“I think I’m going to make a very short speech, because Alexandria said it all,” Sen. Bernie Sanders told the people packed into the Expo Hall of the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center for the 2020 presidential candidate’s rally, featuring Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Actually, the Vermont senator spoke for 38 minutes, 10 minutes longer than he did during his last area rally two weeks ago.
Enthusiasm was high in the Expo Hall for all the rally’s speakers, including Linn County Supervisor and Iowa Co-Chair of the Sanders Campaign Stacey Walker, Iowa City Councilmember Rockne Cole, author Naomi Klein and Nick Salazar, the state director of LULAC and the other co-chair of Sanders’ Iowa campaign. But when Ocasio-Cortez took the stage, the response was deafening.
The freshman member of Congress from New York was accompanying Sanders on a two-day, three-stop campaign swing through the state. It was her first visit to Iowa, and she said she was impressed by how “neighborly” the Iowans she met while door-knocking for Sanders were.
Ocasio-Cortez said the sort of neighborliness she had seen in Iowa was also at the heart of Sanders’ agenda, and that he stands for “a politics of loving thy neighbor.”
“To me, that’s what policies like Medicare-for-all are all about,” she said. “To me, ending police brutality in America is loving thy neighbor. To me, ending a brutal policy of caging children and their parents is about loving thy neighbor. To me, a living wage is loving thy neighbor.”
“And to me, a Green New Deal is loving thy neighbor, our children and the planet.”
Ocasio-Cortez rejected the complaint that progressive policies like the ones she and Sanders support are “pushing the party too far left.”
“We’re not pushing the party left, we’re bringing the party home,” she said. “It’s time that we become the party of FDR again. It’s time that we become the party of the Civil Rights Act again. It’s time we become the party that fights for queer liberation again, the anti-war party, a party that stands for peace and prosperity. That’s the party I want to be again, and I want to go back home.”
Ocasio-Cortez said too many people had become disillusioned by politics, and too many political leaders put limits on the expectations of what is possible. She pointed out that, with the New Deal, the federal government brought electrical power to the poor in rural American for the first time, a feat that would be considered unimaginable by much of America’s current political elite.
It was a theme Sanders returned to in his remarks.
“Our major obstacle is not Wall Street, and it’s not the drug companies, the insurance companies, the 1 percent and all their billions of dollars,” he said. “Our major obstacle is what the establishment does to us every single day in limiting our imagination as to where we go and what we do.”
“The message that comes down every day from the political establishment, from the economic establishment, from the media establishment is ‘don’t think big, don’t have dreams, don’t have a vision, don’t have new ideas, because you are powerless, you’re nothing. Real power rests with the people on top.’”
“What this campaign is about is fundamentally changing that dynamic, and understanding that real power rests with us, not the 1 percent,” he concluded.
“We will never accomplish our goals if we do not believe we can accomplish those goals,” Sanders explained. “If we believe that all we are worth as workers are eight or nine bucks an hour, that is all we will ever get. If we believe that we are not entitled to health care as a human right, we will never have health care.”
In his speech, Sanders also responded to reports that billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, will run for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Bloomberg hasn’t announced a run yet, but on Friday, he filed the paperwork necessary to appear on the ballot in Alabama’s March 3 primary.)
“I’d like to say to Michael Bloomberg and other billionaires, ‘Sorry, you ain’t going to buy this election,’” the Vermont senator said.
Bloomberg has reportedly been encouraged by other billionaires — including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — to run to provide an alternative to Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, both of whom are advocating for increasing taxes on billionaires and reducing the political influence of the wealthiest Americans and corporations. The Washington Post, which is owned by Bezos, attempted to reach the billionaire for a comment about his support for Bloomberg, but did not receive a reply.
According to an adviser to Bloomberg, the former Republican who changed his party affiliation to run for mayor of heavily Democratic New York City, plans to skip the early primary and caucus states and concentrate on the Super Tuesday contests on March 3 instead.
“You’re not going to get elected president by avoiding Iowa, by avoiding New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada,” Sanders said. “You’re not going to buy this election by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on media in California.”
“Those days are gone.”
“Yes, we don’t have a super PAC and I’m not worth $52 billion [the current estimate of Bloomberg’s wealth], but this is what we do have,” Sanders continued. “We have raised more campaign contributions from more Americans — averaging $16 a donation — than any candidate up till this time in the history of the American politics.”
“Bloomberg can have his billions, but that is why we are going to win this election.”
(Interestingly, Sanders chose to ignore the billionaire already in the race, Tom Steyer.)
The discussion of expanding people’s imagination of what is possible and directly criticizing a rival other than Trump (in this case, Bloomberg) were the first major, new elements Sanders has incorporated in his Iowa speeches since he launched his campaign in February. The senator also included all the features familiar to attendees of previous rallies in his speech on Saturday.
He discussed his plans for fundamental change in areas ranging from health care to criminal justice and immigration reform, as well as the need to combat climate change and ensure the reproductive rights of women.
“Our campaign is going to end a corrupt political system dominated by billionaires and wealthy campaign contributors,” Sanders said. “Our campaign is going to end the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality that exists in America.”
Sanders also emphasized, as he always does, that political leaders can’t on their own create the sort of revolution he says America needs. Grassroots support, he said, is always needed, and politicians and the people must work together.
“Our job is to have the courage to envision the kind of America we want, and to have the guts to fight for that America.”