Aaron Sorkin never thought too highly of our mainstream media.
In fact, leave it to Sorkin to create an entire series that drew in the bulk of its audience from an opening scene in which the main character, a newsman, had the audacity to actually tell the truth. From that momentous point forward in its three-season run, HBO's The Newsroom focused on the trials and tribulations of a news organization actually trying to do the right thing in the face of constant pressure to maintain high ratings. This central struggle always boiled down to one simple question: do you want it done haphazardly for higher ratings or do you want it done right? As the show progressed, this struggle manifested itself in a variety of ways with key power players on the journalistic side constantly butting heads with those on the corporate side. Whereas Sorkin's The West Wing focused on the struggle of an idealistic president in the face of political reality, The Newsroom focused on the struggle of an idealistic news team forced to deal with the pressures of a ratings-driven industry.
One episode in particular of The Newsroom always stuck with me. It involved an episode based on the 2012 Republican presidential primary. At the time, the Republicans vying for the nomination were in the process of saying some outrageous things (stop me if you've heard this one before) and the possibility arose that our heroes working for the fictional cable network of ACN could potentially host a Republican debate. The team was excited for the possibility but they faced a dilemma: should they play it safe, essentially guaranteeing their network gets to host the debate and thus bringing in some much-needed revenue or should the team be honest and really challenge the candidates on their views and positions? After much deliberation, the ACN team decided they wanted to challenge the candidates and when they did a mock debate in front of representatives from the Republican National Committee, their questions were sharp, insightful, and provocative. Of course, the RNC knew that if they agreed to this debate it would destroy their candidates, so naturally they declined the network's debate offer, a disappointing yet expected outcome.
I feel that this episode was so impactful for me because it showed just how absurd our political nomination process truly is. We don't challenge the candidates whether it's during debates, town halls, or Sunday talk shows. Candidates are allowed to lie, repeat lies, and then lie about ever having lied in the first place. Online Reddit sessions by candidates involve the simplest questions imaginable. Town hall questions have to be approved ahead of time, meaning the networks will never let anything controversial be asked. Along those same lines, certain candidates will be protected or attacked by the media depending on the circumstances. Should a dark horse candidate start to have success then he or she is given free reign. Should a front runner start to pull ahead then a story will be "leaked" that will cause that candidate to have a dip in the polls. Scandals are created, or in the current case of Ted Cruz, completely ignored. The media has a seven-month story to tell between now and November and that story needs to have high levels or intrigue or else ratings dip and fat cats in suits get upset. The presidential election has officially crossed into the realm of reality TV with media bigwigs telling producers what nightly narrative they want to pursue.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
I still, rather idealistically I might add, believe in the ACN vision of political debates. Of a world where candidates are asked real questions about their lives and their policies and aren't allowed to simply brush off an answer. Of a world where the interviewer/moderator knows the candidate's history and knows when they are either lying about their record or trying to change the subject to return to their stump speech. Of a world where controversial things related to the candidate's platform and policies are asked and addressed because the public has a right to know about them. Of a world where each and every candidate is put under the microscope and is forced to discuss difficult decisions they've made and why they made them. A candidate who can withstand all that can prove that he or she is truly presidential material.
And so, with that idea in mind I have chosen to have a Newsroom-inspired interview with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. I have selected 20 areas of interest and have asked the senator a series of questions based on either his experiences, his policies, or a quote he has mentioned in regard to these topics. I have included sources of information as to verify as best I could that these questions stem from documented information about him and his life and aren't simply from some smear websites designed to spread unsubstantiated facts or opinions. It is my hope that our actual media would ask Senator Sanders these questions live and in-person but since that ship has long sailed, I will do so here. These are the questions and issues that I, as a voter, would like to have Bernie Sanders honestly and openly answer in his job interview to become president of the United States.
1. On Your Upbringing in Brooklyn
Senator Sanders, as the campaign returns to New York in the coming weeks, you have an opportunity to return to the city where you grew up as well as where you worked in the mid-1960s upon graduating from the University of Chicago. As you know, New York is a very vibrant place with a colorful mixture of cultures, backgrounds, religions, races, and ethnicities. This was especially true in the 1940s and 1950s, a time where you were able to see the city grow and flourish. Despite this cacophony of culture, you later chose to relocate to Vermont, expressing a desire to live somewhere more out of the way. You remarked you were "captivated by rural life" and thus chose Vermont as your new home.
