With headlines breaking across America and all over the internet on Friday the 25th that Bernie Sanders is planning to announce his run for the presidency in 2020, I thought I’d give you all the inside track - so I spoke to his brother.
Larry Sanders, Bernie’s older brother, is a friend of mine and an active Green Party member in the UK. In the 1960’s, he left America with his partner who was from Britain, and he’s stayed here since. Over the decades he’s been here, he’s been very active in progressive politics, being a long term councillor of the Green Party in Oxfordshire where he lives, as well as a candidate for Parliament on the Green ticket, where I worked with him a couple times. He is now the national Spokesperson for Health for the Green Party.
A role he’s well suited for, as he’s worked for years in social care out in the field, after having obtained his law degree from Harvard, and his master’s in social care from Oxford. He taught at the University of West London, then at Oxford in the department of social administration, and after the rightward swing of Labour in the 90’s, he left for the Green Party.
Living an ocean apart, Larry hasn’t gotten too involved in the mechanics of his brothers’ campaigns, but he is always immensely proud of him, and very, very few know Bernie bette - an expert on the leader of a generation.
So with that, I sat down with Larry over the weekend for a broad conversation.
We talked about and exchanged ideas on a range of issues, including America, Brexit, the future of the Green Party, and the NHS. All will be featured in what will be a range of articles.
In our first piece, and with my quotes tabbed to the side for clarit, I speak to Larry about Bernie and the fight for 2020.
P: Larry, good to be with you again.
L: It’s very nice to see you.
P: Thank you, thanks for sitting down with us. The first thing I want to talk about is the big news coming out of America, your brother gearing up to run.
P: Everyone’s really excited about that, as I’m sure you are, too.
P: It’s going to be a big hard fight, but one a lot of people, especially the progressive base, is looking forward to. So you’re not privy to a lot of the campaign details, but do you think your brother took away a lot from his last campaign, perhaps personally if not strategically? Do you think they’re going to adjust things in this campaign?
L: Well first of all to tell the truth, we have not discussed any details of his last campaign or his current campaign. But I can say for the very first time that he asked my opinion.
L: About whether he should run. Of course he didn’t listen. I told him as a brother that he should not run, that he should rest and relax and have a nice senatorial career. But as a human being I thought he probably had to run. But as far as knowing - I think it’s all the obvious things that everyone else was noticing. Whether they’ll succeed I think is another question, but I think they know what they need to do.
But I think the basic situation is that Bernard is outside the whole - I mean there are a lot of candidates, and some of them are much more progressive than anyone has been in the past. But my opinion is that Bernard is in a different league, really. He is the only one that really both knows what needs to be done to begin to shift America, to begin to shift corporate power, and is willing and able to try. And the rest are more or less good politically, but I don’t see - maybe Elizabeth Warren a bit, has a bit of a depth of understanding, but I think in the end it’ll be a campaign between Bernard and the mainstream of the Democratic Party.
P: I concur to be honest. I think what you were saying about how progressivism has been picked up as more of the standard is great to see, and it’s definitely because of Bernie’s previous campaign. It’s wonderful to see a couple true progressives here and there - like Elizabeth Warren and Tulsi Gabbard - who aren’t as strong as Bernie on all the issues. But generally they’re solidly progressive which is great, a few problematic things that need addressing for sure here and there, but I think as well you have a few establishment candidates who recognise where the energy is, and they’re going to try and put a foot in both camps. So that’s the lay out of the land in terms of the coming battles, but what I think is great is that whether they’re genuine or not, everybody in the race knows that’s where the energy is. And that’s all because of bernie’s previous campaign, and all the work that’s been put in with Our Revolution and all the networks like that. So that’s a great positive.
L: It is a positive. It’s a change that won’t go away. But, it would be mistaken not ot realise just how real and powerful the opposition is.
P: I don’t doubt that at all.
L: [Smiling] I’m sure you don’t.
P: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying you see. Because I think one of the key things that I think separate in this particular election an ok or a good candidate from a great candidate - I mean you can have a good candidate who is on board with the right progressive and socialist policies - and that’s really obviously the minimum, that’s super important. But one of the key characteristics that i think we need from a candidate is the right set of experience and character to really effectively take on the establishment and the power structure.
Because even if you have the right policies, you really need to have the understanding of how to fight, in order to bring about those policies.
And I think of those candidates that have announced so far, who have said I believe in XYZ policies which are the minimum, if you look at the next level, the ones who actually believe that circle shrinks dramatically, and after that who has got the grit and the spine and the tactics to fight the establishment, that narrows again. And that’s key.
And the great thing about Bernie is that he’s been doing that - been fighting on the outside his whole political life. I think as well we were discussing before that this election is going to be a brutal one, and whoever is the progressive candidate, but especially Bernie cause he’s the one they’re afraid of, the establishment media is going to throw any king of tactic, legitimate or illegitimate out there.
