Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is the only self-described socialist in Congress. Now he is mounting a long-shot bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination against former Senate colleague Hillary Rodham Clinton, who served most recently as secretary of state.
The 73-year-old Sanders calls for nothing less than a "political revolution" that would use tax policy to reverse what he calls the massive transfer of wealth from ordinary families to the most affluent over the past generation. He sat down to discuss the campaign with me over spaghetti and meatballs at a bistro near the Capitol. What follows is a condensed, edited transcript of our conversation.
HARWOOD: I read that you ran track in school. Was athletics important to you as a kid?
SANDERS: I came in third in my junior year in the New York City public school one mile. I think my best was 4:37, which is not superstar, but it's pretty good.
We used to play ball every day. we chose up teams. One of the differences, by the way, between today and way back then is maybe you learn a little bit about democracy. Kids are out on the street. There wasn't any supervisors. There wasn't any parents. You chose—punch ball, softball. Everybody knew how good you are. It didn't matter how much money you had. You were the third-best basketball player. Everybody knew it, 'cause they played with you day in and day out. Baseball the same.
You want to know who [was on] the Brooklyn Dodger team of 1951? Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Billy Cox, Gene Hermanski, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe. How's that? Were they important to me? We would occasionally go in the bleachers, which were then 60 cents. And when we really could put together the money and really were goin' big, we would sometimes get a buck-and-a-quarter seats.
HARWOOD: After the revolution, what does it look like? What do you see happening to the 1 percent?
SANDERS: What is my dream? My dream is, do we live in a country where 70 percent, 80 percent, 90 percent of the people vote? Where we have serious discourse on media rather than political gossip, by the way? Where we're debating trade policy, we're debating foreign policy, we're debating economic policy, where the American people actually know what's going on in Congress? Ninety-nine percent of all new income generated today goes to the top 1 percent. Top one-tenth of 1 percent owns as much as wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Does anybody think that that is the kind of economy this country should have? Do we think it's moral? So to my mind, if you have seen a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1 percent, you know what, we've got to transfer that back if we're going to have a vibrant middle class. And you do that in a lot of ways. Certainly one way is tax policy.