When a presidential candidate known for a stump speech that often exceeds an hour only has 30 minutes to convey his vision for America, what would he say?
Sunday afternoon, more than 150 people in Fort Madison heard a condensed version of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ vision that became part of the national conversation in 2015. Packed into a park shelter house, the enthusiastic crowd had limited time with the Vermont senator, but still heard all the tried-and-true talking points that dominate his rallies.
“I begin by apologizing because I’m going to have to race out of here at 1:30 in order to catch a flight back to Vermont,” said Sanders, who visited Lee County after meeting with union leaders and retirees earlier Sunday in Ottumwa.
The rally was held in the hometown of Rep. Jeff Kurtz, the first Iowa legislator to endorse Sanders in the 2020 election cycle.
“I think we don’t need any more centrists,” said Kurtz, a first-term representative and former locomotive engineer. “We need someone that’s got a backbone and that has fought for these issues and will fight for many more.”
Though the temperature Sunday was mercifully lower than the 100-plus heat index experienced here Saturday, caucus-goers still had to employ the “Bernie” campaign signs as fans to bring a slight breeze into the small venue.
Sanders, polling at 16% in Iowa according to a June Des Moines Register/Mediacom/CNN Iowa Poll, used his time in Fort Madison to discuss his “Medicare for All” plan; the need for a $15 an hour minimum wage in America; the “global crisis” of climate change; and Republican President Donald Trump.
Medicare for All
“Is it practical? Is it practical to move to Medicare for All?” asked Sanders, reiterating a question asked by a reporter. “My response is that it is totally impractical not to move to Medicare for All.”
Sanders, 77, described Medicare as “the most popular health insurance program in this country.”
If elected president, he said, Medicare would cover “every man, woman and child in this country” by the end of his first term.
In year one, the plan lowers the Medicare eligibility age from its current 65 to 55 and expands the program’s coverage to include dental care, hearing aids and eyeglass prescriptions for seniors.
From there, the eligibility age drops 10 years annually until all Americans are insured through Medicare by year four.
“Finally, we are going to do what every other major country on earth does, and make health care a human right, not a privilege,” Sanders said, to a loud round of applause.
$15/hour minimum wage
“What we believe, is that if you work 40 hours a week, you deserve a living wage — $15 an hour … Four years ago — some of you may recall, because I know we got a lot of people here who supported me four years ago — four years ago when I came here and I said we got to raise the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour, people said, ‘Bernie, you are crazy. You can’t more than double the minimum wage,'” Sanders recalled.
In the current Democratic primary fight, calls for a $15 minimum wage are the norm.
Last week, the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.
Wage stagnation, particularly in Southeast Iowa, was one of the reasons Kurtz said he decided to endorse Sanders.
“If people don’t have economic power,” Kurtz told Starting Line, “I don’t care how they identify themselves — straight, black, gay, Latino or a white-haired old guy like me — if you don’t have economic power, you don’t have much power.”
“Bernie is probably the best on that issue, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
In the Senate, Sanders has supported the “Green New Deal” proposal introduced by young progressives in the House who want the U.S. to eliminate the use of fossil fuels.
“The scientists are telling us that we have fewer than 12 years to aggressively transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. Or else,” Sanders said. “Or else, there will be irreparable damage done to this planet.”
A warming planet will impact famers in Iowa and around the world, he said, by making it more difficult “to grow the crops that feed us.”
“What we are fighting for here is not just ourselves. We are fighting to make sure that our children and grandchildren and future generations have a planet that is healthy and is habitable. We cannot afford to fail in this struggle.”
Sanders has proposed to ban fracking so oil, gas and coal is kept underground, and he wants to end the export of those fossil fuels.
President Donald Trump
Sanders described Trump as “the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country” and a “pathological liar.”
He encouraged his fellow politicians and the American people to “expose Donald Trump for the liar the he is.”
Though Sanders has called out Trump in the past for racially-charged remarks, Sunday’s criticism of the president was especially relevant in the wake of his tweets telling female members of Congress to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Sanders said, “The idea that we have a president — and it gives me no pleasure to say this — that we have a president that is a racist and is a bigot, is a disgrace in terms of American history.”
By Elizabeth Meyer