Speaking at Liberty University Monday, self-proclaimed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) declared that the United States was founded on “racist principles,” among other statements about the lack of justice and morality regarding income inequality.
Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, took questions following his address at the conservative Christian college, including one on healing racial divisions.
“A nation that in many ways was created — 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,” Sanders answered. “My guess is that probably not everybody here is an admirer or voted for Barack Obama. But the truth is, in 2008, this country took a huge step forward in voting for a candidate based on his ideas and not the color of his skin.”
Still, noting recent police shootings and the church hooting in South Carolina, Sanders said problems still exist.
“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,” Sanders said.
Sanders is trailing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in most national polls of Democratic presidential candidates, but he has pulled ahead of Clinton in the critical early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, recent statewide surveys show.
Liberty University — where conservative Texas Sen. Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination earlier this year — seemed an unusual venue for Sanders, an avowed socialist. But many of his comments gained sizable applause from the audience, most notably his call for civil discourse among those who disagree.
"The views that many at Liberty University have and I have, 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," Sanders said to some scattered applause, but no audible disapproval. "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." It was that line that was greeted enthusiastically by the conservative-leaning crowd.
Sanders went on to reiterate his campaign theme that America is not a just society.
“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,” Sanders said. “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?”
“In the last two years, the top 15 percent saw their wealth increase by $170 billion and 45 million Americans live in poverty,” Sanders added. “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.”
As evidence of his point that the country has the resources to have the government "provide" for all Americans, Sanders pointed to crowded prisons: “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 is wrong.”