My first question for you, Senator, centers upon this move and its impact on your political ideology. Was it necessary to live in a rural state to advance your socialist vision? Would you have been able to form a socialist political party like the Liberty Union Party in New York City? What was gained by moving to a more rural area with like-minded socialists? Do you feel that you might have had a different perspective on race and class issues had you stayed in a more diverse state like New York? In working toward the Liberty Union Party's platform, is it a platform that you feel would have had appeal outside of Vermont?
2. On Your Post-College Years
Senator, not a lot is known about a nearly thirteen-year window of your life after you moved to Vermont from New York City in 1968. What we do know is that you wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city and thus you decided to follow a migration of former city dwellers to the countrysides of Vermont. We also know that you worked as a carpenter, filmmaker and writer who once wrote a piece titled "Man-and-Woman" for The Vermont Freeman which included a graphic scene involving a rape fantasy as a way to earn a living. However, it appears that this lifestyle created hardships for you as several of your friends and acquaintances recall you often struggled to pay the bills and would have to run extension cords down to your basement when electricity was hard to come by.
My question about this portion of your life involves your motivations. You were seemingly willing to live in squalor taking odd jobs in order to pursue your political aspirations with the Liberty Union Party, Vermont's state-based socialist political party. Did your living conditions affirm your political beliefs or did your political beliefs affirm your living conditions? In other words, as you became more and more of an advocate for socialism, did you do so because you personally were struggling to make a living? If so, did this experience make you empathize with others? If not, what was it about socialism that appealed to you at that time of your life?
3. On Political Protesting
Senator, in 1961 you were involved in protesting the University of Chicago's segregationist housing policies and you eventually took part in a 15 day sit-in to bring attention to the issue. Two years later, as president of the university's Congress of Racial Inequality (CORE) chapter, you were again actively involved in protesting, this time in an effort to raise awareness of the segregation of the city of Chicago's public schools. In fact, your protesting even earned you a police record as you were arrested and charged with a $25 fine for being one of the leaders of the protests. There even exists a now-famous photo of you being taken in by local police, a photo that your supporters have frequently used to defend your civil rights record. You've often remarked in debates that this time period was integral in your development as someone who would make a difference fighting for social justice.
My question, Senator, involves this experience and how it changed you as a person. You've implied that part of the reason the experience was so meaningful was that it helped you to feel empowered in a way where you saw firsthand how action could lead to results. It's interesting, because 36 years later, a group of protesters entered your Burlington, Vermont congressional office and staged a sit-in of their own after they felt betrayed by your support of NATO's military involvement in Yugoslavia. They hoped to speak to you by phone or a member of your staff in person. However, rather than listen to their concerns, 15 of these protesters were arrested. Is that the consequence these people deserved? Why should the University of Chicago have heard your own concerns in person while you were unable to do the same for your constituents? How do you think being arrested at their congressman's office might affect these protestors' future desires to become politically involved? What would college-aged Bernie Sanders tell Congressman Sanders about his decision to have the peaceful protesters arrested without even hearing their concerns?
4. On Your History of Compromise
Senator, part of your appeal is the fact that you have stayed remarkably consistent in your views over the course of your political career. Part of that consistency has been voting against comprehensive legislation if you see one part of a particular bill that you disagree with. In taking this stance you have voted against such legislation as the auto bailout, comprehensive immigration reform, President Clinton's health care bill, and the Amber Alert system. For each of these complex bills, you stated there was one part of the bill you disagreed with and therefore you felt you could not support the bill as a whole. Your concerns ranged anywhere from the bill not going far enough to the bill having a minor provision that you found troubling. You then voted to reject the bill, regardless of how your colleagues may have voted.
