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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
NHDP Jefferson-Jackson Dinner
Manchester Radisson Hotel
Manchester, NH
November 29, 2015

[prepared remarks]

Let me begin by thanking all of you who are here today for doing what too few Americans do. Thank you all, every person in this room, for standing up for American democracy and participating in the political process.

Let me also say that if these were normal times many people in our country could be supportive of Establishment politics, Establishment economics and Establishment foreign policy. But these are not normal times. And what I see, from coast to coast is an American people crying out for change, for real change. They do not want the same-old, same-old. They want a political revolution.

When, in the last election, 63 percent of the American people didn’t vote, when 80 percent of young people and low income people didn’t vote; when millions of people have given up on the political process; when there is profound disgust across the political spectrum with a campaign finance system that allows millionaires and billionaires to buy elections through their super PACs, now is not the time for establishment politics. Now is the time for a political revolution.

When most Americans understand that we are living in a rigged economy where almost all of the new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent, where Wall Street continues to dominate our economic and political life, when corporate profits soar while millions of our children live in poverty – now is not the time for establishment economics. Now is the time for a political revolution.

When our foreign policy, for the last many decades, has failed the American people, has led to wars, like the war in Iraq which we should never have gotten into. Now is not the time for more establishment foreign policy.

We began this campaign seven months ago. We had no organization, no money, very little national name recognition and were at 3 percent in the polls. Today, we have hundreds of thousands of volunteers in every state in the country, including some 5,600 here in New Hampshire. Today, without a super PAC, we have more than 800,000 individual contributors – more than any candidate in the history of our country at this point in a campaign for a first term. And, today, with your help, we are poised to pull off one of the great political upsets in the history of our country. We have come a long way in seven months. The people of this country want real change.

I am running for president because we live in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world but that reality means little to most Americans because – in a very rigged economy – the rich get much richer while almost everybody else becomes poorer. The issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral issue of our time. It is the great economic issue of our time. It is the great political issue of our time. And it is an issue that, together, we will resolve.

I am running for president because the great middle class of this country, once the envy of the world, has been disappearing for the last 40 years. Today, husbands and wives, single moms and even grandparents, are working longer hours for lower wages – and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major nation on earth.

I am running for president because we need an economy that works for working families, not just for millionaires and billionaires.

I am running for president because we need to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next few years. We need pay equity for women workers. We need to pass the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act now in Congress. Paying $1.38 cents-a-week more is a good investment for families throughout this country who will receive 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.

I am running for president because we need to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, invest $1 trillion in our roads and bridges and rail systems and create up to 13 million decent-paying jobs.

I am running for president because when youth unemployment and underemployment is at 30 or 40 or 50 percent we need to invest in jobs and education, not more jails and incarceration. We must not continue to have more people in jail than any other country on earth. We need major reforms in a very broken criminal justice system. We need to stop the killing of unarmed African-Americans by the police. We need to rethink the so-called War on Drugs and take marijuana out of the federal Controlled Substance Act. We need to treat substance abuse as a serious health issue, not a criminal issue. We need to understand that in New Hampshire, Vermont and across this country, we have a major crisis in opiate addiction and we need a revolution in mental health treatment so that all people – regardless of their income – can get the help they need.

I am running for president because 11 million undocumented people cannot continue living in the shadows. We need comprehensive immigration reform and a path toward citizenship.

And loudly and clearly, we must tell the Republicans. No. We will not cut Social Security benefits for the elderly and disabled veterans. We will expand those benefits by lifting the cap on taxable income and developing a new formula to determine cost-of-living adjustments.

I am running for president because it is time that Wall Street, corporate America and the billionaire class understand that they cannot have it all, that they are going to have to start paying their fair share of taxes. It makes no sense that every year we lost $100 billion in tax revenue because large, profitable corporations stash their profits in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens. It makes no sense that large profitable corporations like Pfizer think they can leave this country and become foreign companies to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, while they continue charging us the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.

I am running for president because, in a highly competitive global economy, we need to make certain that all of our young people who have the ability and qualifications are able to get a college income regardless of their family income. That is why we are going to make public colleges and universities tuition free, and why we are going to substantially lower interest rates on student debt. And that is why we’re going to pay for it with a tax on Wall Street speculation.

I am running for president because as a result of the disastrous Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, the American political system has been totally corrupted, and the foundations of American democracy are being undermined. In America, millionaires and billionaires should not be able to buy elections. As president, I will fight to overturn Citizens United and move toward public funding of elections. I will also move to end the voter suppression imposed by many Republican governors. We should have one of the highest voter turnouts in the world, not one of the lowest.