- Bernie today, January 26th 2019 is 77, and would be 79 on election day in November 2020. Whilst he would be the oldest ever president elected if he wins, as is often pointed to as a major weakness by mainstream media, one of the top two establishment favourites, Joe Biden, is only a year younger than Bernie. A point never brought up. I discussed Bernie's age with his brother.
P: One of those questions they’ll ask of him, and I actually think this is semi-legitimate, it’s very fair to ask is is he too old? On the one hand I understand asking given his age.
P: It’s fair for them ask that, but I want to get your opinion on that as someone who’s known him all his life.
The say the test for whether someone can handle it in the White House is how and whether they can handle it in the campaign - it’s similarly stressful. And to be honest he ran rings around everybody last times. And obviously got a clean bill of health. So, what do you think on that issue for 2020?
L: Well, it’s very hard to say. There haven’t been many great presidents, the situation, the political situation is not generally - well, there are great elements, but the power is very ensconced, and to be a good president you have to beat them to some extent. You probably also have to knuckle under some times. I mean, Roosevelt in some ways was a very cautious politician - and Bernard is not as cautious.
I think - I think he can at very least you know be a good president. Uhm, it’s a little different being a mayor of a small town than president, but there are similarities, because in the end you do two things. You work as a pubic voice, you work as your relationship with the whole population. And the second, you work through a small number of people. You know, you have a workforce of millions, you don’t deal with them - you have a few dozen people of course you work with.
So Bernard knows how to do that, he did it in Burlington under the most extraordinary of circumstances [laughs]. Where the vast majority of the city council was against him.
They wouldn’t let him hire his own staff, and so on. So Bernard had to create a team out of nothing. And and by a miracle he succeeded. And part of the miracle is that he is astonishingly hard working .
And while most of my life I’ve been not all that impressed by hardworking people, it does have its advantageous, and it, and Bernard has that. When he gets his teeth into something he just does it.
Whether, I mean it doesn’t - whether with so many challenges he can work as hard, he may have to be not to be os committed to things. But I think he’s an astonishing - and it’s quite accidental - America does not allow someone like Bernard to get near power.
P: No, certainly not.
L: I mean in the sense that no ostensibly Democratic country does. So, I think, I think he will do a reasonably good job as President. And you’re right, the campaign showed some of his strengths. But his whole career - he’s not a Trump who’s just a shoddy businessman.
P: Couple things I’ll come back to from that. Firstly, though: do you think that Bernie would look forward to taking on Trump in the general, were he to win this primary?
L: Well, I think it’ll be the easier part of the campaign - and in that sense he’ll look forward to it. And I think that he dislikes Trump, and sees him as a real disaster, so he’ll be very - I mean the central thing that’s motivated him for the last two years is ‘how do you best fight Trump?’
So I think in that sense, he will want to see Trump defeated, so if he’s the person doing it, he’ll want to do it.
P: Do you know if like, his thoughts on that have changed, on how to beat Trump, strengthened, stayed the same?
L: Well, in terms of his feelings about Trump, I think very early on he saw that he was a real danger, that he would do a lot of damage to a lot of people. And he is a menace in terms of war and mass destruction.
Now I don’t think - I think he’s probably been impressed, or depressed by Trump’s astonishing capacity to lie. I think his destructiveness and ignorance and belligerence and hatred I think Bernard saw that early. But he was such a consummate and total and complete and continuing liar took him by surprise
P: Well, they’ll need some sort of warrior of truth to counter that. Truth is always good for that.
But yeah, I totally agree -something I was saying the other day about Brexit, and there’s a lot of parallels, in fact a lot of these structures going on all over the world now. What I was saying with Brexit is that a lot of Brexit is sort of the bigoted expression of a lot of the problems of capitalism.
The same in America. There’s a lot of people suffering, and when people suffer they often turn tribalistic, and I think the thing about Trump is that he capitalised on that. The right wing and the centrists in America for decades had engineered all the power into the hands of the rich and corporations, and the wealth there followed. And people are suffering, suffering, suffering.
And on one half of that debate, on the left you had people who wanted to address those problems at their core, from where they come from But on the right you had people who wanted to blame those who were even worse off than they were, and blame coloured people, and other minority people.
And I think Trump just came in and usred it all, and just to a degree we’d never seen, lied, and lied and lied, to really like a laser focus the idea and such. And sold a sense of anti-establishmentism. But of course, he hasn’t solved - he was a liar, he was lying all the time with whatever promise he made, you know ‘I’m gonna solve this problem doing this or this problem doing that’. All lies, and he’s either gotten nothing done because he’s incompetent, or has made things worse.
So, in many ways then, the same problems from 2016 are present in 2020, and more so I think than previous elections where a sitting president is running for a second term. I think this really is part two of 2016.