My question, Senator, is on the idea of compromise. If elected president, you will be sent multiple complex bills, including ones related to spending, that will have hundreds upon hundreds of items listed. How would you respond if a bill was sent to your desk and you disagreed with part of it? Would you veto it on the spot? Would you ask Congress to amend it and take out the parts you found to be disagreeable?? What if Congress refused to amend or adjust a bill after you had requested them to do so? What if it was a spending bill that could potentially shut down the government? Under what circumstance, if any, would you compromise your own beliefs on a bill for the greater good of the country?
5. On the Crash of 2008
Senator, on the campaign trail and throughout the debates, you've consistently cited Wall Street investment firms as the main culprit behind the financial crash of 2008. You've called for the jailing of Wall Street executives and have even stated that "the business model of Wall Street is fraud." You view Wall Street as being inherently corrupt and discourage current college students from pursuing employment there. You have proposed a speculation tax on various financial transactions as a way to take money away from those on Wall Street and into the hands of those students attending your proposed tuition-free colleges. You've also claimed that you've always voted against any bill that may protect Wall Street from facing any kind of legal repercussions from any illegal activities and you've proclaimed with pride that you're "dangerous for Wall Street."
However, Senator, in 2000 you voted in favor of the Commodities Futures Modernization Act, a bill which blocked federal agencies from regulating credit default swaps. This bill is now seen as one of the major causes behind the 2008 financial crash. As someone who has frequently voted against comprehensive legislation based upon one section of a bill, why did you vote in favor of this particular bill? Did you not foresee any potential problems down the road? Or did you approve of what the bill was trying to accomplish at the time? In addition, is it fair for the American people to hold you personally accountable for your vote that led to the Great Recession? Or is that somehow different from, say, someone who voted in favor of the Iraq War?
6. On Universal Health Care
Senator, you've made a huge push on the campaign trail for universal healthcare, insisting that it is a right for all people. You've created a Medicare for All Plan in which you outline a way for the United States to achieve universal health care. You believe that this plan is much more beneficial to the citizens of the United States than simply building upon the Affordable Care Act, which you have referred to as a "modest achievement." You believe that you will be able to enact this plan despite the fact that hospitals and doctors would lose revenue in a single-payer system, potentially lessening the quality of care and services provided. And you believe that the American people across all income levels will be willing to pay higher taxes in order to abandon their health insurance, often provided by an employer, to receive the universal coverage provided by your plan.
My question, Senator, focuses on your commitment to this plan. Why would Congress approve such an ambitious, government-run takeover of our nation's healthcare system when President Obama had to fight tooth and nail for the Affordable Care Act? Why would you choose to throw out the gains made by the Affordable Care Act to start the process all over, this time with a divided government? In addition, studies have shown that your plan will save the average family of four making $50,000 between $500-$1,800 a year. At the same time, studies on your tax plan, which you say will be offset by the health savings, will cost that same family roughly $5,500 a year. With that in mind, do you feel that the American people will be willing to lose $3,000-$5,000 a year for a health care plan in which they may ultimately receive inferior coverage from what they previously had? And why would a single-payer system be successful nationwide when it failed in your home state of Vermont?
7. On Your Education Proposal
Senator, your education proposal would provide free in-state tuition for public colleges and universities, a proposal that has endeared you to many students facing the rising cost of college. To pay for the plan, you're asking that states foot a third of the cost with the other two-thirds being paid for by federal grants. However, we currently have 21 states controlled by Republican governors who have denied their citizens Medicaid and are unlikely to pay for your education plan, a plan they will claim is too costly. You've stated that if this happens, the students would just leave and attend schools elsewhere. Yet, if that were to happen states would need to find ways to lower costs for out-of-state students and your plan actually punishes states who have found effective cost-cutting measures by making them ineligible for certain proposed grants. In that regard, innovative states would actually lose out on money despite potentially having an increased demand for students arriving from out-of-state.
My question then, Senator, is how you intend for this plan to ultimately pan out. Is there any penalty besides "shame" for states who don't want to take part in the program? Would neighboring states be able to offer a "discount" for out-of-state students coming from a state that doesn't offer tuition-free college? Would you revise your grant system to reward states rather than punish them for their effective cost-cutting measures? If 40% of the states end up not participating in your program, is it fair to say that your program won't actually be "tuition-free"? When all is said and done, do we really want to experience a "brain drain" where our best and brightest students leave Republican-controlled states for Democratically-controlled ones? What about talented students in Republican-controlled states who want to stay close to home but can't afford their state's private schools? What options, if any, exist for them?
