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Politics & Government

Ben And Jerry Of Ice Cream Fame Back Bernie Sanders

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

You know, look down the list of Bernie Sanders supporters and two names kind of stand out, Ben and Jerry. That's right, the ice cream guys. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have donated to the Sanders campaign and campaigned for the candidate, and they have come up with a Bernie Sanders flavor.

BEN COHEN: Bernie's Yearning is essentially mint chocolate chip ice cream. However, all the chips have somehow floated to the top.

GREENE: There's a metaphor here, I'm feeling.

COHEN: I think so. The huge chocolate disk at the top represents all the wealth that's gone to the top 1 percent. And the way you eat it is you take your soup spoon and you whack it into a bunch of little pieces, and then you mix it around and have a more equitable distribution of wealth.

GREENE: That is Ben Cohen. I spoke to him and Jerry Greenfield in their Burlington, Vt. office as they were passing a smartphone between them.

You guys are not paying as much attention to ice cream as you are politics right now. Is that right?

COHEN: Bernie is job one for us. You know, we're not operationally involved in the ice cream business anyhow.

GREENE: You've passed that on to others.

COHEN: Yeah, it's certainly been passed on.

GREENE: Well, tell me what you can tell us about Bernie Sanders. I mean, I know you guys have the Vermont connection, but why is he your guy?

COHEN: Well, you know, he's our guy 'cause we've been his constituents for over 30 years, you know? We've never campaigned for another presidential candidate before because there's never been a presidential candidate worth campaigning for before.

GREENE: That is a pretty bold statement. You honestly have never found another presidential candidate, going back through elections, where you felt the person was sort of telling the honest truth about what he or she felt?

COHEN: Yeah, that's absolutely correct. You know, now it's gotten to be kind of usual to talk about the 1 percent and the 99 percent, but, I mean, these are issues that Bernie's been talking about for over 30 years.

GREENE: Is Jerry next to you?

COHEN: Yeah.

GREENE: I'd really love to sort of get his...

COHEN: ...You want me to pass it over?

GREENE: Yeah, that'd be great.

COHEN: All right, here you go.

JERRY GREENFIELD: Hello, it's Jerry.

GREENE: Let me just ask you - I mean, Ben was saying that he has not found a politician, going back through all the years, who has actually told the truth, and that Bernie Sanders is the first one. Do you share that, you know, what sounds like a kind of dim view of American politics?

GREENFIELD: Oh, absolutely. Bernie is unique. He is a politician who comes along once in a generation. Obviously, Hillary Clinton was much better known, but I think what we're seeing is that when more people learn about Bernie - his history in the civil rights struggle, how involved he's been in worker issues - they're getting incredibly excited.

GREENE: You brought up civil rights and Bernie Sanders' civil rights record. John Lewis, you know, a pretty iconic civil rights activist, came out and criticized Sen. Sanders saying he doesn't remember ever working with him during the 1960s. How do you respond to that?

GREENFIELD: Well, I have a lot of respect for John Lewis. What I know is that Bernie has a lot of strong support among civil rights activists ranging from Ben Jealous, who's the former head of the NAACP, Spike Lee, Cornel West. There's a lot of support for Bernie in the African-American community.

GREENE: Could I get Ben back on the phone?

GREENFIELD: He's right here.

GREENE: Let me just ask about an issue that Bernie Sanders brought up a lot in the state of Michigan, and that's free trade. He was very critical of some free trade deals going back over the years. And I just wonder - as a successful business owner, do you recognize that free trade has really helped a lot of American entrepreneurs over the years?

COHEN: You know, I don't think that free trade has helped American entrepreneurs. Free trade has helped huge, multinational, billion-dollar businesses, but it sucks for the American worker.

GREENE: Could you see some people who know that the brand and the company you founded is owned by Unilever feeling like there's a little bit of hypocrisy here if they're one of the big companies that's benefited from free trade?

COHEN: I think Unilever is a company that benefits from free trade. Unilever may like it or not, (laughter) but I'm going to say what I believe.

GREENE: Can I get Jerry on the line for one last time?

GREENFIELD: You had enough of Ben, didn't you?

GREENE: No, I just want 100 percent honesty. How does Bernie's Yearning taste?

GREENFIELD: I've known Ben for 50 years and as far as I'm concerned, Bernie's Yearning is the pinnacle of Ben's work. And I do not say that lightly.

GREENE: Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen from Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. They are big supporters of Bernie Sanders, and we will hear from a congresswoman who backs Clinton elsewhere in the show this week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.