Michael Stipe first heard about Bernie Sanders after the then-Vermont representative voted against the Patriot Act, shortly after 9/11. "I became aware of his 'outsider-insider' position in Congress," Stipe tells Rolling Stone in an email. "He's the senator who has consistently voted the way I would if I were a politician, and who has stood firm in his position and belief."
Stipe has since become a vociferous supporter for Sanders' presidential candidacy, releasing a brief video to Rolling Stone explaining his support. "In art and in music, I seek out and listen for honesty and realness," Stipe says in the clip. "That's why I'm backing Bernie Sanders for President of the United States. In politics, he is the person who is offering me the most honesty and the most realness."
The former R.E.M. frontman says his positions on civil rights and other social and political issues are nearly identical to Sanders'. "I'm a feminist. I've marched, supported and fought for black rights, privacy rights and LGBTQ rights. I'm deeply concerned about the environment. I'm completely freaked out by fracking," Stipe says. "Sanders takes positions on all of these issues that have [outshone] any other candidate that I've seen — and I have looked, believe me. I identify with him. I'm a proud liberal, but I also lean more center when it comes to policy. I get it that there are people who don't see things exactly the way I do.
"I've been around long enough to see when a politician is waffling or dodging hard questions, or trying to alter or rewrite the positions they have taken," adds the singer. "Sanders is refreshingly not that. Listen, politics is not easy, and America is so vast — there are lots of different viewpoints out there. It's refreshing to have a candidate who speaks his mind, who makes sense, who isn't demagogic. His appeal and his honesty — once people see who he is and what he stands for — is perfect for now. It's very 21st century. It is idealistic, but also realistic."
Last year, Stipe came out against politicians who used R.E.M.'s music without the band's authorization. After Donald Trump used the group's 1987 hit "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" to reinforce his thoughts on the effects of the Iran nuclear deal, Stipe commented, "Go fuck yourselves, the lot of you — you sad, attention-grabbing, power-hungry little men. Do not use our music or my voice for your moronic charade of a campaign."
"While we do not authorize or condone the use of our music at this political event, and do ask that these candidates cease and desist from doing so, let us remember that there are things of greater importance at stake here," the band wrote later that day. "The media and the American voter should focus on the bigger picture, and not allow grandstanding politicians to distract us from the pressing issues of the day and of the current Presidential campaign."
Stipe, a self-described "optimist" who has voted as a Democrat since he was 20, says traveling the world has allowed him to see how other countries view the United States — both positively and negatively. "I hope that Sanders would pull the moderate thinkers and left-leaning thinkers together and help restore some true version of democracy to our country [if he is elected]. We need clearer communication between ourselves as Americans. We are leaders, and we can be great if we stand together.
"Let's be unabashedly progressive in our approach," Stipe adds. "Who do we see ourselves as? What can we do to uplift our generation, to mark our time here, define our legacy? These are high ideals, I know. Sanders feels like the candidate who would inspire the best in us, but could also talk straight — and not in circles — about the very serious issues we need to tackle, at home and abroad."