8. On The Federal Minimum Wage
Throughout the campaign, Senator, you've voiced your support for raising the minimum wage nationwide to $15 an hour. This idea is undeniably popular with multiple cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City all having implement the raise as well as recent legislation from both California and New York state to make a push for a statewide $15 minimum wage as well. This increased minimum wage is seen as a core principle of your campaign and is supported not only by those working minimum wage jobs themselves but also by college students, young professionals, and others who have seen this populist idea gain more and more momentum over the past three years. As a central campaign issue, you have promised that, if elected, you would do what you could to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour nationwide.
My question, Senator, is how you intend to do this. The president cannot unilaterally raise the minimum wage; that has to be done by Congress. The president can raise the minimum wage for federal contractors, which Barack Obama has already done, but that is the extent of the president's legal authority. The rest has to be done via the bully pulpit which President Obama has used to convince 18 states and 40 cities to increase their minimum wage much closer to that $15 an hour level. The question is, how will you be able to convince Congress to act? What argument, either economically or morally, will you use to win over a Republican-controlled Congress that refuses to approve legislation to raise the minimum wage? If Congress does not act, how will you use the bully pulpit to convince states and cities to act instead? Why will Republican-controlled states and cities be more willing to listen to you than President Obama?
9. On Latino Rights
Senator, as your campaign has branched into more diverse regions, you have made a pitch to many in the Latino community asking them for their support. As someone who came from a state with no significant Latino population, you have done your best to introduce yourself to this community through your speeches. However, you appear to have a history of actions that may actually end up hurting yourself with the Latino community. In addition to your vote to protect the Minutemen, a vigilante hate group located on our southern border, as well as your vote against comprehensive immigration reform in 2007, you co-sponsored a House Bill in 1994 that would have removed nuclear waste from your home state of Vermont to the poor Latino community of Sierra Blanca in west Texas. Fortunately, the community fought back and in 1998 a group traveled roughly 2,000 miles to speak to you personally and ask you to intervene on their behalf. However, you brushed aside their concerns insisting that your impending re-election campaign for the House was more important than the health and well-being of the Sierra Blanca community. And, most recently, you sent your wife to meet with and provide a free platform for Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious racist whose "Tent City" prison complex is well-known for its civil rights abuses.
My question, Senator is simple: do brown lives matter? Are Latinos just as entitled to life, liberty, and a pursuit of happiness as other races? If so, why would you support a racist vigilante group that prides itself on hunting Latinos for sport? If their lives do matter, why would you select a poor, Latino town for the dumping of your state's nuclear waste? And why would you then dismiss their subsequent pleas for help? What was it about Sierra Blanca that made you choose the site in the first place? Why Texas of all places? Why should Latinos across the country support your candidacy when you were willing to engage in environmental racism against some of their very own and have zero remorse for doing so? And how can Latinos trust you to be their ally when you're willing to just now take an interest in the abuses of a man like Joe Arpaio?
10. On #BlackLivesMatter
Senator Sanders, ever since the Seattle Netroots conference where you were interrupted by #BlackLivesMatter protesters, you've made racial justice a key part of your campaign. You added Cornel West, Tavis Smiley, and Killer Mike as surrogates from your campaign and you've earned the endorsement of folks like director Spike Lee and activist Shaun King. Yet despite this outreach, you've struggled to win the African-American vote, something Secretary Clinton has solidified as part of the Obama coalition. In addition, a progressive group supporting your campaign recently referred to the southern states Secretary Clinton won as "the Confederacy" and you yourself told a crowd in Minnesota that they were just "too smart" to let you lose the state, a phrasing that some would say is a slight to the state of South Carolina that you had recently lost by a large margin.
