What Bernie Sanders stands for

I’m delighted to see the media taking the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign quasi-seriously, which is way better than my expectations. For example, this LA Times op-ed:

Let’s consider some of Sanders’ wild ideas:
– Free college tuition.
– A $1 trillion program to rebuild the nation’s roads and bridges.
– Break up giant financial institutions.
– Publicly funded elections.
– Higher taxes on the wealthy.
– Government-run healthcare.
[…] he will have done this country a great service if, through his blunt talk and grandfatherly presence, he gets more citizens to stop being distracted by scare stories and political labels and to start considering ideas on their merits. A 40-hour work week, a minimum wage and restrictions on child labor were once thought of as subversive, socialist doctrines, but they have turned out to be pretty good ideas for Americans — except maybe for the billionaires.

 
(NOTE: Each point is further elaborated and commented on in the full piece. I’ve just included the headers above.)

This 1989 Bernie Sanders interview on C-SPAN is incredibly compelling television, even at 40 minutes long:

Obviously I think he’s changed his mind on some things, procedurally at least. After all, he’s not running as an independent or third-party candidate this time. Still, it’s pretty riveting.

Sanders outraises Rubio, Paul, and Cruz

Sanders-021507-18335- 0004Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced his Democratic presidential campaign this week and raised an impressive $1.5 million in the first 24 hours from about 35,000 donors. Although Clinton obviously has a much larger warchest on tap, this figure has at least put him solidly on par with major Republican contenders in terms of grassroots fundraising:

But the Sanders haul outpaces the three major Republican candidates who already have announced. In the first 24 hours since launching their campaigns, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) raised $1.25 million and Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) raised about $1 million each, according to their campaigns.

 
They, of course, can count on a lot of super PAC support, as well, in a way Sanders can’t (and doesn’t want to), but this stark comparison has suddenly vaulted Sanders into at least being taken semi-seriously by the U.S. media rather than being roundly mocked as a far-left socialist. (I’ve spotted a lot of recent headlines calling him a “liberal” and “independent” instead of a socialist.) And in truth, he’s certainly not more extreme or fringe than the aforementioned three jokers in the Republican Party’s nomination contest.

Indeed, he’s probably more mainstream than they are. In the words of The Onion on Bernie Sanders:

Biggest Political Liability: Completely out of touch with the average American corporation
[…]
Dangerously Radical Fringe Views: Reform Wall Street, avoid costly and ineffective conflicts in Middle East, help working families prosper

 

O’Malley, in Iowa, echoes Bernie Sanders

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is in Iowa today exploring a run for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. After his old donor base froze him out in favor of Hillary Clinton, he seems to be running harder now on a platform similar to that of Bernie Sanders — emphasizing income inequality, Wall Street malfeasance, the importance of investing in education, and the need to strengthen infrastructure. Cedar Rapids Gazette:

[…] he lamented income inequality and the reckless disregard for the nation’s economy exhibited by big Wall Street banks.
[…]
Americans can change the direction of the economy and country by making better choices. As governor of Maryland, O’Malley said, he chose to invest in the state and its people rather than “join the ranks of right-wing ideologues in some other states who tried to cut their way to prosperity.”

“Instead we did more to educate our children” by increasing school funding and not raising college tuition for four years. “We made our public schools the best in country “not by doing less, but buy doing more” and invested in infrastructure — “not only water and wastewater, but in roads and transit, school construction.”
[…]
O’Malley called for raising the minimum wage, expanding Social Security and collective bargaining rights. Making it easier for people to vote and doing more to educate future generations.

“It means we should invest more in our country so our country can give more back more to us and to our children and to our grandchildren,” he said. “And yes, it means we should stand up to powerful wealth special interests who nearly wrecked out country in the Great Recession and will wreck it again if we don’t put in place the rules, the regulations and the enforcement that will keep other people from gambling with our children’s future, with our nation’s economy and with our money.

