U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders – Liberty University Convocation

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders – Liberty University Convocation

October 14, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


>>JERRY FALWELL: David, David they do that
chant a lot better than you do, but thank you for the warm introduction and welcome
to convocation this morning. We are so honored and humbled to welcome a very special guest
this morning in Senator Bernie Sanders. He’s a democratic candidate for president of the
United States, and Senator Sanders, we made room for a lot of your supporters locally
here in the front row, so you’ve got a fan club here. But we, in 2006 Senator Sanders
was elected to the US Senate for the first time after serving for 16 years as the sole
congressman from Vermont, and went on to be re-elected in 2012. He was born in Brooklyn
NY; he attended Brooklyn College and the University of Chicago. He later moved to Vermont where
he became a documentary filmmaker and a carpenter, and in 1981 he was elected Mayor of Burlington,
Vermont by 10 votes. Under his leadership, he helped transform Burlington into one of
the most exciting and livable cities in the nation. Under his administration, the city
made strides, major strides in affordable housing, environmental protection, childcare,
youth programs and the arts. In Congress, Bernie has fought tirelessly for working families,
focusing on the shrinking middle class, and he’s been called a practical and successful
legislator. He was dubbed the Amendment King in the House of Representatives for passing
more minutes than anyone else in congress. Bernie lives in Burlington, Vermont now, and
people have been asking since we announced, since David came to me and told me that Senator
Sanders had agreed to speak at Liberty, and I said that’s great. People have been asking,
“Well, are you gonna be able to find any common ground with the Senator?” And I think I did.
I think this morning, Senator Sanders if you could come up. I think – I think in the future,
he’s going to be a fan of the Liberty Flames. So we’ve already found some common ground
I hope. But Senator Sanders, we welcome you to Liberty University, we’re humbled and honored
that you would come here and please give him a warm welcome, thank you.>>SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: President Fallwell
and David, thank you very much for inviting my wife, Jane, and me, to be with you this
morning. We appreciate the invitation very much. And let me start off by acknowledging
what I think all of you already know. And that is, the views that many here at Liberty
University have, and I, on a number of important issues are very, very different. I believe
in women’s rights, and the right of a woman to control her own body. I believe in gay
rights and gay marriage. Those are my views, and it is no secret. But I came here today, because I believe,
from the bottom of my heart, that it is vitally important for those of us who hold different
views, to be able to engage in a civil discourse. Too often, in our country, and I think both
sides bear responsibility for this, there is too much shouting at each other. There
is too much making fun of each other. Now in my view, and I say this as somebody
whose voice is hoarse because I’ve given dozen of speeches in the last few months, it is
easy to go out and talk to people who agree with you. I was in Greensboro, North Carolina
just last night. All right, we had 9,000 people out. Mostly they agreed with me and tonight
we’re going to be out and have thousands out that agreed with me. That’s not hard to
do! And that’s what politicians do: we go out and we talk to people who agree with us.
But it is harder, but not less important, for us to try and communicate with those who
do not agree with us on every issue. And it is important to see where, if possible, and
I do believe, it’s possible, we can find common grounds. Now, Liberty University is a religious school,
obviously. And all of you are proud of that. You are a school, which as all of us in our
own way tries to understand the meaning of morality. What does it mean to live a moral
life? And you try to understand in this very complicated modern world that we live in,
what the words of the Bible mean in today’s society. You are a school which tries to teach its
students how to behave with decency and with honesty, and how you can best relate to your
fellow human beings. And I applaud you for trying to achieve those goals. Let me take a moment, or a few moments, to
tell you what motivates me in the work that I do as a public servant, as Senator from
the state of Vermont. And let me tell you that, it goes without saying, I am far, far
from being a perfect human being, but I am motivated by a vision which exists in all
of the great religions, in Christianity and Judaism, in Islam, in Buddhism and other religions.
