Jonathan Tasini, a writer who did a Playboy interview with Sen. Bernie Sanders two years ago, has just published the outtakes from that story over at Daily Kos. Go read the whole thing:
SANDERS: The way I phrase it is that we are in the midst of an intense class warfare, where the wealthiest people and the largest corporations are at war with the middle class and working families of this country, and it is obvious that the big money interests are winning that war. They are winning the war in terms of their lobbyists providing tax breaks for people who don’t need it and then fighting for cuts for working families. Here’s a story that didn’t get a lot of attention. You know what the Business Roundtable is?
PLAYBOY: Mm-hmm. Yep.
SANDERS: They are the board of the largest companies, CEOs of the largest companies in the world. They came to Washington last month. Here’s what they said, and all of these guys are making millions of dollars a year. All of them have wonderful retirement programs. Some of them are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. They came to Washington and said, “The Business Roundtable proposes that we raise Medicare eligibility age to 70 and Social Security eligibility to 70 years of age.” Could you imagine the chutzpah of guys who are worth, in some cases, hundreds of millions of dollars with retirement packages the likes of which Americans couldn’t even dream, average Americans, and then proposing them. This is class warfare, and they’re getting cockier and cockier and cockier. They think nobody can stop them. And unless we bring forth the political revolution in this country, a real grassroots movement, they’re probably right. That’s where we are.
PLAYBOY: That is pretty astonishing that they have that gall, the chutzpah.
SANDERS: To come to Washington. Can you imagine somebody who’s going to get a golden parachute of tens of millions of dollars, perhaps, who is going to have, you know, not a worry in his or her life them coming to Washington and saying “I want you to raise Medicare eligibility to 70?”
PLAYBOY: And the chutzpah also is about the kind of experience they’ve had to go through at work in a comfortable office in a big CEO office compared to the factory worker or the person who is in the coal mine and wants to retire in a decent fashion. I mean, that, too, their whole experience is different.
SANDERS: Absolutely. I mean, there’s a separate world out there. These are people whose kids live in gated communities who, when they travel, they get into their chauffeured cars, they get into their own jet planes and they go all over the world. You know, they eat at the finest restaurants, they work out in the greatest gyms. They haven’t a clue or a concern about what’s going on with ordinary Americans.
PLAYBOY: Do you think that this – when you said we’re in intense class warfare, does that – the terminology “class warfare,” is that a hard thing to explain or use to most America or do you think that things have changed in that way?
SANDERS: People do understand it.
This was on the mark:
PLAYBOY: It took, I mean, Citizens United is in some way the death blow, but this is a process of at least 30, 40 years, right? So, how would you describe, if we’re talking to the state college readership, tell us the story a little bit.
SANDERS: It happens in a few ways. Number one, the decline of trade unions in America, is a very very important issue. At the end of the day unions are what workers have to negotiate decent contracts and, second of all, unions, the AFL-CIO and the other unions are what gives working people political clout, so those two factors. So when you see a devastating reduction of the trade unions, like you see in Michigan. Michigan going to a right to work state, workers will have less power to negotiate contracts and less political clout. That has been going on, as you know, for many, many decades right now.
PLAYBOY: When you were a younger man and unions represented probably 35 percent of the workforce in the private sector.
PLAYBOY: Now it’s below 7 percent.
PLAYBOY: So that’s what you’re talking about?
SANDERS: Sure. Sure. So in those two senses – most workers now have nobody to look after them, so the employer says, “Oh, by the way, Jonathan, good news! We’re giving you a job but you don’t have any vacation time.” Where you going to go? You going to go to your union rep to talk about it? You don’t have a union rep. And you say, “Well, thank you very much because everybody else is unemployed, I’ll take the job.” What do you have to say when the boss says, “Oh, by the way, you’re going to have to work overtime.” What are you going to say to him? You have no power.
And, second of all, in Washington, where you have lobbyists from the super large corporations dominating political activity, very, very powerful, who do you think is a voice for workers? That’s what the unions have historically been. To the degree that they shrink, there’s less voice. Those are the two very important – so that’s one issue.
Second issue: I think these trade policies have been an absolute disaster. I think corporate America knew exactly what they wanted. I was there when NAFTA was brought about, just when I got to Congress in the early ‘90s. And the theory behind NAFTA is we’re going to create all these jobs in the United States and we are going to just be able to send our products to Mexico and China and everybody else. I mean, anyone who heard that knew it was nonsense from day one except the leadership of the Republican and Democratic parties and the Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers. They loved that. So, that has resulted in a very significant reduction in the manufacturing sector of America, which is not only blue collar jobs but a lot of ancillary jobs that go into manufacturing. You know, you’ve got engineering jobs, you’ve got research and development jobs, you’ve got white collar jobs. You see 50 or 60,000 factories lost in the last ten years. That’s trade and other issues, pushes wages down as well. Those are two factors, I would argue, that have played a role.
PLAYBOY: Now, on the trade issue, there also is the fact that it intimidates workers because then the employer can say, “Look, you know what, if you don’t agree to what I want, I’m going across to Thailand” or some other place …
SANDERS: They can and they do.
