Chelsea G. Summers remembers her mother chasing a young Bernie Sanders out of their apartment with a broom for trying to steal food from her family's refrigerator.
Summers, a columnist for Adult Magazine, recounted the story on Twitter last week: Growing up in Brooklyn in 1972, Sanders worked for a magazine that Summers's parents ran out of their house. "My parents ran a hippie mag out of our basement, and my mom caught Bernie stealing food. She chased him," Summers tweeted. "In all fairness, he was just hungry. We all were."
Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, is now running for president, chasing Hillary Clinton's coattails instead of his next meal. But in a Sunday appearance on This Week With George Stephanopoulos, Sanders maintained that growing up in a lower-middle class family in Brooklyn was the "most significant educational factor" in his life.
Sanders is already using that brand of underdog populism to draw a contrast between himself and Clinton. "I have known Hillary for some 25 years. I respect her and I like her," Sanders said on Sunday. "But I think what the American people are saying, George, is that at a time when 99 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent, and when the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, maybe it's time for a political shakeup in this country."
Stephanopoulos then asked Sanders a question that many people (on the right and the left) have been wondering:
GS: You're asking for a lot of shakeup. Is it really possible for someone who calls himself a socialist to be elected president of the United States?
BS: Well, so long as we know what democratic-socialism is. And if we know that in countries in Scandinavia—like Denmark, Norway, Sweden—they are very democratic countries, obviously. The voter turnout is a lot higher than it is in the United States. In those countries, health care is a right of all people. In those countries, college education, graduate school is free. In those countries, retirement benefits, child care are stronger than in the U-S of A. And in those countries, by and large, government works for ordinary people and the middle class rather than, as is the case right now in our country, for the billionaire class.
GS: I can hear the Republican attack ad right now: "He wants America to look more like Scandinavia."
BS: That's right. That's right. And what's wrong with that? What's wrong when you have more income and wealth equality? What's wrong when they have a stronger middle class in many ways than we do, a higher minimum wage than we do, and they're stronger on the environment than we do? Look, the fact of the matter is we do a lot in our country which is good. But we can learn from other countries. We have, George, the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on Earth at the same time as we're seeing a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires. Frankly, I don't think that's sustainable. I don't think that's what America's about.
Elsewhere on the Sunday show, Sanders said he will not run as a third-party candidate if he loses the Democratic nomination and would support whatever Democrat becomes the nominee.
GS: You said this campaign will be a clash of ideas. Which ideas? What are the biggest differences between you and Hillary Clinton?
BS: Well, I think it has a lot to do with our records. I think at a time when we have seen trillions shift from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1 percent, we have got to say very frankly that the wealthiest people in this country and the largest corporations are gonna have to start paying their fair share of taxes. Profitable corporations can't stash their money in the Cayman Islands and avoid about $100 billion a year in taxes. That's my view.
In terms of climate change, I believe this is the great, global environmental crisis of our time. I think we need extremely bold leadership. I have been leading the effort against the Keystone Pipeline.
In terms of trade, I believe that the trade agreements we've had from way back—NAFTA, CAFTA, permanent normal trade relations with China—have been a disaster. I voted against them. I'm hoping to lead the effort against the Trans Pacific Partnership so that we do not continue to see shutdowns of factories in America and the loss of millions of decent-paying jobs.
Voters may want a political shakeup in 2016, but many of them still have no idea who Bernie Sanders is. Still, having the odds stacked against him has rarely intimidated him before, and they don't appear to intimidate him now. Democratic voters might have to chase him out of the primary with a broom.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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