Because we’re at a sort of fork in the road in terms of human destiny here - things like Climate Change, things like financial crisis, nuclear wars and such. We didn’t solve the problems last time or begin to, so I think this is our last chance, really. So, whoever wins, they’re gonna need to be a candidate that really has that commitment to truth to combat people like Trump who lie. And then again, has that real progressive credentials under their belt, to provide the solutions to those problems, and the right grit and tactics to take on the power structures.
The other thing I thought was interesting what you were saying was about working with a key group of people, is that whoever wins this primary, becomes the next president, assuming it’s a progressive person, what’s super important also is their staff and the executive team they put in place.
Because I think what is key is to pick a team that themselves don’t just have specialties in whatever field: in defense, the economy, and so forth, but who’s speciality also is in resisting the corrosive power. And I think what I’m encouraged by is that so far is that though there are only a few candidates, and there will be many on the Dem’s side, I can see some good people who will be good in those sorts of roles, because they’ll be able to help a progressive president resist, so that’s somewhat encouraging I think.
Given that whoever doesn’t win the primary, they have a chance to be placed in the cabinet of a progressive president
L: Well, I hope you’re right. I’m not sure - it’s - one of the things that struck me is how few politicians understand where power is and what its effect is, and why things workout so badly for so many people when they needn’t be. We’re long past the point in terms of technology and organisational capacity and so on to do away with poverty and so on.
It’s an intellectual failure, but more interestingly in a way is a kind of character failure, a characteristic character failure, and it’s only struck in that I don’t see how you get past it. What he have is most people, and I’ve worked with lots of very nice people, lots of very intelligent people -there’s something lacking in their ability to stand up against whatever the mainstream that they’re in is. So I’ve seen it very much in health organisations and local authority organisations. Voluntary sector organisations.
There is something that slows it down. So now for instance we have loads of quite dangerous things happening in the health service. The level of criticism, the level of saying honestly what’s happening. The number of people from within the system honestly is very few, and very limited in what they say. Now, they’re just as decent as anybody, they're more knowledgeable than most people because they’re there. They know what needs to be done. There are always debates on the fringes, but the basic things are not difficult to figure out, and yet it doesn't happen. And I think that that’s a character creation - like we often say look beneath the surface.
It’s not so much personal it’s structural. And I think it’s true in terms of that kind of character as well.
We later returned at the end of the interview to the topic of Bernie and the 2020 race, so I wanted to include it in our article, here.
Grassroots America and Bernie 2020
P: I want to return to America quickly. A whole progressive movement has kicked off in America cause of what his campaign showed was possible. Do you think that Bernie was surprised and pleased with the scale of how much ordinary people took that up, and do you think he’s pleased with where it is now?
L: Well, I don’t know the answer even to those questions. About whether he was surprised - when Bernard announced that he was gonna run, said he was going to run, I immediately thought “Yes. This is going to work. He may not win, there’s a chance he’ll win. But he’ll change it all.”
And I have proof of that because somebody - an American TV thing came to interview me a couple of weeks after, and I said that. I’m on tape, I’ve got it on tape. Probably been wiped away by now.
But if I saw that, I think Bernard knew the possibilities even better. Not the certainties though, obviously. So the fact that it happened, I’m sure pleased him. Whether it surprised him, I don’t know.
He certainly wasn't certain that it was going to take off.
P: Do you think Bernie’s pleased with how rapidly progressivism has spread, and how much young people are picking up the torch?
L: Oh yes, yes, he’s very pleased with what’s happened. He’s perfectly aware that we’re not there, wherever there is, yet.
And I think the reason he’s running now is that because it’s not clear - if it was clear, I think he’d be very happy to support somebody else, who ran with similar policies.
But that hasn’t happened, and that hasn’t happened because the great victory hasn’t been won, yet. So, a lot of people understand more than they did, particularly among young people, but the power, the control of media, a little less controlled with social media, but even social media is not completely insusceptible to power and money. So, we’re back to the point before. It’s up in the air.
But there is now a possibility for a victory that didn’t exist.
P: And, my last question is, what kind of effort we can expect from Bernie? He campaigned hard before and he ignited so much energy - do you think he’ll be really energetic, and happy to run, and give it his all again this time?
L: Bernard is capable of the most astonishing hard work, as I said before. The most astonishing self-discipline. So he will do it. He will do what he can. As forcefully as he can.
The question of success is probably in other people’s hands.
P: Do you think he’s going to give it -
L: I think he will give it 100%.
And I think it’ll be a good show.
P: I think it’ll be a hell of a show.
Yeah, well - Feel The Bern!
L: [Hearty Laughing]
That was part one of my talk with Larry Sanders over the weekend. Check out my next article, where Larry and I discuss healthcare in the UK, and the national crisis of underfunding and privitisation that it's facing.