And that vision is so beautifully and clearly stated in Matthew 7:12. And it states, “So
in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. For this sums up the
law and the prophets.” That is the golden rule. Do unto others what you would have them
do to you. That is the golden rule, and it is not very complicated. Let me be frank, as I said a moment ago, I
understand that the issues of abortion and gay marriage are issues that you feel very
strongly about. We disagree on those issues. I get that. But let me respectfully suggest
that there are other issues out there that are of enormous consequence to our country,
and in fact to the entire world, that maybe, just maybe, we do not disagree on. And maybe,
just maybe, we can try to work together to resolve them. Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll on like
a river. Righteousness like a never failing stream.” Justice: treating others the way
we want to be treated. Treating all people, no matter their race, their color, their stature
in life, with respect and with dignity. Now here is my point. Some of you may agree
with me and some of you may not. But in my view, it would be hard for anyone in this
room today, to make the case that the United States of America, our great country, a country
which all of us love – it would be hard to make the case that we are a just society,
or anything resembling a just society today. In the United States of America today, there
is massive injustice in terms of income and wealth inequality. Injustice is rampant. We
live, and I hope all of you know this, in the wealthiest country in the history of the
world. But most Americans don’t know that. Because almost all of that wealth and income
is going to the top 1%. Now that’s the truth! We are living in a time,
and I want all of you if you would; put this in the context of the Bible, not me, in the
context of the Bible, we are living in a time where a handful of people have wealth beyond
comprehension. And I’m talking about tens of billions of dollars, enough to support
their families for thousands of years. With huge yachts and jet planes and tens of billions.
More money than they would ever know what to do with. But at that very same moment, there are millions
of people in our country, let alone the rest of the world, who are struggling to feed their
families. They are struggling to put a roof over their heads, and some of them are sleeping
out on the streets. They are struggling to find money in order to go to a doctor when
they are sick. Now when we talk about morality, and when
we talk about justice, we have to, in my view, understand that there is no justice when so
few have so much, and so many have so little. There is no justice – and I want you to hear
this clearly – when the top one tenth of 1%, not 1%, the top one tenth of 1%, today in
America owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%, and in your hearts, you will have
to determine the morality of that and the justice of that. In my view, there is no justice
when here in Virginia, or Vermont, and all over this country, millions of people are
working long hours for abysmally low wages of $7.25 an hour, or $8 an hour, $9 an hour.
Working hard, but unable to bring in enough money to adequately feed their kids. And yet
at that same time, 58% of all new income generated, is going to the top 1%. You have got to think
about the morality of that, the justice of that, and whether or not that is what we want
to see in our country. In my view, there is no justice when, in recent
years, we have seen a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires, while at the same time the
United States of America has the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country
on earth. How can we – I want you to go into your hearts, how can we talk about morality
– about justice, when we turn our backs on the children of our country? And you’ve got to think about it – you have
to think about – you have to feel it in your guts. Are you content? Do you think it’s moral,
that 20% of the children in this country, the wealthiest country in the history of the
world, are living in poverty? Do you think it is acceptable that 40% of African American
children are living in poverty? In my view, there is no justice and morality
suffers when in our wealthy country, millions of children go to bed hungry. That is not
morality. And that in my view is not what America should be about. In my view, there is no justice when the 15,
15 wealthiest people in this country, in the last two years saw their wealth increase by
$170 billion. Two years. Wealthiest 15 people in this country saw their wealth increase
by $170 billion. My friends, that is more wealth acquired in a two-year period, than
is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans. And while the very, very rich become much
richer, millions of families have no savings at all – nothing in the bank! And they worry
every single day that if their car breaks down, they can’t get to work. And if they
can’t get to work they lose their jobs. And if they lose their jobs, they don’t feed their
families. In the last two years, 15 people saw $170 billion increase in their wealth;
45 million Americans live in poverty. That, in my view, is not justice. That is a rigged
economy designed by the wealthiest people in this country to benefit the wealthiest
people in this country at the expense of everybody else. In my view, there is no justice when thousands
of Americans die every single year because they don’t have any health insurance, and
don’t go to a doctor when they should. I have talked personally to doctors throughout Vermont,
and physicians all over this country, and without exception they tell me that there
are times when patients walk into their office very, very sick. And they say why didn’t you
come in here when you were sick. And the answer is, I don’t have any health insurance, or
I have a high deductible – I thought the problem would get better. And sometimes it doesn’t,
and sometimes they die because they lack health insurance. That is not justice. That is not
morality. People should not be dying in the United States of America, when they are sick!
