Bernard Sanders has served as a U.S. senator from Vermont since 2007, and previously served as a U.S. congressman from Vermont from 1991–2007. He is a self-described “democratic socialist” and is presently second — behind only former Vice President Joe Biden — in most 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination polling. Sanders, who is Jewish by birth, is a native of Brooklyn, New York and went to college at the University of Chicago. It was during his time in Chicago that Sanders first became active in socialist circles and involved with other far-left causes. Although he has sometimes caucused with the Democratic Party during his time in Congress, Sanders has spent most of his adult political life as a registered political independent.
Sanders’ first marriage ended in divorce, and he has been married since 1988 to Jane O’Meara Sanders, a social worker and college administrator. He has four children and seven grandchildren. If successfully nominated for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination, he would be the oldest nominee for a major American political party in modern history.
Although Sanders’ far-left across-the-board viewpoints were once considered to be an outlier within Democratic/Democratic-adjacent circles, he is now widely reputed to be one of the Democratic Party thought leaders.
Electoral History: In the 1970s, Sanders unsuccessfully sought various political offices in Vermont under the partisan label of the Liberty Union Party, which is best described as “anti-war” and generally far-left in orientation. Sanders first successfully sought elected office in 1980, when he ran for mayor of Burlington, Vermont. He served as mayor of Burlington for eight years, and was known for restricting private property rights, imposing price controls, raising property taxes, taking “goodwill” trips to the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Sandinista-run Nicaragua, and flying a hammer-and-sickle Soviet flag in his mayoral office.
In 1990, Sanders became the first political independent to be elected to Congress since 1950. He was re-elected seven subsequent times, generally winning by wide margins. Soon after his election to Congress, he co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which he used as a vehicle for far-left political activism while still refusing to join the Democratic Party.
Sanders first successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006, and has subsequently been re-elected twice. He has won by wide state-wide margins in deep-blue Vermont.
In 2016, Sanders unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, finishing as the runner-up to eventual nominee Hillary Clinton.
On The Issues: Sanders calls himself a “democratic socialist” who, while disavowing whole-hearted socialist theory with respect to government ownership of the means of production, nonetheless has consistently advocated for economic class warfare that pits the lower and middle classes against the wealthy. He has routinely supported anti-capitalistic and anti-growth economic policies, heavy-handed government regulation over the private economy, robust labor unions, and the Nordic model of a sprawling welfare state. On foreign policy, he has frequently mollycoddled communist dictatorships and has often been hostile toward America’s closest geopolitical allies. Overall, he is a far-left progressive who has long defined the leftward flank of what it means to be a progressive in America.
Constitution: Sanders supports a “living Constitution” interpretive methodology that effectively empowers unelected federal judges to determine large swaths of the laws that govern Americans’ lives. He is hostile to the First Amendment’s protection of free speech and has supported a constitutional amendment to overturn the political speech-affirming 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Citizens United v. F.E.C. He has generally supported a more robust role for Congress and a more diminished role for the presidency in the context of foreign policy and the conduct of overseas military operations. He takes an expansive view of the Fourth Amendment and has even praised disgruntled NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
Economy: Sanders holds far-left views on economics that place him barely, if at all, to the right of an authentic European-style socialist. He supports punitive taxation and massive redistribution to mollify the purported scourge of wealth and income inequality in America. He has consistently supported substantial tax hikes on income, capital gains, and estates alike. Sanders supports substantial regulation of the financial services sector and large-scale government spending on infrastructure programs. He has generally opposed free trade due to reasons of labor protectionism. He has been critical of the Federal Reserve for allegedly empowering the wealthy. Sanders supports increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15. He has taken a heavy-handed view of antitrust enforcement.
Health Care: Sanders is a longtime support of single-payer socialized medicine, and in many ways is the intellectual progenitor for the current Democratic Party candidate trend of favoring “Medicare for All.” He has often been critical of Obamacare for not going far enough with respect to health care coverage for all uncovered Americans. Sanders has never indicated any willingness to structurally reform fiscally ruinous health care-related entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Immigration: Although Sanders once was sympathetic to restrictive immigration measures due to reasons of labor protectionism, he has emerged over the past decade as a reliable vote in favor of pro-amnesty, pro-illegal immigration policies. He supports a pathway to citizenship for large swaths of illegal aliens. He has often been very critical of the Trump administration’s efforts at border security and immigration law enforcement.
Foreign Policy: Sanders has consistently opposed an aggressive overseas posture for U.S. foreign policy, and has routinely opposed large-scale U.S. military deployments overseas. He has been skeptical of or outright opposed to U.S. foreign policy missions against a wide variety of hostile actors — both state and non-state actors — across the Middle East. Sanders has long been deeply sympathetic toward communist Cuba — including the open praising of Fidel Castro — and applauded the Obama administration’s efforts at détente with Cuba. He supported President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal and has usually been more sympathetic to the Iranians and the Palestinian-Arabs than he has been to the Saudis and Israelis, respectively. He supports a “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has often been very hostile of Israel’s defensive measures against the radical Islamic terrorism that engulfs the Jewish state on all sides. While running for president in 2016, Sanders cited a blatantly false number of Palestinian-Arab deaths that had allegedly resulted from the 2014 Gaza Strip war between the two sides.
Abortion: Sanders is fully pro-abortion, has never voted in favor of any piece of legislation that would restrict abortion, and has recently refused to identify any piece of legislation that he might support that would restrict abortion in any conceivable way. He supports ending the Hyde Amendment, which has historically banned taxpayer funding of abortion, and has vowed to never nominate anyone to the U.S. Supreme Court who is not adamantly in favor of Roe v. Wade.
Guns: Although Sanders’ tenure in the House was marked by his opposition to various gun control measures, his tenure in the Senate has been marked by consistent support for gun control policies. Sanders supports a federal ban on “assault weapons,” supports “universal background checks” (i.e., background checks even for private firearms transfers), and has often criticized Republicans’ purported fealty to the National Rifle Association. Sanders supports a ban on the undefinable sub-class of firearms referred to as so-called “assault weapons” — a line of thought that, if taken to its logical conclusion, could lead to the banning of all semi-automatic firearms in America.