Monday, April 18, 2016

The Bernie Sanders Agenda Is Not Realistic

(The cartoon image above is by David Fitzsimmons in the Arizona Daily Star.)

The following was written by Zachary Leven at There's a lot more, and it's worth reading, but I thought the following portion was especially important:

The first question to ask about Sanders — and this may seem like a strange thing one would need to ask about a candidate, but with him it’s necessary — is whether or not one should take his platform seriously. Even among his supporters, there is debate over whether or not these are real proposals, or if they’re more like a list of principles. But the latter interpretation is just that — an interpretation. Bernie Sanders tells us his platform is feasible, and that he fully intends to make his proposals a reality. If we’re to believe him, apparently he believes himself.
The proposal that’s getting the most attention is single payer, so let’s start there, as it is very, very, very ambitious. He intends to pay for it all through a series of tax increases. Sounds great. Tax the rich, free health care for everyone. Except that his math is off by anywhere from one trillion to three trillion dollars. The Sanders campaign disputes this, but their numbers are wildly optimistic. Perhaps even more importantly, Sanders doesn’t tell us what kind of single payer he’s talking about — the Canadian system, UK system, French system, or German system, all of which function differently. He doesn’t tell us if doctors’ salaries will be mandated by the government and by how much. He doesn’t tell us what will and won’t be covered, and who will be deciding that. In fact, Sanders health care plan isn’t a plan at all.
Sanders promises his health care system will cover pretty much everything while costing the average American almost nothing, and he relies mainly on vague “administrative” savings and massive taxes on the rich to make up the difference. It’s everything critics fear a single-payer plan would be, and it lacks the kind of engagement with the problems of single-payer health systems necessary to win over skeptics.
And it’s winning over the skeptics that really needs to be addressed here. It’s as if, after watching the political shitshow that transpired over a proposed “public option” under Obamacare, Sanders thought to himself, “We should try and pass something that’s a hundred thousand times larger.” It’s quite reasonable to wonder just how on earth he plans to make this happen. And this is where Bernie really shines.
The key element of Sanders’ campaign is the “millions of people” who will “rise up” and overthrow the Republican congress, replacing them with politicians who will vote for socialist legislation. Whenever Sanders is confronted with the difficulties of getting anything in his platform passed, this is always his response. The answer, he says, is “…to have millions of people rise up…”
Note the use of the verb “have.” We’ll just have that happen. Like, “We’ll have the maid pick up an extra quart of milk.”
We don’t need to ask just how many millions of voters would be required to make this dream a reality. We don’t need to consider what congressional districts to target. We don’t need to consult political scientists to gain a better understanding of why people vote and why people don’t vote. We don’t need to build new, or improve upon existing political infrastructures to facilitate this dramatic electoral transformation. We certainly don’t need to consult with the people in the Democratic party who have, for decades, been studying the makeup of the voting population across the nation, developing tools and strategies to reach people more effectively. Nope. None of that is necessary. All that’s necessary is for Bernie Sanders to become president. Once that happens it will be like Field of Dreams. Ghosts will wander from cornfields, ready to vote for single payer.
We’ll just have it happen.
This is the most depressing, and perhaps dangerous thing about Bernie Sanders. He is not a problem solver. Problem solving requires an honest, accurate understanding of reality and the challenges you face. And Sanders shows no interest whatsoever in acknowledging the complicated nature of our country. With him, all our problems, and the solutions to those problems can be fully expressed on a bumpersticker.
A couple of years ago, a psychologist named Gabriele Oettingen published a piece in the New York Times, in which she argued against the merits of “positive thinking.” Essentially, she defines positive thinking as “imagining you’re going to succeed.” I take some issue with the rhetoric here, because I wouldn’t define that as positive thinking at all. But whatever you call it, her studies concluded that people who engage in this sort of outlook are more likely to fail, and the reason is not surprising. Because true “positive thinking,” in my view, is not imagining that everything will work out, but rather, is having the faith in your resolve to overcome the obstacles. But to do that, you must understand the obstacles. Sanders clearly does not. He is the ultimate positive thinker as Oettingen defines it — one who just pictures it happening in his head, at which point that image overtakes reality. And I’m sorry to say this, but it’s a way of thinking that Sanders shares with Republicans. He even borrows a mathematical trick they use, claiming that his policies will be so awesome for everyone, they’ll vastly improve the economy, thus compensating for any deficiencies in funding — despite there being absolutely zero evidence that this is remotely true.