What that is, is an indication that we are the only major country on earth that does
not guarantee health care to all people as a right. And I think we should change that. And I think – I think that when we talk about
morality, what we are talking about is all of God’s children, the poor, the wretched
– they have a right to go to a doctor when they are sick. You know there is a lot of talk in this country
from politicians about family values. You’ve all heard that. Well let me tell you about
a family value. In my view there is no justice when low-income, and working-class mothers
are forced to separate from their babies, one or two weeks after birth, and go back
to work because they need the money that their jobs provide. Now I know everybody here, we all are, maybe
in different ways, but all of us believe in family values. Jane and I have four kids;
we have seven beautiful grandchildren. We believe in family values. But it is not a
family value when all of you know that the most important moments in time of a human
being’s life, is the first weeks and months after that baby is born. That is the moment,
when mother bonds with the baby, gets to love and know her baby, and the dad is there as
well. That is what a family is about, and those of you, at least those of you who are
parents – you know what an unforgettable moment that is, what an important moment that is.
And I want you to think, whether you believe it is a family value that the United States
of America is the only, only major country on earth, that does not provide paid, family
and medical leave. Now in English what that means is that all
over the world, when a woman has her baby, she is guaranteed the right, because society
understands how important that moment is, she is guaranteed the right to stay home,
and get income in order to nurture her baby. And that is why I believe, when we talk about
family values, that the United States government must provide at least 12 weeks of paid, family
and medical leave. In my view, there is no justice in our country
when youth unemployment exists at tragic, tragically high levels. I requested a study
last month from a group of economists, and what they told me is that 51% of African American
high school graduates, between the ages of 17 and 20 are unemployed or underemployed.
51%! We have in this country, sufficient amounts of money to put more people in jail, than
any other country on Earth. The United States has more people in jail than China, a communist
authoritarian country. But apparently, we do not have enough money to provide jobs and
education to our young people. I believe that’s wrong. I am not a theologian. I am not an expert
on the Bible, nor am I a Catholic. I am just a United States Senator from the small state
of Vermont. But I agree with Pope Francis, who will soon be coming to visit us in the
United States. I agree with Pope Francis when he says, and I quote, “The current financial
crisis originated in a profound human crisis. The denial of the primacy of the human person.”
And this is what he writes, “We have created new idols! The worship of the ancient, golden
calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise: in the idolatry of money, and the dictatorship,
and the dictatorship of a personal economy lacking a truly human purpose,” end of quote. And the Pope also writes, quote, “There is
a need for financial reform along ethical lines that would produce, it its turn, an
economic reform, to benefit everyone. Money has to serve, not to rule.” End of quote. Now those are pretty profound words, which
I hope we will all think about. In the Pope’s view, and I agree with him, we are living
in a nation and in a world – and the Bible speaks to this issue – in a nation, and in
a world, which worships, not love of brothers and sisters, not love of the poor and the
sick, but worships the acquisition of money and great wealth. I do not believe that is
the country we should be living in. Money and wealth should serve the people.
The people should not have to serve money and wealth. Throughout human history, there has been endless
discussion – it is part of who we are as human beings; people who think and ask questions,
endless discussions and debate about the meaning of justice, and about the meaning of morality.
