By James A. Kidney
Well, that didn’t take long.
Sen. Bernie Sanders announced his presidential candidacy last April and was given zero chance of meaningfully challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Hillary, the pundits and professional campaign advisers claimed, was unbeatable. Sen. Elizabeth Warren was so convinced of this that she declined to run, despite having far more popular support as the anti-Wall Street candidate than the universally-referenced-as-rumpled Senator Sanders.
Less than nine months later, however, Sen. Sanders leads the “unbeatable” Clinton in several respected polls of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. As was the case for the Republican Establishment when Donald Trump showed real staying power, the Democratic Establishment is showing its surprise and fear by trashing Senator Sanders at every turn.
The Washington Post, operation central for conventional political thinking, printed an editorial Wednesday headlined “Mr. Sanders needs to come clean about the funding for his health-care plan.” It began by calling Sanders’ plan “sketchy” and stating that “Mr. Sanders is not up to the challenge” of proving “he has learned from socialism’s mixed history abroad and devised an updated version [of a health care plan] that will work in the United States.” The editorial then proceeded to attack the numbers the Sanders campaign supplied in an analysis by a University of Massachusetts economist.
Another, more liberal beacon of the Democratic Party establishment, The New Yorker, went on the attack Tuesday, complaining that the professor’s analysis “consists of just a couple of pages. Considering that Sanders wishes to bring about nothing less than a complete transformation of the U.S. health-care system, that seems a tad skimpy.”
A conservative columnist in The Chicago Tribune, which no longer has the chutzpah to call itself “The World’s Greatest Newspaper,” also chimed in on Wednesday under a headline “Bernie Sanders’ health care plan loaded with fiction.” The columnist wrote that Sanders’ plan “rests on an old and thoroughly conventional formula: Promise voters that they will get more and better health care without paying for it.”
Fair enough. Sanders entered the ring and has to take his punches.
But there are a few points to make, nevertheless.
First, while the pile-on follows release of the two-page analysis, and is thus timely, it also coincides with the aforementioned exposure of Secretary Clinton as at least somewhat vulnerable to the Sanders candidacy. Combined with the sudden criticism of their colleague by several senators, such as Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill, it is hard to escape the feeling that the Establishment is running a bit scared and adopting the Clinton tactic of trying to scare the hell out of voters. Remember, Clinton and her daughter suggested last week that Sanders is working with Republicans to kill the Affordable Care Act by proposing single payer care. That is the point at which rational discourse is sacrificed to running scared.
Second, Sanders produced a two-page analysis and a press release. That really is a lot of detail in the middle of a political campaign. After all, unless the Congress turns Democrat, which no one in either Establishment or anyone else is predicting, the plans of both Clinton and Sanders are unlikely to be more than proposals from which might come a handful of much less ambitious legislation, if that. The single payer health plan is not so much a realistic statement of what a Sanders presidency can produce, but the sound of leadership. It is a call to remind Americans that, if the voters want them, there are alternatives to the Wall Street/Insurance Company/Big Pharma way of addressing our health care.
Pouncing on Sanders about the details is not unfair – he put them in play – but it does seem to be an old political/media trick: Complain about lack of “details”, pushing a candidate to put a little flesh on the wonkish bones of a suggestion, then jumping on those details. It is a great way to get grist for a column when most political developments are old news pending a first vote. At least credit Sanders with recognizing the pressing needs of the nation and presenting starter ideas for addressing them beyond the tired old mantras of both political parties.
Third, where is the attack on Clinton’s plans? They are at least equally skimpy – full of goals with little about how to achieve them. In fact, she generally offers much less detail in terms of actual dollars and cents than does Sanders in his health proposal. Just look at a few of her “proposals” found at her campaign web site.
Under the heading “Affordable health care is a basic human right” (sounds like Bernie) are a handful of health care bromides, such as lowering copays, reducing prescription drug costs and expanding access by rural Americans to health care. Nowhere does the Clinton campaign explain how these advances would be paid for or who would pay for them. Her proposals make Sanders’ two-page analysis of his plan look like War and Peace.
Clinton also offers “A plan to raise American incomes” that is equally vacant in terms of how that will happen in a Clinton presidency. She offers the standard phraseology of the Democratic Establishment: “Hillary will invest in infrastructure, clean energy, and scientific and medical research to create jobs and strengthen our economy.” Clinton offers tax cuts for “hard-working families” and relief from child care, health care and college costs. Her website does not mention that Clinton views families making up to $250,000 annually (that’s a quarter of a million, folks) as immune from tax increases to pay for these promises. She never talks about a tax increase on the wealthy, except by ending the “carried interest” loophole provided a few hundred hedge fund managers and “enacting the ‘Buffet Rule’ that ensures that no millionaire pays a lower effective tax rate than their secretary.” That last point is very daring – remove loopholes to insure a CEO making millions pays the same rate as his secretary making thousands.
Sanders talks about big tax increases on the Kings and Queens of Wall Street and the Corporatocracy to help the country avoid becoming a nation of serfs. The Democratic and Republican Establishments pooh-pooh such proposals as socialism, communism, or just plain anarchy, ignoring that many Americans find they carry the cold logic of Willie Sutton: Go where the money is.
My point here is not to trash Clinton. She, like Sanders, is obliged to do no more in a campaign than present aspirations, policies and slogans that allow voters to place her on the political spectrum. After all, other people will handle the details if either is elected. It certainly is fair for those who write for Establishment publications, or any publications, and other politicians to state their views.
But one hopes that, at least, the “Responsible Media” would apply the same standards to all candidates in assessing their policy proposals. Everyone involved in the process also should recognize that strong leadership – a rarity in itself — sometimes means providing the voters with aspirations they can at least move towards, even if they are unlikely to prevail in a Washington that shows no signs of loosening in its tight grip on the status quo.