My question, Senator, involves your involvement with the African-American community before you began your presidential run. Your home state of Vermont has the second highest incarceration rate of African-Americans yet statewide activists admitted you did nothing to bring awareness to this issue and they were essentially "invisible" to you as a mayor, congressman, and senator elected to represent them. Is this something that concerns you? If so, what could you, as one of the state's two senators do to help address some of the activists' concerns? In addition, both Representatives John Lewis of Georgia and Hakeem Jeffries of New York stated they "never saw you" go to bat for the African-American community while in Congress. What issue, other than income inequality, did you fight for while in Congress that would benefit the African-American community? Why should African-Americans trust you on race issues when they have seemingly been something absent from your political life for a nearly 50-year gap?
11. On Your Views on American Military Intervention
Senator Sanders, you are currently running as the anti-war candidate on the Democratic side. You were a conscientious objector of the Vietnam War and you have been an outspoken critic of America's involvement in enabling foreign regime change. You were on record as being against the first Gulf War and you consistently cite you vote against the war in Iraq as being a clear vote that shows you have the judgment necessary to become president. Yet despite these votes, you also have a history of supporting American military intervention. In 1999, you voted in support of NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia, in 2001 you voted for the Authorization of Use of Military Force which became the legal justification for the War on Terror, and in 2011 you even were a co-sponsor for a senate-approved resolution that called for peaceful regime change in Libya. In addition, you've also openly supported the military's F-35 project, widely regarded as the most wasteful military program in history, because the project brings jobs to your home state of Vermont.
My question for you, Senator, is as commander-in-chief what should America's role in the world be? Why did you vote in favor of intervening in Yugoslavia and Libya? Do you view the use of force as a last resort and, if so, what would have to happen to resort to such a drastic measure? In addition, would you slash the military budget, specifically the F-35 project that is currently on pace to cost $1.5 trillion dollars when the project is finally completed in nearly forty years? If not, how can you justify that kind of astronomical cost that would instead benefit so many of the social programs you would hope to institute as president? Lastly, despite having voted to keep Guantanamo Bay open as a senator, would you try to close it as president? Do you feel that Guantanamo Bay is a necessary evil or rather a stain on our country's legacy?
12. On President Obama
Senator Sanders, over the past seven years you've had several interesting things to say about our president. In addition to calling the Affordable Care Act modest, you've also stated that President Obama let down the progressive movement with his support of legislation like the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and you've questioned his leadership when it comes to his dealings with Congress. In addition, you penned an endorsement for noted President Obama critic Bill Press' book titled Buyer's Remorse and you even went as far as to say it would be a "good idea" to mount a primary challenge to President Obama ahead of the 2012 election. You've also added many surrogates to your campaign who have been critical of President Obama in the past including Cornel West, Tulsi Gabbard, Mark Ruffalo, and Rosario Dawson.
My question, Senator, is what exactly has President Obama done to earn your ire? You've insisted he hasn't been progressive enough yet he has done remarkably well given the situation he inherited both economically and later politically with a blatantly obstructionist Republican Party. Some might even call his presidency 'revolutionary' in the fact that he has enabled systems in place for improved healthcare, wages, infrastructure, and Wall Street reform, all issues you are campaigning on yourself. What would you have done differently in a way that would have allowed you to enact your agenda while not alienating your political opponents? Do you think that it is wise to run against a sitting president who was re-elected with 65.9 million votes and a current 53% approval rating? And do you think that having surrounded yourself with surrogates who speak out against our country's first African-American president might be one of the reasons why African-Americans are refusing to support your campaign?
13. On Your Campaign Philosophy
Senator, at the beginning of this campaign you frequently stated that you would be up against big money and influence but you were convinced that with enough effort and grassroots support you could overtake Secretary Clinton and secure the Democratic nomination. We now stand nearly 60% through the nomination and it is your campaign, not Secretary Clinton's, that is raising the most money. Your campaign took in $20 million in January, $43 million in February, and now $44 million in March, all significantly more than Secretary Clinton. However, this record-breaking fundraising has not necessarily led to success. In fact, your campaign outspent Secretary Clinton's campaign in Nevada, South Carolina, and Massachusetts as well as the four Super Tuesday states of North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri yet you lost all those contests.
