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Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders

Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders

By Rachel Maddow Show - August 13, 2009

RACHEL MADDOW: Joining us now is Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont. He's a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee.Senator Sanders, thanks very much for coming back on the show tonight.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: My pleasure.

MADDOW: I know that you have two town hall events scheduled for this weekend. In watching some of the events that have unfolded, some - way events unfolded around the country over the last couple of weeks with your Senate colleagues, what are you preparing yourself for?

SANDERS: Well, I think for months those - little differently than other places around the country. I have done hundreds and hundreds of town hall meetings from one end of the state to the other. And frankly, up until now, we've had zero problems.

In this state, at least, people listen to other people. If they disagree with them, they are polite about it. And we engage in serious discussion. And we expect, fully expect, that that's exactly what will take place this Saturday. There will be large turnout that I suspect the dialogue will be respectful.

What concerns me very much about the whole business, Rachel - I think you did a great job analyzing the whole process - is that deflects attention away from the real healthcare crisis this country is facing.

The question we should be talking about is not the end-of-life phony discussion of Rush Limbaugh, et cetera. What we should be talking about is how it can be that this nation spends almost twice as much per capita on health care as any other nation and yet we have 46 million people uninsured, more underinsured.

18,000 people a year are dying because they don't go to a doctor when they should. And our health care outcomes are behind many other countries. That's the kind of debate that we should be having. Not the issue of, does Barack Obama want to kill off the old people or the disabled? That is insane.

And what we have got to do is put forward a progressive health care plan. We have got to rally our base, the people who don't have health insurance, the small business people who can't afford health insurance for their workers and American people who know that there is something wrong when our system is so far behind many other countries.

MADDOW: If it is harder to rile people with hope than it is to rile them with fear, it may be hard go sort of base versus base, activist versus activist. Honestly, shouting person versus shouting person at some of these events and in terms of competition for the overall narrative around health care.

Do you think that the people who are saying - who are promoting these myth, that the president does want to kill old people, all of these crazy things about health care reform - do you think that they should just be ignored? Is it worth debunking them or mocking them?

SANDERS: Oh, no. I think what you are doing and all of us have to do - we have to call a lie a lie and they lie a whole lot of times. And we have to hold the Republican Party and the officials who support these lies accountable.

But that's not enough. What we need to do is do what Obama did during his very brilliant campaign, and that is rally tens of millions of people to stand up and say that health care is the civil rights issue of the moment, that it is not acceptable that 1 million people a year, this year, are going to go bankrupt because of medically-related costs.

We need to do grass roots organizing. I'll tell you what else we need to do. We need to understand that it is very, very hard for the president or anybody else to take on, not just the Republican Party - that's the easy part - to take on all of right-wing talk radio which covers 90 percent of talk show hosts, a whole FOX Network which is nothing more than an arm of the Republican Party.

And the Democrats got to think long term. Why is there not a progressive television network? Why aren't we supporting good and effective personalities on radio as well as building up the network there, so that we can have that kind of political consciousness-raising that the Republicans, in fact, are doing so well now?

MADDOW: Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont, thank you very much for your time tonight, sir. Good luck with your town hall meetings this weekend.

SANDERS: Thank you, Rachel.

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