Not feeling the Bern

I’ve seen this (way too) long anti-Bernie tirade shared in a few places (including a comment on the blog).  It’s not entirely fair to Bernie, and it could use some editing, but I did appreciate it’s extended take on one point I’ve written about– how Bernie is far too much like typical Republican politicians:

Here’s how it [the transformation from modest support to hatred towards Bernie] happened, with the warning that this post is not a comparative assessment of the two candidates or of their campaign platforms; I’m well aware that Sanders has strengths and Clinton has weaknesses, and I’m not trying to persuade anyone here to vote for her over him; what I’m trying to explain is how and why I have come to dislike him so — even though of course I’ll vote for him in the general (and even campaign for him) if I have to:

First, I researched. I went to his website, I went to yougov, I went to other sites examining his record to see how it squared up with his rhetoric. I tried to find unbiased articles assessing his tax policy, looking at how he would fund single payer (and what he meant by that) as well as “free college” and other promises he made. I looked at analyses on left-leaning blogs that have long advocated for universal health care to see what they thought, sites I respect and whose authors I have relied on for years for their basic objectivity within their admitted points of view. And I could find none who believed Sanders’ numbers added up.

When I saw that the estimates were based on the assumption that the U.S. economy would have an average growth at a 5% rate over his term, that was it for me. And the reason is this: when Jeb! announced he was running for President, he declared that his plan would result in a 4% economic growth rate — and the other GOP presidential contenders quickly followed suit. The Republican candidates’ claims that they “would” do this had been derided on all the same left-leaning blog sites I was now looking at to help assess Sanders. The 4% assertion had been dismissed as “magical thinking” — or in more straightforward terms, “pulled out of Bush’s ass.” There was no precedent for a sustained growth rate that high; commentators pointed out that Reagan had achieved 4% twice in eight years, and Bill Clinton, five times, but 4% growth four years running? Never happened — and that was in better economic environments. Sanders’ 5% number was even more magical than Jeb!’s. And so the entire basis of Sanders’ promises for (promises I wanted to believe) was a historically unprecedented assumption. [emphasis mine] You can’t base a radical re-imagination of the U.S. economy and the imposition of the largest tax increases in U.S. history on made-up numbers. Sanders was able to find a single economist to weigh in positively on his plan, but that analysis was ripped to shreds by most others, who showed that Sanders’ plan doesn’t add up on its own terms (estimates are something like a $1–2 trillion shortfall even at the 5% growth assumption). So I concluded that the backbone of Sanders’ plan is founded on, functionally, a lie.

If you want a multi-dimensional Bernie takedown, there’s lots more and plenty of additional good points.  But for me, it is Bernie’s willingness to adopt the Republican style of magical thinking that I find so particularly frustrating.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

3 Responses to Not feeling the Bern

  1. J. Palmer says:

    I can understand the frustration with a Democratic candidate who chooses to abandon the high-ground of realistic, data-driven policy proposals. However, considering the polarization of American politics and the gridlock of the federal government, I think a strong case could be made that sensible proposals (from either side of the aisle) have far less value today then they once had, and more idealistic (albeit unrealistic) proposals at least serve the purpose of inspiration and therefore accomplish something: setting a course for long-term objectives and providing a legitimate alternative to uncompromising conservative politics. Sensible proposals/bills that never see a vote only serve to disengage Americans with the democratic process.

  2. R. Jenrette says:

    But don’t we see in the current Republican campaign the result of promising more than you can deliver to your base? That’s what all that anger on the right that Trump has exploited so effectively is about.

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