And I know that here at Liberty University, those are the kinds of discussions you have
everyday, and those are the kinds of discussions you should be having. And the kind of discussions
we should be having all over America. I would hope, and I conclude with this thought:
I would hope very much that as part of that discussion, and part of that learning process,
some of you will conclude, that if we are honest in striving to be a moral and just
society, it is imperative that we have the courage to stand with the poor, to stand with
working people, and when necessary, take on very powerful and wealthy people, whose greed
in my view is doing this country enormous harm. Thank you all very much.>>DAVID NASSER: Thank you, Senator. We’re
so grateful for you, sir. You can have a seat here, thanks. Obviously, just a few minutes
here with some questions, uh, these questions sir are from our student body. I think you’re
going to – we opened up to our student government, the opportunity for questions to come your
way, and a lot of questions poured in. I think this uh, these few questions just in the few
minutes that we have with you will represent the main thoughts on the hearts of our students,
the main things they wanted to know. I think that you’re going to find a lot of commonality,
obviously, in wanting to see someone go to work and get paid more for it, wanting to
see children not be hungry, or wanting to see the reality of racism being erased out
of this country. You’re going to find a lot of commonality in, obviously for college students
to hear from you that public higher education can be free in this country, so anybody who
is 19 is gonna be excited about free college. Uh, the question isn’t so much the commonality
of wanting to see those things, but how do we get there. And so in that kind of mindset,
just a little bit about how we would get there, as far as race inequality is concerned, uh
this question from one of our students, “If you were, sir, elected president, what would
you do to bring healing and resolution to the issue of racism in our country?” We want
to – we both want to see that go away, what steps would you begin to take, if you were
our leader in seeing that result?>>SANDERS: That is an excellent question,
thank you for it. I would hope and I believe that every person in this room today understands
that it is unacceptable to judge people, and discriminate against people based on the color
of their skin. And I would also say, that as a nation, the truth is that a nation which
in many ways was created, and I’m sorry to have to say this, from way back on racist
principles, that’s a fact, we have come a long way as a nation. Now I know, my guess
is that probably not everybody here is an admirer or a voter for Barack Obama. But the
point is that in 2008, this country took a huge step forward, David, in voting for a
candidate based on his ideas, and not the color of his skin. And whether you like Obama
or not, and I do, he is a friend of mine and I work with him on many issues; that is a
step forward for America. But let me also say what everybody here knows,
and my thoughts having just returned from South Carolina, we all know to what degree
racism remains alive in this country. I cannot understand, I really can’t. I think about
it, I try to understand it. How a sick man can walk into a Bible study class, discuss
the Bible, pray with people in the room, and then take out a gun and kill nine of them
because the color of their skins were different than his. And I cannot understand, for the
life of me, how there can be hundreds of groups in this country, whose sole reason for existence
is to promote hatred. These are hate groups! And they say, “join us” so we can hate
African Americans, or gays, or Jews, or immigrants, or anybody that is different from us. I cannot
understand that. But let us be clear, that when you have unarmed, African Americans shot
by police officers, something which has been going on for years, that is also institutional
racism and cries out for reform. I am a former mayor who has worked closely
with police officers – vast majority of them are honest, work hard and do a very good job.
But when a police officer breaks the law, as is the case with any other public official,
that officer must be held accountable. That’s justice. And there is a lot to be done in
terms of our criminal justice system, in terms of minimal sentencing; in terms of local police
departments, which look like armies that are invading a community. But to answer your question,
I think what we have got to do, is when we see instances of racism, when we hear political
leaders appealing to the worst elements of us by making racists attacks against people
from another country, or people whose color may be different than most of us, we have
got to stand up and say, in America, we are not going to do that. Racism is unacceptable.>>NASSER: We couldn’t agree with you more
on that thought, but just, uh, we would say, and I think I speak for many of our students
that it’s not so much a skin issue, as it is a sin issue. That we could change the…
we could change the behavior of police, and could put cameras on them all day long but
behavior modification can only stop so short as identity change. And so um, I think we
want what you want.>>SANDERS: Well let me just say this, the
answer is obviously we have got to change our hearts. But everybody here should know…
50, 60, 70 years ago in this country we had segregated schools, and segregated restaurants.
