Posted by Matthew Rothschild on September 19, 2011

I heard Sen. Bernie Sanders speak a couple of times this weekend in Madison, Wisconsin, and he was inspirational.

He went after “the crooks on Wall Street.”

He assailed the giant corporations.

He denounced the rise in poverty as a moral disgrace.

He said the rightwing was going after Social Security because “it’s such a success,” and it undermines their argument that the government can’t do anything good.

He called for a redistribution of income and wealth.

He skewered the corporate media for caring “more about Kim Kardashian’s wedding than the collapse of the middle class.”

He bemoaned the drift of the Democratic Party. “There was a time when we had a center-right party in this country and a center-left party,” he said. “Now we have a rightwing extremist party, and a centrist party. And Democrats are proposing ideas that ten years ago no Republicans would propose.”

Sanders didn’t shy away from criticizing Barack Obama.

He blamed Obama for continuing “the Bush trade policies,” saying, “Free trade has been an unmitigated disaster for American workers.” He noted that 50,000 factories have closed down here in the last decade.

And he noted “without pleasure that the President of the United States was talking about cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.” Sanders said, “FDR and Harry Truman would be rolling over in their graves.”

Sanders argued that such talk from the Democratic President “is not only horrible public policy, it is bad politics.” If both parties are advocating cutting these social programs, “The average person is going to say, ‘Where is the difference between the two parties?’ I don’t know who you think is going to vote for you when you say you’re going to cut Social Security and Medicare.”

Sanders said he’s “been in meetings in the White House where there have been very straightforward conversations with the President” about why he’s giving up so much ground. Sanders said he wasn’t sure what Obama’s motivations were but that the President has “a desire not to be confrontational.”

For his part, Sanders doesn’t back away from confrontation. He recommends it.

His advice for Obama: “Fight for a progressive agenda, and do not equivocate. You’re not going to be able to win unless you’re prepared to fight.”

Addendum: After Pres. Obama released his budget-cutting proposal on Monday, Sen. Sanders issued the following statement:

“At a time when 25 million Americans don’t have a full-time job and when millions of middle-class Americans have slipped into poverty, I am glad that the president has listened to the American people and will not balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children, and the poor. With the wealthiest people in this country becoming wealthier and large corporations enjoying huge profits, it is time that we end tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations and have them pay their fair share.

“President Obama is on the right path in calling for the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy to expire, for limiting deductions for those making more than $250,000 a year, and for closing special-interest tax breaks.

“He also is right in seeing that ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can save our nation an additional $1 trillion.

“I welcome the president’s decision to let states seek health care waivers in 2014, three years earlier than under the health care law. This will give needed support and encouragement to Vermont as we seek to lead the nation in health reform.

“As chairman of the Defending Social Security Caucus, I am pleased that the president has listened to many of us in Congress and to people around the country and will not cut Social Security benefits of raise the Medicare eligibility age.

“I do, however, have serious concerns about some of the president’s proposals. For example, while it is true that middle class and working families need tax cuts, I disagree with taking the funds from Social Security. If this part of his program were enacted, nearly $300 billion would be diverted from the Social Security Trust Fund over a two-year period.”

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Bonnie Urfer, Jailed Anti-Nuclear Activist, Defiant."

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