The Michigan Daily sat down with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for a few minutes before his rally on the Diag at the University of Michigan. Sanders won Michigan in the 2016 presidential primary, and the state remains crucial for him after former Vice President Joe Biden won decisive victories on Super Tuesday.
In his interview, Sanders discussed his efforts to appeal to moderate voters, how to get young voters to turn out and his plan for student loan debt cancellation.
The Michigan Daily: Michigan is a purple state, so how do you appeal to voters in the middle who value bipartisanship? Is bipartisanship important to you?
Bernie Sanders: Sure it is. And we appeal to voters based on the issues that we are proposing and fighting for, which appeal to a broad spectrum of the American people, whether they’re Democrats, Republicans or Independents. For example, raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour is enormously popular because if you’re a worker who’s a Republican making 12 bucks an hour, you can’t make it. And you want to raise that minimum wage. The American people now understand that we are the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people. And yet we’re spending twice as much per capita on health care. The American people, Republicans and Democrats, believe that health care is a human right. We’re on a campus here, the beautiful campus of the University of Michigan, and I think people all across this country understand that our young people are entitled to a good quality education without having to go deeply into debt. And they support the idea of making public colleges and universities tuition-free and canceling all student debt through a modest tax on Wall Street speculation. And lastly, there is a growing understanding that climate change is an existential threat. Our country and the world, people want us to deal with it. So to answer your question, the way you bring bipartisan support together is by talking about the issues that impact the vast majority of the people who are working people.
TMD: You’ve made the argument that increasing voter turnout — particularly among young people — can create a new electorate, one that will vote for progressive change. But, in states like Virginia where voter turnout was up on Super Tuesday, former Vice President Joe Biden still won a commanding lead. What does it mean for your campaign that increased voter turnout didn’t translate to more support for the progressive candidate?
Sanders: That’s a good question. In Virginia, the turnout went way up. We haven’t analyzed, to be honest with you, all of the voter turnout data. My impression is that older people voted in significantly higher numbers, their percentages went way up. More younger people did vote, but nowhere near the level of increase of older people. But here is the challenge that we face. Younger people are in fact the most progressive young generation in the history of this country, that’s your generation. The problem is that it has historically been very hard to get young people to vote in large numbers. We’re making some progress. 2018 was a good example where a lot more younger people voted than four years previous to that. I think you’re going to see the same thing now. But historically it has been hard, and that’s why we’re here on the campus, that’s why we visit many campuses: to make it clear to young people that in a democracy they have an obligation to participate, that it’s not good enough to moan and groan about all the concerns you have, you’ve got to get involved and stand up for what you believe in, and that means participating in the political progress.
TMD: Student loans are a very important issue for many people here at the University of Michigan and universities across the country. What do you say to your opponents who believe that canceling student loan debt is a handout?
Sanders: Well, what I say is if Trump could give a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the top 1 percent and large multinational corporations, if Congress 12 years ago could bail out the crooks on Wall Street who destroyed our economy through a Wall Street bailout — what do you call those things? Those things are handouts, but handouts that are going to the very rich and the powerful. I think that young people who have done the right thing, they’re trying to get a decent education, what we’re finding is that they’re struggling very hard to buy a home, to buy a car, to get married, to have kids. I think it is totally appropriate through a modest tax on Wall Street speculation to raise enough money which will make public colleges and universities like the University of Michigan tuition-free and at the same time cancel all student debt. So in other words, 12 years ago we bailed out big time the people on Wall Street who nearly destroyed the economy. I think through a modest tax on Wall Street speculation, they can help us help the younger generation.
TMD: And now we have more of a fun question: Have you seen any of the memes about yourself? If so, what’s your favorite?
Sanders: No. Well, I probably have, there’s so much stuff out there. Literally I have a hard time keeping up with it.
Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reporter Julia Fanzeres can be reached at email@example.com. Managing News Editor Leah Graham helped with reporting this story.