I am running for president because, in these difficult times, against vitriolic Republican rhetoric, we must protect a woman’s right to choose and we must defend Planned Parenthood. And today let me send my condolences to the families of those who were killed in Friday’s attack at Planned Parenthood in Colorado. We must also fight to make certain that our gay brothers and sisters have the right to marry.

I am running for president because we must leave this planet in a way that is healthy and habitable for our kids and grandchildren. Despite what many of my Republican colleagues think, climate change is real. It is caused by human activity. It already is causing devastating problems throughout the planet. We must lead the world in combatting climate change, and transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. Republicans must start worrying about the planet they will leave their kids and grandchildren, not about the campaign contributions they get from the Koch brothers and the fossil fuel industry.

Because climate change is the greatest environmental challenge of our time, I opposed the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from day one. And that is why – right here in New Hampshire – I believe the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas for 400 miles through 17 communities is a bad idea – and should be opposed.

As everybody knows, we live in a difficult and dangerous world, and there are people out there who want to do us harm. As president, I will defend this nation – but I will do it responsibly. We do not need a quote-unquote “tough foreign policy.” We need a quote-unquote “smart foreign policy” that achieves our goals.

As a member of Congress, I voted against the war in Iraq in 2002. I listened carefully to what President Bush, Dick Cheney and others in the Bush administration were saying – and I didn’t believe them. And it gives me no joy to tell you that much of what I feared would happen, in terms of the destabilization of the region, did happen.

Today, we are confronted with a barbaric organization, called ISIS – an organization which must be destroyed – but I hope that we learned some of the very painful lessons of the past. And that is that we cannot and should not attempt to do it alone. We cannot and should not be trapped in perpetual warfare in the Middle East.

We need to put together a broad coalition including the strong participation of the Muslim countries in the region. While the U.S. and other western nations have the strength of our militaries and political systems, the fight against ISIS is a struggle for the soul of Islam, and countering violent extremism and destroying ISIS must be done primarily by Muslim nations – with the strong support of their global partners – the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Russia and Iran.

These same sentiments have been echoed by those in the region. Jordan’s King Abdallah II said in recent speech that terrorism is the “greatest threat to our region” and that Muslims must lead the fight against it. He noted that confronting extremism is both a regional and international responsibility, and that it is incumbent on Muslim nations and communities to confront those who seek to hijack their societies and generations with intolerance and violent ideology.

And let me congratulate King Abdallah not only for his wise remarks, but also for the role that his small country is playing in attempting to address the horrific refugee crisis in the region.

What does all of this mean? Well, it means that, in many cases, we must ask more from those in the region. While Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, and Lebanon have accepted their responsibilities for taking in Syrian refugees, other countries in the region have done nothing or very little.

Equally important, and this is a point that must be made – countries in the region like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE – countries of enormous wealth and resources – have contributed far too little in the fight against ISIS. That must change. King Abdallah is absolutely right when he says that that the Muslim nations must lead the fight against ISIS, and that includes some of the most wealthy and powerful nations in the region, who, up to this point have done far too little.

Saudi Arabia has the third largest defense budget in the world, yet instead of fighting ISIS they have focused more on a campaign to oust Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Kuwait, a country whose ruling family was restored to power by U.S. troops after the first Gulf War, has been a well-known source of financing for ISIS and other violent extremists. It has been reported that Qatar will spend $200 billion on the 2022 World Cup, including the construction of an enormous number of facilities to host that event – $200 billion on hosting a soccer event, yet very little to fight against ISIS. Worse still, it has been widely reported that the government has not been vigilant in stemming the flow of terrorist financing, and that Qatari individuals and organizations funnel money to some of the most extreme terrorist groups, including al Nusra and ISIS.

All of this has got to change. Wealthy and powerful Muslim nations in the region can no longer sit on the sidelines and expect the United States to do their work for them. As we develop a strongly coordinated effort, we need a commitment from these countries that the fight against ISIS takes precedence over the religious and ideological differences that hamper the kind of cooperation that we desperately need.

Let me conclude by reminding you all of one important political fact. Republicans win when the voter turnout is low. Democrats win when voter turnout is high. I believe from the bottom of my heart that our campaign is striking a nerve with working people, with young people, with many who have given up on the political process. I believe that our campaign is creating the kind of excitement needed to not only retain the White House but regain the Senate, do well in House races and win governors’ chairs all across this country. This is the campaign of the future. This is the campaign for real change. Please join the political revolution.