LACONIA — "It's not about electing s president," Bernie Sanders, who continues to run neck-and-neck with Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, told a crowd of more than 150 voters at the Weirs Community Center Monday. "It's about making a political revolution."
Sanders opened by riffing on the two fundamental themes of his campaign — the "rigged economy" and "political oligarchy." The middle class, he said, "has been disappearing for the past 40 years as despite rising productivity, Americans are working longer hours and earning less money.
"Your grandchildren will have a lower standard of living than your children," he continued, "when one-tenth of the wealthiest one percent own as much the bottom 90 percent."
Offering what he called "a very radical idea" with feigned overstatement, he suggested "creating an economy that works for all of us."
"Why," he asked, "are the Republican candidates talking about everything but what's happening to the middle class?" then answered his question by pointing to "the corrupt campaign finance system." Repeating that a small, affluent elite "already owned the economy," he charged that the United States Supreme Court "gave it the opportunity to buy the government as well." When wealthy individuals like casino owner Sheldon Adelson play host to candidates to pick their favorite, Sanders claimed "that's not democracy. That's oligarchy." He said that relatively few wealthy donors, he described as "right-wing extremists," are spending $900 million to "overturn everything government has done since the 1930s to help the middle class." To loud applause, he called for public financing of elections.
The greatness of a country, Sanders said, is measured by how well it cares for its most vulnerable people. He said that America has the highest rate of childhood poverty and youth unemployment among comparable industrial democracies. Likewise, he said that "we should be be doing a lot better for our senior citizens." by expanding Social Security benefits. By raising the cap on taxable income on the most affluent 1.5 percent, Sanders said that the solvency of the system could be ensured for 50 years and monthly benefits increase by $65. He favors raising the minimum wage, dismissing the freedom of employers as "about me paying you three bucks an hour."
On foreign policy, Sanders chided the Republicans for talking "tough" about intervening in the Middle East, but reminded his listeners "it won't be their kids, it will be your kids who will go to war." Insisting ISIS must be destroyed, he said the United States "cannot and should not do it alone" and called for a coalition of major powers and Muslim states.
Asked how to overcome the deep division in the country, Sanders replied that in site of the passions aroused by issues like abortions rights, gay marriage and gun control, "on major issue after major issue, we are much closer together than people think." He referred specifically to economic inequality, campaign finance infrastructure investment, excessive incarceration and climate change as issues on which polls indicate a majority of Americans agree. "There's a lot of common ground," he said.
Seldom has a candidate grounded a presidential campaign on such a stark critique of the economic and political order. By way of introducing Sanders, Lew Henry of Gilmanton Iron Works remarked, "We may never again get a chance like this to change the rotten political system in this great country of ours."
And by seeking not only to win the presidency but also to spark a revolution, Sanders has set a very high bar.