And it took a supreme court, it took Martin Luther King Jr, it took millions of people
to mend public policy, which ended segregation.>>NASSER: That’s right. Well, I think where
you’re going to find commonality is at Liberty University we’re not interested in making
sure people of color are invited to sit in the bus, or even sit at the restaurant table,
we want to see them own the bus and own the restaurant, so we’re with you on that. On
protecting the vulnerable, I think our students were more passionate about that sir than any
other thing. The questions that they wanted to know, went way beyond just um, wealth inequality,
went way beyond, we certainly had those kind of things, but um, on protecting the vulnerable,
this was probably the number one type of question that we got here, Senator. Senator Sanders, “You’ve talked in your campaign
about how it’s immoral to protect the billionaire class at the expense of our most vulnerable
in society,” obviously, “children,” you just mentioned that even in your talk with
us earlier, “A majority of Christians would agree with you, but would -” here’s the
question: “the majority of Christians would agree with you, but would also go further
and say that children in the womb need our protection even more. How – how do you reconcile
the two in your mind?” So the question sir, is, obviously you can see this is what they
want to ask, how do you reconcile the two? And again, I know that you have a different
view, I know that um, you sir, and I don’t have to be eye to eye on it, but I sense a
real sincerity in you in wanting to see our children protected. You, can you see, sir,
how we see the child in the womb as the most vulnerable that needs protection?>>SANDERS: I do. And I do also understand
this as an area where we disagree. I do understand, and I do believe that it is improper for the
United States government, or state government, to tell every woman in this country the very
painful and difficult choice that she has to make on that issue. And I honestly, don’t
want to be too provocative here, but very often conservatives say, you know, “get
the government out of my life! I don’t want the government telling me what to do.” But
on this very sensitive issue, of which this nation is divided, a lot of people agree with
you, a lot of people agree with me. But my view is, I respect absolutely, a family that
says no, we are not going to have an abortion. I understand that; I respect that. But I would
hope that other people respect the very painful and difficult choice that many women feel
they have to make and don’t want the government telling them what they have to do. But, but
– I want to take that question a step further, David. We do disagree on that issue, no ifs
or buts about it. I respect your point of view, I hope you’ll respect my point of view,
but here is where I hope we have common ground. Now I’m not trying to be partisan during my
remarks, I am not, but I’m going to be partisan for a moment because I’m going lay this on
your shoulders. I am the ranking member of the US Senate Budget Committee; that means
I lead the Democrats in opposition. Republicans control the House and the Senate. Now I want
to tell you, what was in the Republican budget that passed a number of months ago – check
it out! You think I’m not telling you the truth. When you talk about issues of children,
understand, Republican budget threw 27 million people off of health care, including many
children, at a time when many families cannot afford to send their kids to college. And
I am running on a program, by the way, that says every public college and university in
America should be tuition-free! But at a time when families cannot afford to send their
kids to college, Republican budget cut $90 billion in Pell Grants over a 10-year period.
At a time when children in America are going hungry, Republican budget cut billions of
dollars in nutrition programs, including money for the WIC program which goes to low income
pregnant women, and their babies. And to add insult to injury in that budget, the Republicans
provided over $250 billion over a 10-year period in tax breaks to the top 2/10s of 1%.
I don’t think that is a moral budget.>>NASSER: I’m not – I don’t pretend to be
an expert on budgets but I think a lot of us would be very interested in our government
budgeting for Planned Parenthood. I think a lot of us would be very interested in looking
at those budgets, and I think they’d get a lot more complex because, well we are in for
just one more question here sir, for one last question of religious freedom. A lot of our
questions from our students who are really, I think um, who are just very peppered with
concern and broken-heartedness when they see the world around them. I think this is where
I genuinely sense in you, you’re a lot like a father figure. When you watch…>>SANDERS: A Grandfather figure, I get older
every day…>>NASSER: … and I sense that same concern
in your heart as we would have, but here’s the question in that frame, “We’re watching
on the news a refugee crisis in Syria, and religious minorities facing persecution in
the Middle East. How do you feel the United States should respond?” How do you feel, do
you feel that as the United States that we should be obligated, more than we even are
now, in responding and that there would be a stewardship of responsibility on the greatest
nation in the world, to step in even at a greater level than in those kind of…>>SANDERS: Well obviously, David, the answer
is yes, but I don’t know quite what the word “step in” means. If the question is, do
we have a moral responsibility, not just alone, but to work with Europe, and by the way to
work with some of these very, very wealthy gulf region countries like Saudi Arabia, very,
very United Arab, Kuwait, to help stem this human tragedy which all of us are seeing.