My question, Senator, is aren't these results in perfect agreement with your political ideal that money can't buy success? Isn't Secretary Clinton essentially running on your philosophy that you don't have to outspend your opponent if you have a dedicated and committed ground game to help you win? Do you still believe in that philosophy or do you now believe that the person who raises the most money will be successful? Either way, isn't it misleading to claim that big money leads to corruption in politics when your campaign is raising the most money? Are the voters to imply that your campaign is corrupt? Or should the voters instead flock to the campaign that is raising less money but having more success?
14. On Campaign Finance Reform
Senator Sanders, one of the main themes of your campaign has been the need to reform what you see as a corrupt campaign finance system where millionaires and billionaires can wield excessive amounts of influence through monetary contributions. You have criticized the use of super PACS by other candidates and have repeatedly stated how proud you are to not have a super PAC in your name after having made a campaign promise to not use them. In addition, you have stated that having unlimited cash flow will inherently lead to corruption. Each and every campaign email your staff has sent include a footer that reminds your supporters that your campaign is not paid for by the billionaires but rather by typical, everyday Americans. You have campaigned on overturning Citizens United and have even made that your top litmus test for any potential Supreme Court nominee.
My question, Senator, revolves around this idea of big money in politics, specifically with your own campaign. It has been pointed out that your campaign has been receiving financial assistance from National Nurses United, a nurse's union that endorsed you for president. In fact, the nurses super PAC brought in $2.3 million in 2015 and contributed $395,000 to two unlimited spending groups supporting your candidacy. This being said, do you consider National Nurses United to be a super PAC? If so, wouldn't it be hypocritical to accept their support? If not, how do you define a "super PAC"? Along those lines, Senator, your campaign was recently flagged by the FEC for having $23 million of unsourced campaign contributions, a figure which included excessive foreign donations as well as having contributors exceed the maximum amount allowed by law. What does it say to the American people that you may be committing campaign finance violations? Does this imply that your campaign is now corrupt? Or does this imply that you have mismanaged your campaign staff to be underemployed and thus unable to properly catalog all incoming donations? Why should the American people trust you on campaign finance reform when it appears as if your campaign is directly benefitting from both super PACS as well as illegal campaign contributions?
15. On Your Running a Clean Campaign
Senator, as late as September you promised to run a clean campaign that would focus on the issues rather than personal attacks. However, as the campaign season heated up, you broke that promise and began attacking Secretary Clinton on everything from her ties to Wall Street to her relationship with big banks to her paid speeches given to Goldman Sachs to her large campaign contributions to her stance on free trade to her views on fracking. At this point of the campaign, even your stump speech is laced with attacks, a far cry from the promise you made back in September. In fact, it has gotten to the point now where the Clinton campaign will only agree to debate you if you tone down your rhetoric, a sentiment that you seem incapable of doing at this point with your recent demand that Secretary Clinton apologize for stating your campaign was inaccurately implying that she had ties to the fossil fuel industry.
My question for you, Senator, is what have you hoped to accomplish with these attacks? You've painted Hillary Clinton as somebody who can easily be bought and sold but shouldn't the voters question you equally as much. After all, the NRA launched your political career when they supported you for Congress in 1990, allowing you to become an overnight sensation. Your record on gun control leaves much to be desired. You voted against the Brady Bill five times, you voted against funding for CDC research on gun violence, you flip-flopped on liability for gun manufacturers, and you voted for both the 'Charleston loophole' as well as the allowance of checked guns on Amtrak trains. You have bragged about your D- rating from the NRA as an indicator that you don't support what the organization stands for, but 38 senators, all Democrats, have worse ratings than you do. So the question becomes, Senator, are you beholden to the NRA? Do you feel like you owe them anything for launching your political career? If not, how do you explain your pro-gun votes? If elected president, how can the American people expect you to stand up to the NRA if you haven't done so over the course of a quarter-century in Congress? How can you prove that you're not beholden to the NRA? And why should we trust your answer more than we should trust Secretary Clinton's?
