers and tell them to Bring Senator Sanders On? (Their contact information is at bottom.)

You’ve probably heard the Senator’s zingers and social philosophy picked up despite the shows’ pattern of interviewing the same half-dozen politicos each week. It’s not rocket science. It’s because what the Senator says is popular and widespread that it shines through the media muzzle.

“Medicare for all” is something the Senator’s pushed for years. More fundamentally, Senator Sanders is one of the few leaders who understands that political debates exist in terms of individuals and lives.

“I would not support Medicaid cuts when you have 50 million Americans who have no health insurance today at all,” the Senator said.

As GOPers coalesce around the plan to end Medicare, the Senator speaks for millions of Americans when he reminds us about the 45 million Americans who will die this year because they don’t have health insurance.

“It is morally obscene to cut programs for the most vulnerable people in this country,” he says.
Why is Senator Sanders being kept off the Sunday shows? It must be ideological discrimination because nothing else explains how the same tired trope of alleged newsmakers is trotted out each week.

Like McCain, Graham and Lieberman, the Tea Party is overrepresented on the shows too. Rep. Michele Bachmann, Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee all have far more appearances on Sunday shows than Senator Sanders. It doesn’t take much when the Senator has never been interviewed in 2011.

These conventional wisdom weather vanes are, as you’d expect, all the same. They are for spending cuts of different sizes, for interventions of different scopes and favor radical changes like dismantling the Federal Reserve or Education Department for different reasons. Many Democrats aren’t so different either, but Senator Sanders is one of a kind.

The Senate’s only self-styled socialist, Senator Sanders is passionate, outspoken, and offers a unique worldview among the elected American political spectrum and news media elite.

He has a wide following across the country and around the world, which is partly due to his uniqueness in contemporary American politics. He has an incredibly engaged Facebook community of 66,300 individuals, a Twitter following of more than 38,000 and an email list that reaches thousands upon thousands more.

The Senator can make the mundane policy differences engaging and catch fire. In a committee hearing about access to health care, Sen. Rand Paul equated “a right to health care” to enslaving medical professionals. Senator Sanders was able to transform Paul’s talking point into inspiration for his supporters and common sense reasonableness to his critics.

“My profound question to the [doctor] is, do you, as an employee at a federally qualified health center, consider yourself a slave?”

Even Paul had to laugh off his absurd question.

With Bernie absent from the Sunday shows, and their trend toward booking the same politicians each week, there exists an echo chamber within an echo chamber. With a lack of diversity each week, the Sunday shows move further away from their historical origins in American broadcasting.

They were conceived as a way to justify using public airwaves. The Federal Communications Commission licenses networks the right to use public radio waves because it’s a public service. That’s been precedent since the very beginning of American broadcasting.

Ideological discrimination is bad for ratings and worse for our democracy. As the Sunday shows move away from their historical moorings, our democracy suffers from a dearth of journalistic public service.

All the while, the “crooks on Wall Street [who] caused the recession” and politicians “who go after the middle-class, working families, low-income people” – in Bernie’s words – will be wearing television makeup and living comfortably in the networks’ green rooms this Sunday.