Can you imagine people leaving their homes in Syria or Iraq with simply the clothes on
their back, dragging their kids with them? Do we have a moral responsibility to work
with the rest of the world in providing help, bringing some of those people into this country?
The answer is absolutely yes. Absolutely, yes. But, this is where it gets tricky. That’s
in a sense, the reasonably easy response. We should do that. Here’s where it becomes
hard. All of you know that the Middle East and other parts of the world are a real quagmire;
we’re living in a pretty crazy and dangerous world. We see horror stories every single
day of ISIS and people doing barbaric things, we all know that. This is where it really
gets tough. I voted against the war in Iraq. And I voted against that war because I worried
very much – and if you read what I wrote at that time, you’d find what I’m telling is
the truth, about the instability and destabilization that that would bring about. So the question
of US military force, you know, becomes part of this discussion, and let me just say this.
I am the former chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Veteran’s Affairs. And
I hope that all of us can agree on that we are going to provide all of the healthcare
and benefits that our veterans need.>>NASSER: We have to take care of our own,
absolutely.>>SANDERS: But the cost of war, David, is
something that is far greater, I fear, than most people know. And before we go off to
war, we have got to make certain that we have explored every other possible option. People
may not know this, but as the former chairman, I do. In Iraq, and Afghanistan we lost 6,700
brave men and women. Many came home without legs and arms and eyesight. Five hundred thousand
of them came home with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury. Their
lives have been totally disrupted. Families have been separated; children have suffered.
A great nation like the United States of America with the most powerful military on earth,
in my view, should use every possible opportunity to resolve international conflict without
going to war. War should be the last resort.>>NASSER: Senator this is uh, it’s just been
an honor sir to have you with us. We on occasion have the opportunity to have questions and
answers with some of our guests, and the one thing that we always end with is the very
last question of how can we, and it’s not just a statement, we – I really believe that
our students are wanting to know, how can we lean in here, how can we, we know that
you were in North Carolina last night, you’re going to be Manassas this afternoon. You continue
to go from place to place, just meeting your staff that are just incredibly hard working
people in this very fast pace where you and your wife are on the campaign trail with grandkids
and uh, you’re the liveliest 73-year-old I’ve ever met sir, and I uh, how can we, how can
we pray for you and your family? How can we be thinking of you? What can we, when we think
of you and we see you on TV, what can we say, Bernie Sanders asked us to pray for him, he
asked us to, what can we?>>SANDERS: David, thank you very much for
that thought. I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. But this is what I would like
prayers to be for: Not just for me, but far more significantly are prayers for our country,
prayers for how we bring our people together, prayers for how we can create in the wealthiest
country in the history of the world, a beautiful country – a country where all people have
health care, where all kids who have the ability can go to college, where we have wiped out
childhood poverty – those are the prayers that I want to join with you in making.>>NASSER: Let’s do that. Let’s do that now.
Let’s pray together. Can we do that? Father we thank you for, the fact that, God, you
own the cattle on a thousand hills. That you are the great provider, Father. In this very
moment we come to you as the God of this universe, God, who is able to provide. And we pray,
God, that your provisions would flow down for all people, all races, all nations. We
thank you that, Lord, where morality stops short, spirituality can go further, and so
we lean in on you. We thank you where government fails, God, that your kingdom prevails. We
pray, Father, for a greater nation. We thank you that we already are blessed by you, God,
but we pray for justice and compassion and mercy to be the greatest thing that we’re
known for, as a nation. That our power be known, as a power that is spent, Father, for
the least of these. We love you, Lord. Thank you for this opportunity to come together.
I thank you for this man. I pray for his family. I pray for his team; give them sustainable
pace God as they’re on the road, I pray that, Father in this very moment that he would know
that he has made friends today. That he has come into an environment where people show
grace, show appreciation and show humility, Father. And that also, gratitude is in our
hearts, that he would take the time out of his schedule to come so just bless him in
this season. All of God’s people said, amen. Can we thank our Senator, just for being here?