Fox News is, to put it mildly, not known for indulging progressive politics – but the rightwing news channel gave it a go on Monday, when Bernie Sanders appeared in a debate on the network’s sister channel, Fox Nation.
Sanders, the Vermont senator, democratic socialist and two-time presidential candidate, took on Lindsey Graham, his Republican Senate colleague from South Carolina.
Sanders gave an unfettered breakdown of Medicare for all, or a national public healthcare system, a living wage, and increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
For Fox viewers it was a rare opportunity to hear a different perspective on policies which are regularly demonized by rightwingers Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, Fox News’ two most watched hosts.
For Sanders, it was a chance to reach a new audience, and he wasted no time before diving into a signature issue – universal healthcare.
“In the United States, Lindsey, we spend twice as much per capita on healthcare compared to the people of any other country, while major countries like Canada, the UK, Germany manage to supply healthcare to all their people,” Sanders said.
“Why is that?” he continued. “Because they’re not having insurance companies ripping off the system.”
Several polls have shown that a majority of Americans support Medicare for all, despite the Republican refrain that much of the US public is thrilled with their private health insurance.
“The real question is what the American people want. And you know what the American people do want? They do want Medicare for all,” Sanders said.
Medicare is the US government’s national healthcare system for seniors, and progressives want to expand its coverage to all and abolish private health insurance.
“You talk about the joys and beauties of private insurance. Talk to the millions of workers who lost their private insurance during Covid,” Sanders said to Graham.
Graham ran for the Republican nomination for president against Donald Trump in 2016 and was a sharp critic of Trump’s – then became one of his most ardent defenders, although the relationship between the pair has since soured.
He accused Sanders of being out of touch.
“America deserves better than this. We can do better than this but the path charted by Senator Sanders is full-on socialism,” Graham said, after a conversation about gas prices and rising inflation.
“And it’s not going to fix America. We are not a socialist nation. There is a better way, I promise you this.”
Graham did not give specifics on his better way.
“If I’m chairman of any committee, hopefully the budget committee, I’ll sit down with Democrats and Republicans and find a way to fix our national debt,” he said.
After being criticized by Graham for being a “socialist”, Sanders leaned into the political philosophy and offered an ardent defense.
“Do you think raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is socialistic? Do you think doing what every major country does – guaranteeing healthcare to all people – is socialistic? Do you think expanding Medicare to cover dental care is socialistic?” Sanders said.
Sanders had previously appeared on Fox News for a “town hall” style event during his 2020 presidential campaign. That time, to the surprise of many, he was applauded by the Fox News live audience several times as he explained some of his progressive policy ideas.
Monday’s debate came after a bipartisan group of senators announced they had come to a tentative agreement over minor potential gun control measures.
A plan announced by Chris Murphy, a Democrat, and John Cornyn, a Republican, and supported by at least 10 Republican senators, would increase funding for school safety and mental health programs, and expand background checks for gun buyers under 21.
The bill would not, however, ban assault-style weapons or even raise the age limit to buy them – something advocates for greater gun control insist is necessary.
During the debate Sanders gave his tentative support to the legislation, but said it did not go far enough. It is time, Sanders said, for Congress to “stand up to the power of the NRA and pass real gun reform legislation”.
“I come from a rural state. And you know, most people do not use AR-15s to hunt deer. These are weapons, military-type weapons, designed to kill people as quickly as possible,” Sanders said.
“And as a nation we have to decide whether it is appropriate to do what virtually no other major country does: allow somebody to walk into a gun store and buy one of these weapons.”
Graham said he had taken a different lesson.
“You know, after New York, after Buffalo and after the shooting in Texas there’s a common thing: very disturbed people getting guns and doing terrible things with them,” Graham said.
Graham said he owns an AR15, adding: “If you ever have to defend yourself, maybe a double barrel shotgun at your house if everything breaks down and the mob’s coming, [is] not enough. We’re not going to ban assault weapons.”
Sanders and Graham unsurprisingly found little common ground, although they agreed change is required.
“You’ve got to get new people in Washington,” said Graham, who has been in Congress for more than 26 years.
Sanders offered a bigger vision.
“I think most people, frankly, will tell you what they tell me: that the Congress is way, way out of touch with the needs of the American people,” Sanders said, adding: “We have a corrupt political system dominated by wealthy campaign contributors.”