Bernie Sanders answers Georgetown questions in historic Gaston speech

‘Right here, on college campuses all over this country, we are beginning to see that fight back’

This afternoon, Bernie Sanders addressed a room of raucous Georgetown students, faculty, and administrators to discuss his perspective on democratic socialism, among other political topics and issues.

Following his speech, the Senator sat down with the GU Politics Executive Director, Mo Elleithee. At the beginning of the Q&A session, Mo said: “I’m not editing any of these questions, I’m going to group some of them together though, where they are on a common theme.”

Mo put the questions into five separate themes: democratic socialism, college tuition, response to ISIS and Syrian refugees, climate change, and “what next?”

Democratic socialism

A freshman from Brooklyn, asked: “Why do you choose to identify as a socialist when it seems in your platforms you are more in the middle of the spectrum between capitalism and socialism?”

A freshman from Paris in the School of Foreign Service, said: “In France, there is no problem with the word socialist, and considering myself a socialist, I feel like the culture and historical pressure pushes you to call yourself a democratic socialist, though I can’t see the difference between the two.”

Bernie said: “I think the reason that I have always, throughout my political career going way back to when I was mayor of Burlington, defined myself as a democratic socialist, is that that in fact is my vision.

“And my vision is not just making modest changes around the edge – it is transforming American society, to make it into a much more vibrant democracy, and an economy which works much, much better for working families.

“And by the word socialism what is implicit in that to mean, is that it is imperative if we are serious about change – and a lot of people want change – but at the end of the day, real change does not take place unless we have the courage to take on the very powerful special interests that control our country.

“I think at the end of the day what we have got to recognize is not just that we are experiencing mass income and wealth inequality, or a declining middle class, but that a small number of people have extraordinary power. And if we are not prepared to take them on, and to tell them they cannot run the government for their own interests, the real change that many of us want will never take place.

“So when I use the word socialist, I say that it is imperative that we create a political revolution that millions of people get involved in the political process and that we create a government that works for all and not just the few.”

Cost of college tuition

A freshman from Albuquerque asked: “Under your plan to reduce the cost of college, will the tax on Wall Street speculation be sufficient to cover the cost of the plan?”

A freshman in the business school from Tallahassee added: “As many of us know, one of your main policies is to make all public universities tuition free. In the United States, many of the greatest universities are private universities, so how do you plan to combat the high prices of private universities?”

Bernie responded: “For a start, the answer to the first question is yes. The legislation I’ve introduced does a number of things. It makes public colleges and universities tuition-free. It also addresses the very significant crisis in this nation of millions of people paying very high interest rates on their student debt. And I suspect some of you will be graduating here deeply in debt.

“It is a little bit crazy that today you have many people out there paying interest rates on their student debt of six, eight, ten percent – when we can refinance our homes at three or four percent. So what our legislation does is allow people the ability and the freedom to do the lowest possible interest rates on their debt that they can get, and that will save people all over this country collectively many, many billions of dollars.

“So if you add those two features together – free tuition and public colleges, and substantially lowering interest rates on student debt, it is an expensive proposition. It costs about $70 billion a year. And yes, it can be paid for by a tax on Wall Street speculation.

“Second point about private universities – of course, we know Georgetown, and many other private universities do an extraordinary job and we’re all proud of the quality of education they provide. Our legislation includes substantially increasing Pell Grants to make sure that working-class and lower-income families, middle-class families, can get the help they need if they choose to send their kids here to Georgetown, or Harvard, or any other place else. We also significantly increase student work programs, so that universities can have funds available to employ students on campus.

Your point is well taken, our legislation also makes private universities and colleges less expensive.

How do we get this done?

A sophomore in the School of Foreign Service asked: “With a Republican majority in both Houses, would you be willing to compromise some of your ideals to get some of your most important ideals passed?

A freshman from San Francisco wrote: “How do you plan on implementing your social programs given the immense opposition in Congress?”

He answered: “[The] more important point is why is Congress so far out of touch with where the American people are in?

“So when I talk about the political revolution, when I talk about transforming American politics, is bringing in the voices of millions and millions of people who have given up on the political process, to have their views and their needs viewed by Congress.

“When that happens, everything that I talked about will be passed. If that does not happen, virtually nothing will be passed.

“So what this campaign is about, from my perspective, and I say this in every speech that I give – it’s not just electing Bernie Sanders to be President, though I would surely appreciate your support.

“But, very honestly, it is much more than that. Because no President, not Bernie Sanders, not anybody else, can implement the kinds of changes we need in this country, unless millions of people begin to stand up and fight back.

“And I think right here, on college campuses all over this country, we are beginning to see that fight back.

“We are beginning to see that movement develop, and I hope you will be part of that movement, because if you are, we can, in fact, transform this country.”

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