Now, a lot of Bernie supporters tell me they understand that none of his agenda will ever pass — they just like him better because he’s more progressive, and they want the most progressive person in the White House. I would say to those people that if Bernie also realizes his agenda is impossible, he’s egregiously misrepresenting himself for the purpose of earning votes, and that should trouble you. If he isn’t aware of this, well then he’s delusional, and that should be equally troubling.
I’m a strong believer in democratic socialism, but speaking of Orwell (who also, by the way, identified as a Democratic Socialist), this campaign is starting to look more like the kind of socialism we see in Nineteen Eighty-four. It doesn’t matter that what Sanders is telling us isn’t true. We should vote for him because he’s so truthful. It doesn’t matter that his math is off by at least a trillion dollars. His plans will still work, because 2+2=5. It doesn’t matter whether or not there really are millions and millions of voters out there ready to turn America into Sweden. They exist in our minds, therefore, they’re real. And Hillary Clinton — she is the enemy who must be hated.
As rightly intentioned as Bernie Sanders might be, his presidency could cause near fatal damage to the progressive cause. Should he bumble his way through Washington with nothing but rhetoric, fantasies, unworkable plans, and impossible promises, he could make a pathetic joke of everything we’re fighting for. The idea of democratic socialism will be solidified in the American consciousness as unworkable and foolish.
But if it’s possible for you to view Hillary Clinton through anything but the most cynical lens, consider that her platform is actually not that different from Sanders’ on the merits. She too wants universal health care — only she’s more flexible about how we attain it. She too wants to overturn Citizen’s United — and has a long and consistent record fighting for campaign finance reform. She too wants to raise the minimum wage — but to $12/hour, because she understands that Arkansas is not the same as California, and the $12 number is in keeping with what a lot of Democratic economists recommend. She too has an extensive plan for fighting climate change. She too wants to eliminate student debt. And unlike Bernie Sanders, she has quite more than just a passing interest in foreign policy.
Comparing these candidates, we see two very progressive politicians — but one has a wealth of experience and a firm grasp on reality; the other doesn’t. It’s not a hard choice. The question then becomes a matter of how serious you are about actually advancing the progressive cause.
And it’s also a question of whether or not you’re willing to let go of the story you’re telling yourself about Clinton — if you’re willing to try telling yourself a different story, and see if it fits. If you’re willing to accept that not only is she human, but that you are human as well, and not immune to suffering from wild misunderstandings and inaccurate interpretations.
There is a lot more to discuss here — including the problems I have with the Clinton administration in the 1990’s, an honest examination of Hillary’s flaws and mistakes, as well as a consideration of elements about Bernie that I prefer. And I would love to discuss our overinflated notions of the power of the presidency, and our unrealistic need for superhero leaders to save us from ourselves. It would take a book to cover everything. But as much as I relate to Sanders’ passion and the general values behind his candidacy, he is simply not a serious person offering serious solutions. And I cannot have such a person carrying the mantle of the progressive cause. Is Hillary Clinton my fantasy candidate? I’d be happier with a third Obama term, frankly. But she’s hardly any different than he is politically, and there’s no (non-hysterical, rational) reason to expect much different from her than what we had with Obama. From a purely political perspective, and I’m sorry for saying this, her greatest flaw may be that she’s more interested in making government work than she is in making liberals applaud.


  1. That "millions will rise up" reminds me too much of the "silent majority," and I suspect it may be just as inaccurate.

  2. I might be slightly more willing to believe in those 'millions,' if they had shown up at any of the early primaries and increased the tur-out substantially, implying that Hillary was still getting the vote that was expected, but that Bernie's 'new voters' simply overwhelmed her. Instead, Bernie got a large share of a diminished electorate, meaning the usual new college kids and a substantial number of people he turned off Hillary.
    There WAS an army of working class voters who ordinarily wouldn't vote who came to the polls ... and walked right past the Bernie booth, wearing their red hats. But the 'new' Democrats were just the same group of young voters who always turn 18 at the right time and usually vote to the extremes. (In 68, a lot went for Eugene McCarthy -- but even more went for Wallace in the first 18-year old voting election. But then, the new Progressive womn voters went overwhelmingly for Harding.)
    By the way, I have no problem with any politician trying to convince voters to switch allegiance, that's what politics is about. If Bernie had stuck to the original 'we have two -- or three when O'Malley was running -- very good candidates, but I'm the best' no one would have ever compaigned about him. It's the lies he -- and not just his supporters -- have told about her that gets me so angry.


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