16. On Your Tax Returns
Senator, throughout this campaign you've criticized Secretary Clinton time and time again for her refusal to release her speaking transcripts from three separate speeches she gave to New York investment bank Goldman Sachs. Despite the fact that this is a smear that originated from Glenn Greenwald's The Intercept, you have used it in your campaign speeches time and time again by humorously releasing your non-existent speeches to Wall Street. You've used Secretary Clinton's refusal to release the transcripts as a way to not-so-subtly imply she is hiding something, a way to build upon 25 years of Republican smears by planting the idea in the public's mind that she is untrustworthy. However, you've found that it gets a good laugh on the campaign trail and helps you to score feel-good points in debates so you've continued to use it as a consistent line of attack.
My question for you then, Senator, is why won't you release your tax returns? It's common practice and there's a historical precedent for it unlike releasing speech transcripts for which there is no historical precedent. In fact, up until 2012 with Mitt Romney, candidates would traditionally release a decade or more of tax returns. Voters are noticing, Senator, and there's even a petition circulating online since the only tax return you've released was a partial one from 2014. Even 'untruthful' Hillary Clinton has released hers, so what are you hiding, Senator? Why else would you refuse to release your tax returns unless there was some illegal going on? Are you actually a millionaire, something that would destroy the entire premise of your campaign? Seeing as how you've demanded Hillary Clinton release her Goldman Sachs transcripts, shouldn't the American people demand you release your tax returns? Isn't that how this works? That you make the general public aware of something a candidate hasn't released and then you insinuate that there is some nefarious plot to keep that information hidden? Isn't that exactly what you've done to Secretary Clinton, Senator?
17. On Your Campaign Spending
Senator, your campaign is unquestionably raising significant funds at record levels. With these large amounts of money coming in, you and your campaign team have been involved in a process as to best distribute the funds as you best see fit. This process involves such things as travel expenses, lodging, advertising, marketing, and staff salaries among other things. By running a national campaign, you and your team have laid out a roadmap as to how you think success can best be attained. This roadmap is a delicate balance between the ambitious goals of the campaign as well as what is feasible with the budget the campaign has in hand.
My question, Senator, is how you justify certain aspects of your campaign spending, specifically that of the salary of your campaign staff. According to the March FEC disbursement your campaign adviser, Tad Devine, received over $810,000 for the month that went to his media consulting firm of Devine, Mulvaney, and Longabauch Inc. My question, Senator, is what does this money go to? How much of it does Devine, who you've known for twenty years, use for consulting purposes and how much does he pocket himself? In addition, Devine has worked on previous national Democratic campaigns for Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry. Would you then consider him as part of the "political establishment" of Washington, D.C.? If so, wouldn't that then serve to show that not everyone who is an established member of the Democratic Party should be demonized as you have consistently done on the campaign trail? And lastly, how would 300,000 of your supporters feel knowing that their $27 contribution helped provide the salary for a man whose law firm has previously represented Monsanto?
18. On Your Supporters' Behavior
Senator, throughout your campaign you have condemned the violence seen at Donald Trump's rallies and you have blamed Trump for creating an atmosphere where this type of violence is acceptable. Fortunately, there have been no acts of violence at your rallies. However, there has been an increasing concern over the online behavior of some of your supporters who have gone after people they deem to be 'establishment,' a term that you coined for people or organizations that chose to endorse Secretary Clinton rather than yourself. Your supporters have gone after civil rights icons John Lewis and Dolores Huerta, as well as prominent progressive organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign. Recently, a number of your supporters have been documented harassing superdelegates from Washington state in an effort to sway them to support you as the Democratic nominee at the Democratic National Convention.
My question to you, Senator, is what responsibility do you bear in their behavior? Has your tone of anger and disdain when you don't receive an endorsement contributed to a sense of entitlement that your supporters now feel? When you told your supporters in February to tone it down, did you believe that would be the end of that sort of behavior? Why haven't you apologize to John Lewis, Dolores Huerta, or the Washington superdelegates? Do you actually approve of these harassing techniques? If not, shouldn't you, as the figurehead of this movement, stand in and assert your leadership to let your followers know that this behavior is still inappropriate? Or have you officially lost control of your supporters a la Donald Trump?
