Democratic Primary: How Extreme Is Bernie Sanders?

Democratic Primary: How Extreme Is Bernie Sanders?

He's called the radical socialist, but this broad characterization is only obfuscating the truth.

This AJT column is part of a series giving a supporter of each of the remaining presidential candidates a chance to pitch the Jewish community on that candidate. Read the others here

Sen. Bernie Sanders could be our first Jewish president, and of all the candidates he would best serves the community (and America as a whole) through surprisingly conventional methods.

Born of poor Jewish immigrants from Poland, Sanders has devoted his career to supporting causes and drafting legislation that benefit the less privileged — whether deprived as a consequence of race, class or gender. Tikkun olam (repairing the world) and tzedek (justice) are the core principles of Sanders’ presidential campaign.

His voting record is consistent with the long Jewish tradition of compassion. Sanders voted in favor of expanding services for victims of domestic violence and for paid family leave and equal wages for women. He voted for Wall Street reform and student loan reform when others turned a blind eye. Unlike other candidates, he does not accept funds from prison lobbyists, Wall Street or oil companies.

His rally cry of “Nobody who works 40 hours a week should be living in poverty” and his campaign for a $15 minimum wage reflect the opinions of the majority of Jewish organizations as well as individuals. In fact, 63 percent of Americans support a federal minimum wage increase to $15 by 2020.

More than 600 economists, including seven Nobel Prize winners, support a similar increase. The idea that raising wages will lead to unemployment has been disproved in numerous states. In 2014, 13 states that increased wages saw employment rates increase as well.

According to Global Finance magazine, in a ranking of the income distribution of residents of 34 countries, the United States is 31st in income equality. Sanders has called out our broken system by citing that the richest 1 percent in the United States own more than the bottom 90 percent, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Sanders also believes that higher education should be available to all citizens and advocates tuition-free college, funded by Wall Street reform. His tax plan would pull from the richest 1 percent to help revive the rest of the country. He also plans to provide jobs by repairing our roads and other badly neglected infrastructure.

Contrary to the image of Sanders as a radical, the senator is in line with a long Jewish political tradition of liberalism and support of social programs. Sanders has the highest constituent approval rating of any U.S. Senator and had the most amendments passed of any member of Congress (sponsored 773 bills, co-sponsored 5,366). A level of bipartisanship rarely seen in modern U.S. politics achieved that record, along with no small amount of hard work.

His indignation at our country’s political system isn’t the quality that sets him apart. Instead, his anger and his call for change are distinctive because of the morality that fuels them. When he speaks passionately of injustice, it doesn’t ring hollow. His positions are backed by years of fighting for the same causes.

He is the only candidate to have marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and protested segregation. In 1995, he spoke on the floor of the House to protest the crude name-calling against gay servicemen and servicewomen, and he served two years as the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, working with Sen. John McCain.

A Sanders presidency would temper the spread of ISIS by fostering unity instead of isolating citizens with anti-Muslim rhetoric. Jewish citizens are particularly sensitive to religious persecution and most often respond with empathy. Simply put, Sanders’ approach to foreign policy would follow the tide of change instead of resisting it.

Regarding Israel, the senator sides with the majority of Jewish voters in supporting a two-state solution. He also fostered a personal connection with the land by living on a kibbutz in his youth. Like many Jewish leaders, Sanders is critical of Benjamin Netanyahu and some Israeli policies while supporting Israel’s right to exist.

Sanders told the Christian Science Monitor that he is proud of being Jewish and that Judaism informed his view on government “in a very deep way.” He also said Hitler’s rise taught him the power of politics and the responsibility to do good in the world.

It’s easy for politicians to offer words they know voters want to hear, but Sanders’ principles and actions are one and the same.

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