Prof. Dennis Gilbert was Bernie Sanders’ research director for his first successful congressional campaign in 1990. He shares his thoughts on Sanders and his research on inequality.
Prof. Gilbert teaches at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. After the 1990 campaign he served as legislative assistant in Sanders’ congressional office.
He has know Bernie Sanders since 1989 and over the years has conducted and analyzed polls for Sanders as a volunteer. He is not connected with the current campaign.
Has Bernie Sanders changed since you worked for him in the early 90s?
He has not changed in any way I can hear. If anything, it’s the public that’s change, not Bernie. People are more open to his message – even people who don’t necessarily agree with him.
Why does the public now see Sanders’ message differently, a message you say has not changed?
People are aware of long term stagnation in wages, which is why the drive for a $15 minimum wage has been successful. But the Great Recession was the big thing. A lot of people took a beating – lost jobs and homes.
The government response, people say, was to bail out Wall Street. In the end, the guys who were responsible for the crisis didn’t suffer the consequences.
Do the policies related to the middle class differ between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton?
Bernie is more broadly concerned with growing inequality and the concentration of wealth at the top. Clinton tip-toes around that.
Your research focuses on inequality. What policies would lower inequality in the United States?
There are bunch of things that would make a big difference:
- Better health care coverage
- Free, high quality child care (especially for single mothers)
- Free education through college
- Higher earned income tax credits
- Higher taxes on upper income people (not just billionaires)
- Higher, inflation adjusted minimum wage
- Stronger support for labor unions
These are not give-aways, but practical things that give everyone a chance to live a decent life, to be productive, and get ahead.
What do you make of the parallels between Sanders and Trump as radical vessels for dissatisfaction with Washington?
They both are responding to a feelings that something is fundamentally wrong that the political establishments don’t address. But the issues are different. So I don’t think either them has much of a chance of picking off the other’s voters.
Trump is a master at reading an audience and telling them in the simplest terms possible what they want to hear. He’s a bigot and a bully.
Bernie is a politician, who knows how to craft his message, but he is absolutely driven by what he believes. When he says that he thinks a political revolution is needed, he means it.
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