SANDERS: There are many employers who have said just that. “Here’s my contract. You’re taking away production, you’re going to pay more for health care. You don’t really like it, okay, go back out. We’re going to China.” That is exactly what has happened time after time after time. So, you’ve got those two things and then you have as a result of the money in politics, a movement that working people are getting less representation in Washington. And I think those are some of the reasons why.
But, and here’s the important point to make and sometimes we forget about this. If I give you a new tool; i.e., I’m going to give you a computer, as opposed to a yellow pad, well, I have a right, you have a right, we all have a right to expect that you’re going to be more productive, right? You have a new tool. If I give a guy in the woods a chain saw, as opposed to an old fashioned saw, that guy’s going to cut down more trees. More productive. Here is the irony at this time. Our society has become far more productive, productivity has soared and yet all of the gains from that productivity have gone to the people on the top. While you have become more productive as a worker, your wages and income and benefits have gone down.
PLAYBOY: Now, again, during that time when you spoke, there was the whole deal about the tax cuts that the president – this is back – not the recent deal but back in 2010 and you said, “This is a bad deal for the American people,” and that deal, back in 2010, extended tax breaks for the top two percent, continued the Bush-era 15 percent tax rates on capital gains and dividends, and a Democratic president agreed to that.
SANDERS: Democratic president, now remember – now this is, in fairness, after the November elections where the Democrats took, as the president said, “a shellacking.” At that moment, Democrats control the White House, the U.S. House of Representatives and I had forgot – we had 59 votes in the Senate. You don’t need to know more about the weakness of the Democratic Party, when they control the House, the Senate and the White House, to give the Republicans – I think the Republican leadership said, “Well, we didn’t get everything we wanted. We got about 85 percent of what we wanted.” It was a reduction in the estate tax, there were more estate tax breaks for the top of the top.
PLAYBOY: Yeah, and here’s what killed me and what I thought was, I mean, it’s hard to overuse the word “outrage” in these kind of …
PLAYBOY: But here, and particularly you noted that at that time you tried to get a bill passed to get a $250 check to a disabled veteran, trying to get by on $15,000 or $16,000 a year, but you couldn’t get the votes for that, but under that deal the CEO of Morgan Stanley would get a tax cut of $926,000, Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan would get a $1 million tax deduction. I mean, could you not have a better example of the …
SANDERS: I think it was a pretty clear example, but it is – what can I tell you? I mean, and, again, what I want to reemphasize, who were the Democrats negotiating with? They controlled the House, big time, they controlled the Senate, they controlled the White House. Now, it is true that two months later that wasn’t going to be or a month later, that wasn’t going to be the case because they lost the election. That’s where they stood at that moment and what is very, very sad is, in terms of the Democrats, they are strong on some issues. You know, they’re pretty good on women’s issues. The president has been strong on gay issues, social issues. They have been good.
But in terms of being an effective voice and a fighter for working class people in this country, I think most people do not perceive that there’s a heck of a lot of difference between either party, which then gives Republicans the opening to move to the social issues because if the average guy says, “Well, you know, I’m anti-abortion and the Democrats are not there for me on economic issues, why wouldn’t I vote with the Republicans?” Do you follow what I’m saying?
PLAYBOY: Mm-hmm. Has the financial crisis, though, changed that dynamic a little bit, that there’s a fear among the people and so they see both parties not standing up for them, so they’re less …
SANDERS: Yeah. Well, here’s what it is. Every speech that I give, I will get a question. “Bernie, I don’t understand how these CEOs and these large financial institutions that were clearly engaged in fraudulent behavior, none of these guys are in jail. Why?” I don’t know if you caught recently Eric Holder, Attorney General, talking about the concerns that the Justice Department has about prosecuting large financial institutions because if they become, quote, unquote – not quote, unquote – if they become destabilized, the impact that will have on our economy and the world’s economy … In other words, these guys are not only too big to fail; they’re too big to jail. This is an admission, the Attorney General of the United States: I worry about prosecuting the heads of the largest financial institutions.
PLAYBOY: So that’s an admission of who runs the country in a certain way.
SANDERS: Absolutely. It is, and I think you asked me about the impact of Wall Street. If you were the president, I think most people – here you have a situation where, literally, the Wall Street folks spend billions and billions of dollars to end Glass-Steagall, to deregulate Wall Street. If you read some of the comments that I made during that period in debates with Alan Greenspan, who came before the House Financial Committee – I would suggest you read that. You know, but [what] I said is exactly what happened. I said, “You really aren’t worried when we have these giant institutions merging with other giant institutions that you’re going to be in a very precarious financial situation?” “Oh, no, no. It’ll be more efficient,” blah, blah, blah, blah. So, Wall Street spent billions of dollars in lobbying and campaign contributions to get what they wanted. Then they proceeded to create the world’s largest gambling casino, which then ended up collapsing, bailed out, against my vote, by the American people. Massive unemployment, massive loss of life savings, people lost their housing, a horrendous, horrendous situation.
The American people are looking to the president of the United States and Congress to say, “How did it happen? Hold these bastards accountable, throw the crooks in jail, do something.”
And I remember, and I was new into the Senate at the time, meeting with people like Byron Dorgan, Maria Cantwell, some others, who I shared those concerns with. We went to the White House and we met with the president, we met with the Secretary of Treasury. Larry Summers was there, the whole financial team, and our message is: The American people are outraged. Wall Street has just caused immense suffering in this country. People want action. What are you going to do about it?