Mary Schwalm / Reuters
KEENE, New Hampshire — Bernie Sanders vowed once again not to change his campaign focus Saturday after a week that saw the political conversation shift to ISIS after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, weeks after the attack in Paris.
Sticking once again to his populist economic message in two speeches at New Hampshire universities, Sanders warned that the all-powerful "they" are using ISIS to distract voters away from America's systemic problems.
"As a nation and as a people, we have got to understand that our country faces a myriad of very serious problems... if you turn on the TV, what they now say is, 'Well we've got one problem, it's ISIS," Sanders said, launching into a sarcastic impression of the "they" on television this week.
"'We don't have to worry about old people not having enough to eat. We don't have to worry about having more people in jail than any other country. We don't have to worry about the disappearing middle class. We don't have to worry about economic and wealth inequality...we don't have to worry about institutional racism, or a broken criminal justice. We don't have to worry about that. All we should focus on now, 24/7, is ISIS,'" Sanders said.
"Here's what I say," he went on, "I say that ISIS must be destroyed and I say that we have got to build a coalition which destroys ISIS. But I say that we are a great enough country and a smart enough country that we can destroy ISIS at the same time as rebuild a disappearing middle class. We can do both."
The line was almost word-for-word what Sanders told voters in Cleveland last month after the attacks in Paris once again led to talk of ISIS on the presidential campaign trail.
His campaign schedule Saturday made good on the promise. In Keene he talked about ISIS for a few minutes at the end of his standard long stump speech about income equality, election spending, climate change, immigration, universal health care, criminal justice, marijuana decriminalization and the nation's "drift toward oligarchy."
Gun control, a major focus of Sanders' activities in the Senate last week, didn't get a mention in Keene. At Plymouth State University — the second stop of the two-stop day — Sanders did push for his standard gun control agenda, tying mention of San Bernardino into the larger conversation about gun violence. He also did the ISIS bit during the speech.
The section includes shaming Middle Eastern nations like Qatar and Saudi Arabia for not doing more to fight ISIS and vowing not to send large numbers of American troops into the conflict. Sanders has repeatedly warned against a quagmire in the Middle East and citied his own vote against the war in Iraq.
But it was clear ISIS — or gun control — is not going to be Sanders' rhetorical priorities after San Bernardino. The big news from Sanders' campaign Saturday was the opening rounds of a full-scale carbon emissions reduction policy plan rollout that will continue in the coming days. Sanders vowed to impose a carbon tax, reduce carbon emissions across the board by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.
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