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Editorial: The Bernie Boomlet: Sen. Sanders Ponders a Presidential Run

People run for president of the United States for all sorts of reasons, but they pretty much boil down to wanting to do something or wanting to be something.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who told The Nation magazine last week that he’s “prepared to run” in 2016, is definitely among the former: “I don’t wake up every morning, as some people here in Washington do, and say, ‘You know, I really have to be president of the United States. I was born to be president of the United States.’ . . . I don’t believe that I am the only person out there who can fight this fight, but I am certainly prepared to look seriously at that race.”

Despite that, he’s not modest in his ambitions: Sanders wants to do nothing less than to effect a political revolution. “It is not just single-payer health care, it’s not just aggressive action on climate change, it’s not just creating the millions of jobs that we need; it is literally empowering people to take control of their lives,” he told The Nation.

Yes, we know, it sounds quixotic. The notion that someone who describes himself as a democratic socialist could be elected president in a country where being labeled a liberal can be the political kiss of death appears absurd on the face of it. This is especially true when that politician is an independent who, although he caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, has harsh criticism for both parties.

But, as Sanders clearly recognizes, campaigns at all levels serve another function besides just getting elected, which is to educate voters about matters the candidate thinks are important. This is a role that the senator clearly relishes: He wants to talk about his long-held conviction that the nation’s economic and political life is controlled by wealthy interests and that their grip has to be broken if middle- and working-class families are to share equally in the fruits of American prosperity and democracy.

This, of course, is nothing new to readers in this part of the world. It’s a message they have been hearing for more than 40 years from Sanders. On the other hand, there’s no doubt it resonates: He was re-elected in 2012 with 71 percent of the vote, and there is no question that his populist appeal crosses party and ideological lines in Vermont.

How successful he would be in getting that message out nationally depends on a couple of things. One is whether he would run as a Democrat or an independent. Clearly this is something that he has thought about carefully, and he rehearsed the arguments for each in the Nation interview. We suspect that he would get more attention from the national news media if he were to run as a Democrat, setting up a conflict with Hillary Clinton, but in this day and age of social media, maybe he wouldn’t need them.

Sanders thinks the nation is ripe for political upheaval, on the grounds that unprecedented numbers of people are disgusted with and alienated from the political process. And it would be refreshing, and highly enjoyable, to hear a national candidate take on the plutocrats. If nothing else, it might at least demonstrate to those who mistake President Obama’s cautious moderation for radicalism that they actually haven’t seen anything yet.