Some wonder if NPR is altering its left-wing tilt while it’s in the middle of a budget fight in Congress. For evidence that nothing’s changed, see Thursday’s Diane Rehm show, starring socialist Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont. Rehm touted his latest book, The Speech (published by the radical Nation magazine’s Nation Books), taken from a "historic" Sanders eight-hour filibuster/jeremiad on the Senate floor against last December’s deal extending the Bush tax cuts.
Rehm began: "Thank you. Before we begin to talk about the speech, tell me your thoughts on what is happening in Libya. We now have CIA people on the ground. It strikes me that that is precisely how Vietnam began." From there, she actually insisted to Sanders that public broadcasting has socialist impulses in questioning America’s unequal distribution of wealth:
REHM: You’re saying the networks aren't talking about this at all.
SANDERS: No, come on. I mean, the -- how often when you turn on -- now, let's exclude Fox, which is the Republican network, but go to the other three major networks, and even go to public broadcasting. How often do we have serious discussions about the fact that the United States has the most unequal distribution of wealth and income in the industrialized world? We have the highest rate of childhood poverty. We have more and more billionaires while the middle class sinks. You tell me. You follow the media. Is that an issue that is widely discussed?
REHM: All I can tell you is that on public radio, I hear a fair amount of that. On public television, on Jim Lehrer's program, I hear a fair amount of that. But certainly, I'm glad you're here. You're reaching millions of people in this country and around the world. And it is important to talk about, but I'm happy to know that the Twitter population was very much at work. But what about your peers? What about the other people in the Senate? What about your other legislatures? Did they simply not want to listen?
SANDERS: Well, it's not a question of not listening. Everybody listens to everybody but, you know, that question is best addressed to other people. But the listeners will have to decide how many people in the United States Congress -- and there are some, believe me, I don't want to suggest for one moment I'm the only one -- how many people in the Congress are talking about the growing income and wealth inequality in America.
Rehm shared with Sanders a despair that corporations are somehow running the country, and FDR-style interventionism isn't in vogue:
REHM: How did we get here? You know, over and over, I hear from corporate representatives our priority is the shareholder. Our priority is, as a corporation, to make money and to be responsive to our shareholders. How did we get from the new deal when FDR put in place, so many programs to help the elderly, to help the poor and onward, and now here we are?
SANDERS: Well, what we have seen, for a lot of reasons, is a very significant drift to the right. And whereas years ago we used to have in this country a center left party, which was called the Democratic Party. Never particularly a very progressive party, but it was a center left party who saw as their mission the need to protect the working class of this country, lower income people....So you had the Democrat Party evolve from a center left party to a center party. You have the Republican Party going from a center right party to a rather extreme right party.
Let me throw out something, which I think is hysterically funny. When you read the papers today you see John Boehner is at war with the conservatives of his party, right? What is John Boehner? John was on this show. John -- I know John. John is a conservative, but the media can't even define who the right wing of the Republican Party is. They're rightwing extremists, that's what they are but we can't even say that. So Boehner, Mitch McConnell are proud conservatives, they were on this show. They would say, of course we're conservatives. But they're more moderate than the rightwing. So you have a Republican Party which has now become extreme right.
On the same front, Rehm asked: "President Obama campaigned very passionately for the middle class, for people – ordinary people – in this country. What's happened?"
Sanders replied: "I don't want to speculate about President Obama. I think what I can tell you is the caller who just called a moment ago – there are a lot of people who are extremely disappointed. Who want to see this brilliant president, this articulate president, this guy who ran one of the most inspiring campaigns of our lifetimes go back to where he was and stand up and explain to the American people what is happening and be prepared to take on those powerful forces right now – who have so much power – whose greed, in my view, is destroying this country. Is he doing it? No, he's not. So I think you're hearing a lot of disappointment out there but I can't speak for the president. I don't know why he is doing what he's doing but I'm not happy with it."
Rehm was clearly happy with Sanders. WAMU here in Washington scheduled the Sanders interview for a rebroadcast on Sunday afternoon.