Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., met face-to-face with Republican challenger Lawrence Zupan on Monday in what proved to be one of the most intense debates of the election season.
When the two U.S. Senate candidates met at noon in VPR’s studios, Zupan did not waste the opportunity to attack Sanders on his political philosophies, especially regarding socialism.
Tensions rose during an exchange about Sanders’ personal earnings from his recent book, “Our Revolution,” and peaked when Zupan argued that the incumbent senator’s core beliefs were un-American.
“Senator Sanders’ reinvention of the word revolution to describe post-Marxist ideas where government takes over everything and, in its infinite wisdom, redistributes to everybody else is not revolutionary at all — it’s regressionary,” Zupan said. “The United States of America has fed, housed, clothed, in freedom, more people than any other country in the history of the world.”
He added that “top-down government control” has caused “more lack, want, suffering, depression, stifling of the human spirit, and death than any other system in the history of the world,” and referred to the collapsed county of Venezuela as an example.
“This Venezuelan system is what Senator Sanders wants to bring to the shores of the blessed country of the United States of America,” Zupan said.
Sanders responded by distinguishing which examples of socialism represent his own vision.
“You are equating what I have to say with Venezuela, which is a failed economy,” Sanders replied. “Why don’t you equate it with what goes on in Denmark and Sweden, which provide health care to all people as a right, which provides free public education through medical school and graduate school, which has a tax system which is fair and progressive, which emphasizes environmental protection, [and] which has early childhood education which would be the envy of the world.”
Vermont’s junior senator especially rejected the insinuation from Zupan that he espouses the authoritarianism common to socialist nations past and present.
“So please do not give us this nonsense, Vermonters know me a little bit better than that. They know I do not believe in authoritarianism,” he said. “In fact, I am fighting right now and running around this country to oppose Republican efforts to suppress the vote, to make it harder for poor people or people of color to vote. I have spent my entire life trying to revitalize democracy.”
Zupan disputed that Denmark and Sweden are socialist countries, saying their fundamental economies are capitalists systems. He further said that they get their military support and medical technologies from the U.S.
Later on, Sanders attacked Zupan on the issue of abortion. He repeatedly asserted that Zupan must not support a women’s right to choose.
“Many of my conservative colleagues talk about getting the government off the backs of the people — they want to deregulate everything,” he said. “But when it comes to a woman’s right to control her own body, they think that big government and federal government should be right in there telling women in this country whether they can control their own body.”
Zupan didn’t explicitly lay out his views on abortion, but he did call it the law of the land and he added that he would fight to see that women get more equal representation in what he described as male-dominated medical research.
Sanders likewise was on the defense when Zupan pushed for him to say whether abortion is morally acceptable when the baby is halfway out of the mother’s body. Sanders did not answer.
On veterans issues, Zupan attacked Sanders for his lack of progress with the VA medical system while serving as chair of the United States Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
“When you were the chairman of the VA, you couldn’t even fix the system that was allowing veterans — 21 million people — to suffer and wait for 120 days on waiting-lines,” Zupan said. “And yet you want to design and control a system of health care for 326 million Americans when you’ve never even shown that you can design and control anything? I don’t know how you are gonna do it.”
Sanders was quick to defend his efforts: “Go out and talk to the veterans in the state of Vermont and all over this country and they will tell you that they are very supportive of the VA. And they are vigorously opposed to any effort on the part of the Trump Administration or anybody else to privatize the VA. I’m very proud I’ve added $5 billion more to make sure that the VA has the doctors and the nurses.”
When Sanders asked Zupan if he would cut social services, the challenger replied that instead he would push to eliminate $160 billion in fraud and abuse, which he said occurs with those programs each year.
On Twitter, Bernie fans and critics were going at it. One Bernie critic suggested he needs to do more debates.
— Bradford Broyles (@BackNineBrad) October 29, 2018
A Sanders supporter called the exchange “fireworks.”
— Julielyn (@julielyn) October 29, 2018