Sen. Bernie Sanders pointed to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's evolution on various policy issues, suggesting Sunday his “consistency” was an asset against her in the Democratic presidential primary.
Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sanders listed a number of progressive stances he had held from the start, that Clinton only recently came around to — opposition to the Keystone Pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, in particular.
Voters will have to “contrast my consistency and my willingness to stand up to Wall Street and corporations, big corporations, with the secretary,” he said.
Sanders also he embraced a title that could come to haunt him in the primary, telling host Chuck Todd that “no,” he’s not a capitalist but rather he identifies himself as a “Democratic Socialist.”
“But what I mean is, I've been elected as an Independent throughout my political career. I am running now in the Democratic nomination process,” he said.
Though he dismissed the initial question about his economic philosophy, Sanders — who represents Vermont in the Senate as an Independent — held up two socialist countries as examples.
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He said the U.S. can look to Denmark and Sweden — “where health care is a right and virtually free to all people, public college education is free” and workers make better wages — for “guidance.”
During the interview, Sanders also sought to draw clear distinctions between himself and President Barack Obama.
Sanders criticized Obamacare, the state of Syria and Obama's willingness to negotiate with House Republicans.
The presidential hopeful said “we can do a little better than Obamacare,” suggesting he’d “build on” the law by offering Medicare for all Americans.
On foreign policy, Sanders said that the administration’s strategy of arming and training moderate Syrian rebels — which the Pentagon recently suspended — “failed” and called Syria a "quagmire inside of a quagmire."
Sanders said Obama had tried to “thread a very, very difficult needle,” which was to avoid going into combat in Syria — a point on which he said he agreed with the president. But Sanders opposed the president’s request to use military force against ISIS and told “Meet the Press” he’d take a less interventionist approach to battling the group.
“Saudi Arabia and the other countries in the region have got to get their hands dirty, their troops on the ground. I believe we should pay a supportive role, very supportive, but I want to see them, the Muslim regions, lead the effort,” he said.
Sanders also suggested that understands the need for the revolution on the stump better than Obama and would be better-equipped to execute it.
“Here is the difference in political outlook between the president and myself: What I understand is that the power of corporate America, Wall Street, the corporate, the media is so great that real change to transform our country does not take place unless millions of people begin to stand up and say very loudly and clearly that the United States government has got to represent all of us, and not just the top 1 percent,” he said.
Still, Sanders acknowledged limits to the presidency.
“Now, do I think the Republican speaker of the House will agree with me? No, I don't think so,” Sanders said.
He suggested, though, he can overcome that by using the bully pulpit to galvanize voters.
Sanders said he's learned two lessons from Obama’s interactions with House Republicans. One is that Obama “actually thought that he could sit down the the Republican leadership" and hammer out some agreements — but “they never had any intention to compromise.”
And the second was that “you have to be prepared to mobilize people to take on these big money interests.” Sanders says his campaign, because of its groundswell of grassroots support, can become the movement to force policy change that President Obama never enjoyed during his time in office.
“I think we can do it. And I think that's what the bully pulpit is about. And that's what organizing effort's about. And that's what this campaign is about,” he said.