, DES MOINES, USA, Jan 26 – Fighting tooth and nail against frontrunner Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders said that he is no radical and that voters will embrace his agenda to end US income inequality.
Sanders, an independent senator putting up a challenge whose success to date has surprised even himself, is a self-described democratic socialist, a characterization that flies in the face of the traditional norms of a Democratic-Republican US presidential race.
But he staunchly defended his record to a questioner asking about his socialist principles at a televised town hall event at a university in Des Moines, Iowa, the state where voters kick off the long presidential nomination race with their February 1 poll.
Clinton and Sanders are running neck and neck here, with former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley a distant third.
“In countries around the world, in Scandinavia and in Germany, the ideas that I am talking about are not radical ideas,” said Sanders, referring to his plans to provide universal health care coverage, rein in Wall Street and involve government in helping students pay for college.
“We cannot continue to have a government dominated by the billionaire class and a Congress that continues to work for the interest of the people on top while ignoring working families,” he said.
Sanders, 74, fumed at the inequality in the nation, where he said the top 0.1 percent of Americans owns as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.
“So yes, people want to criticize me, okay. I will take on the greed of corporate America and the greed of Wall Street and fight to protect the middle class.”
It was a robust argument from Sanders, who made one of his final pitches to the people of Iowa amid accusations from critics that he is a socialist who would expand government.
But Sanders said the success of his grassroots presidential campaign shows he is “touching a nerve” with Americans who are yearning for a fair shake.
“In my view we need a political revolution where millions of people stand up and say, ‘You know what? That great government of ours belongs to all of us, not just the few.'”
– ‘Judgment’ important –
Sanders, while insisting his battle with Clinton was not personal, also said her vote for the Iraq war in 2002 was a major misstep on the most consequential foreign policy vote of modern times.
“Experience is important, but judgment is also important,” Sanders said.
Clinton, who appeared separately, said she appreciates how Sanders has energized the race, and is proud of their issues-oriented campaign rather than trading in the insults she said are common among the Republican candidates.
“But I believe that I’m the better person to be the Democratic nominee, and to be the president,” she said, citing at length her experience making tough calls on Iran and Middle East extremism while secretary of state.
She also repeated her acknowledgement that her Senate Iraq war vote was a mistake.
Clinton encountered a deflating moment when a young Iowa voter, during his question to her, said that while there was passion among his peers for Sanders, “I don’t see the same enthusiasm from younger people for you.”
Clinton, 68, countered by saying she has been a proven fighter taking on the status quo, and that “I’ve been on the frontlines of change and progress since I was your age.”
O’Malley meanwhile urged his supporters to “hold strong” and not throw in the towel.
“America’s scanning the horizon” for new leadership, he said. “We cannot be this fed up with our gridlocked, dysfunctional, national politics and think that a resort to old ideologies or old names is going to move us forward.”