BERLIN — The message was the same as 2015, when U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders brought his first campaign for president to Berlin. Before a large and enthusiastic crowd, Sanders had argued that wealth and income inequality was the great moral, economic and political issue of the day.
Fast-forward four years. Sanders returned Tuesday to another large and enthusiastic crowd at the White Mountain Chalet. Again, he spoke of the need to transform the economy and government “so it works for all.”
Now, however, Sanders said some of his ideas labeled radical back in 2015, have found their way into the political mainstream. He said he advocated for a $15-per-hour minimum wage so everyone working a 40-hour workweek would make a living wage. Seven states have since adopted the $15 minimum wage, he said, and the U.S. House last month passed a bill for a federal one by 2025.
Sanders said four years ago he saw a need to change the education system so more students could afford college. He proposed free tuition at public colleges and universities. The Vermont senator said all over the country there is now a movement in that direction.
Sanders said the country should act to bail out a generation of young people struggling under the burden of college debt. He said canceling all student debt sounds radical until you ask why it is OK to bail out Wall Street and grant a trillion-dollar tax break to large corporations.
“What this campaign is about is asking America 'Why not'?” he said.
Turning to another signature issue, Sanders called health care a right and not a privilege. He said an estimated 87 million people in this country have no health insurance or are underinsured. He said 500,000 people were bankrupted by health-care costs last year.
To guarantee everyone has access to health care, Sanders is proposing a Medicare-for-all single-payer program. He said it is a model used in many other countries.
“Ordinary people do not think health care for all is a radical idea,” he said.
He told the crowd about his trip to Ontario last month with a group of diabetics looking to purchase cheaper insulin. In Canada, Sanders said insulin costs a tenth of what it does in the United States.
He proposes allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices and import prescription drugs from Canada and other countries.
While the U.S. spends twice as much per capita on health care as other countries, Sanders said drug companies are making huge profits and their lobbies are spending billions to protect those profits.
He warned that the giant pharmaceutical and health insurance lobbies will continue to spend billions to protect their huge profits and that taking on health-care and drug companies won't be easy. In fact, he said, taking on any of the powerful interests in this country will be tough.
“The only way change takes place is when millions of people stand up and demand change,” he said. “The only way change takes place is from the bottom up."
Sanders said climate change already is inflicting severe damage to the environment. One recent report, he said, says we have fewer than 12 years to transform the energy system and reduce carbon emissions.
Regarding the recent mass shootings, Sanders said he has no magical answer on how to stop such events. He said he supports expanded background checks, eliminating the gun show loophole, eliminating the straw-man provision, and banning the sale and distribution of assault weapons.
He said the American people are begging for some action to stop the mass shootings, but the Republican Party is in thrall to the National Rifle Association.
Another top priority for Sanders is defeating President Donald Trump. “He is the most dangerous president in the modern history of the country,” he said.
In a private interview, The Berlin Sun asked Sanders if he felt Trump should be impeached. He replied that he believes an impeachment inquiry needs to take place given there is a decent amount of evidence that the president attempted to obstruct justice.
Asked how he would help economically depressed rural areas like Coos County, Sanders said we are seeing an uneven recovery and rural counties are not doing well. He called for a strategy that focuses on creating decent-paying jobs in rural areas and protecting the family farm. As president, he said he would work with the private sector to invest in rural areas.
After speaking for over 30 minutes, Sanders took questions from the crowd.
He was asked why he supported Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 after she "stole the nomination" using superdelegates. He said he did not look at the election that way. He said he recognized then that Trump would be a dangerous president and actively campaigned for Clinton. But Sanders said he also was successful in getting a superdelegate reform package approved.
One questioner raised the issue of Sanders’ age, asking frankly if 77 is too old to be running for president. Sanders said he has been blessed with good health. He urged those in attendance to judge candidates by their record, vision, hard work and endurance.
Sanders also pointed out the most recent poll shows him leading former Vice President Joe Biden in New Hampshire. He said he believes he can beat Trump next fall.
After taking questions, Sanders spent about 20 minutes posing for selfies and pictures before heading to Littleton for a 1 p.m. ice cream social His two-day swing through the northern half of the state opened Monday with town halls in Wolfeboro and North Conway.
Sanders has represented Vermont in the Senate since 2007 and before that served 16 years as a U.S. representative. He also served four terms as mayor of Burlington, Vt.
For more information about the candidate, go to berniesanders.com.