Vermont's 72-year-old junior senator told The Nation that he has begun meeting with political strategists, traveling to southern states and entertaining the logistics of a run for president in 2016.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a devotee of Eugene Debs, a socialist reformer who lost five bids for president at the turn of the last century, says he has nothing against Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic nominee, but he believes she will not adequately address climate change and fight for working Americans. Democrats, in his view, are too beholden to corporations and special interest groups to implement needed political reforms, in his view.
"I think what people are looking for is leadership that is prepared to take on the big money interests (to deliver that message)," Sanders told Nichols. "That's not what we're seeing, by and large, from most Democrats.
"We are living in the moment in American history where the problems facing the country, even if you do not include climate change, are more severe than at any time since the Great Depression. And if you throw in climate change, they are more severe," Sanders said.
Americans are increasingly becoming disenfranchised, he said, because Republicans and Democrats have not advocated for ordinary people.
"Most people now consider themselves to be 'independent,' whatever that may mean," Sanders said. "And the number of people who identify as Democrats or Republicans is at a historically low point."
Sanders has not yet begun to lay the groundwork for his "unconventional" presidential bid. For one thing, he hasn't decided whether to run as an independent or to attempt to cozy up with the Democrats. Nor has he raised any money. He says he will wait until after the 2014 congressional race to take those steps.
Because Sanders' term isn't up until 2018, could run for president while still holding his Senate seat.
Sanders says he is worried about the "Nader dilemma," i.e. any drag his run would have on Democratic candidates.
On the same day Sanders' interview with Nichols was published, Ralph Nader, the independent spoiler candidate in the 2000 presidential race with Republican George Bush and Democrat Al Gore, sent an excoriating letter to the senator about his performance in the Senate and his "unwillingness to network" with civic groups that would be sympathetic to his cause. For example, Nader insists that the restoration of the minimum wage to 1968 levels, adjusted for inflation ($10.80 per hour), would have been achieved sooner had Sanders been willing to work with other lawmakers to form a "core progressive force within the Senate."
"You are a Lone Ranger, unable even to form a core progressive force within the Senate," Nader wrote. "Without internal and external networking, there are no strategies to deploy, beyond speechifying, putting forward amendments that go nowhere and an occasional hearing where you incisively question witnesses."
Nader says Sanders' aloof approach to politics has been a problem from the start.
Sanders made his first political mark as the progressive mayor of Burlington in the 1980s. He won a seat in Congress in 1988 and was elected to the Senate in 2006.