19. On Your Support of Fellow Democrats
Senator, on an MSNBC town hall event you stated that you are running as a Democrat for media exposure that you couldn't have attained as a third party candidate. In addition, you've also had access to the party's voter file, which caused an issue in December when your campaign downloaded data that was privy to the Clinton campaign. These two things, media exposure and DNC resources, have unquestionably given you opportunities that you would not have had as a third party candidate. In fact, it wouldn't be the first time the Democratic Party has helped out you as the Vermont Democratic Party agreed not to run a formal candidate in 1990 in exchange or you caucusing with the Democrats in the House and agreeing not to form an official third party in Vermont. It looks like once again, being a Democrat has helped you out as this time around declaring yourself to be a Democrat has helped you become involved in more than a dozen debates and town halls, your campaign team has been able to identify voters, especially ones who are likely participants in caucus states, and you've used both of these things to draw large rallies and help convince the mainstream media that you are, in fact, a viable candidate for president of the United States.
My question, Senator, is a follow-up to Rachel Maddow's question about your fundraising efforts from last week's MSNBC interview where you stated you were uncertain about whether or not you would fundraise for any other Democratic nominees. Seeing as Secretary Clinton has raised over $26 million for down-ballot Democratic candidates through her Victory Fund, do you in any way feel compelled to contribute any of the millions of dollars you've raised to help out the Democratic Party? Do you believe that you can still achieve your political revolution without financially assisting Democratic nominees for the House and Senate fight for battleground seats? And what about superdelegates? Should they proclaim their allegiance to someone who hasn't raised a single dollar for anyone other than himself this election cycle? As the figurehead of a political revolution and an open advocate of socialism, shouldn't you be willing to share your newly acquired wealth with those who could potentially help enact your progressive agenda especially since voter turnout is down dramatically from 2008 levels and it appears there simply won't be the political revolution that you had envisioned?
20. On Your Reason(s) for Running
The last question, Senator, may very well be the most simple yet it may also be the most telling for people considering you for president. Even as a young man, Senator, you took a liking to politics. From your early days at the University of Chicago you made a conscientious effort to become involved in the cause of social justice. You later essentially gave up a life of luxury to help create and sustain a political party based upon the ideals of socialism. You have served as the mayor of Burlington for eight years, a congressman for sixteen years, and have served as a senator for nine years. That's an unofficial count of thirty-three years of government service as well as a number of years where you were politically involved but not yet elected to office.
My last question, for you Senator, is why now? Why does America need a political revolution in the year 2016? During your time in elected office we've seen the failed economic policies of trickle-down economics, the failed war on drugs, the disastrous war in Iraq, and our worst recession in eighty years. Why should American rise up now when these issues have been going on for a generation or more? Why has there been no opportunity for political revolution until now? Wouldn't 2008 have been a more opportune time for a political revolution? What is it about this specific time and place that makes you feel that you and you alone can lead millions of people to rise up and take an interest in the political process when others have failed to do so?
And that would be it. Twenty questions for a man interviewing for the most important job in the world. Twenty questions based on facts, quotes, and voting records. Twenty questions on everything from a basic political philosophy, to meaningful personal and professional experiences, to trials and tribulations of running a national campaign, to controversial actions and decisions that have had to be made throughout a longstanding political career. All done in a respectful yet determined manner in a way that challenges traditional views, addresses certain issues of hypocrisy, and forces the candidate to give the American people an honest and open answer.
It shouldn't be this hard in the year 2016. But it is. Our mainstream media with its advanced research teams and nearly unlimited resources could easily put together a comprehensive interview like this one. In all honestly, they could be even more thorough and do it in much less time than it took me. Yet they won't. They won't because they need a horse race for ratings. They've become the fictional RNC of The Newsroom, simply scared of what people might think if they learned the truth. Bernie Sanders is a formidable candidate. He has lasted longer than any political pundit thought he would. But for him to be on the national scene for nearly ten months and still not be asked some of these rather elementary questions is simply unacceptable. We ask our Miss America contestants deep and thought-provoking questions. We should do the same for our political candidates.
At least, that's how it should be.