 
This rhetoric also puts him in direct contrast on almost every issue with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has been traversing Iowa regularly in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Whether or not O’Malley actually commits to running or gets anywhere, it’s important to have a vocal and respected Democrat in the field in Iowa pushing back on the Scott Walkers of the world. Otherwise, they just get months and months of unchallenged opportunity to build and cement policy narratives.

Bernie Sanders proposes cutting public college tuition in half

Sanders-021507-18335- 0004Public college tuition could be cut in half by diverting defense spending, increasing state investment, and making other reforms to student lending, according to a proposal by Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Bernie Sanders (I-VT) presented at the University of Iowa this week as he explores a presidential run.

The budget proposed by President Barack Obama includes $38 billion more for the Pentagon’s base budget. Republicans in Congress want even more in a military budget that is higher than the next nine countries combined. Sanders instead would put half the amount requested for extra military funding, about $18 billion, into higher education grants to states. With state matching funds, tuitions at public universities and colleges could be cut in half, according to Sanders, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee.

Sanders also called for a major overhaul of federal student loans. The Congressional Budget Office has projected that the Department of Education will reap $127 billion in profits over 10 years from rising interest charges for college students and their families.

“We must end the practice of the government making billions in profits from student loans taken out by low and moderate income families. That is extremely regressive public policy,” Sanders said. “It also makes no sense that students and their parents are forced to pay interest rates for higher education loans that are much higher than they pay for car loans or housing mortgages.”

 
Senator Sanders’ prepared remarks and citations are available here.

It’s an ambitious proposal by the feckless standards to which we have grown accustomed, but it’s still far short of proposals for zero-tuition public colleges. My radio co-host Nate and I discussed the latter concept at length on a recent episode of our show. Listen below:

Part 1 – Free College – AFD 115

Would Dems benefit from a Sanders nomination run?

Sanders-021507-18335- 0004Normally I avoid posting stuff like this because it’s usually speculative nonsense, but apparently independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has been seriously exploring a presidential campaign for the Democratic(!) nomination, to the point of visiting early states like Iowa and talking openly about his consideration of running.

I have concerns about this idea, although I’m open to it and certainly would prefer a run within the party than a destructive independent challenge that siphons votes in the general election.

But regarding concerns: Namely, I don’t see this producing a serious internal debate in the party any more than two virtually identical establishment Dems, because it just means the establishment spends the whole campaign hippie-punching and laughing, without actually running much toward the left.

Sure, he — more than most lefties — might have the rhetorical juice to force tough questions on the trail, rather than being ignored entirely in the media and left out of debates. But I’m still not sure he would be taken seriously. Then again, John Edwards (subsequent personal revelations aside) ran one of the most “serious” populist/progressive campaigns in modern Democratic Party history, in 2008, without being laughed at, yet gained very little traction. Didn’t even win one state.

There’s also an equally important question/concern, beyond the electability and process, about whether governance would be well served by a Sanders win. If he magically had the ability to enact the policies he already supports, I’m sure we would benefit a lot and have much better governance. But we don’t live in a system where magic figures into it. Therefore, the winner is only effective when he or she is not an island and can build governing coalitions.

We’ve got to stop thinking about how to elect a spell-casting sorcerer and more about how to elect someone who can achieve results in the right direction once there. Thus, I wonder how much could really achieve with effectively very little legislative support base (since there’s no large social democratic bloc in Congress and even a centrist Democrat like President Obama had trouble consolidating agenda support under a Democratic majority).

However, in his defense, Sanders has also been relatively good at compromising effectively to make some gains (not just conceding everything to get something passed or refusing to concede anything and getting nothing.) Sanders notably slipped some interesting provisions into the Affordable Care Act regarding funding for rural health care clinics, for example, even if he wasn’t thrilled overall with the law’s approach to health reform.

He is, in that regard, very different from the ineffective foot-stomping wing of many louder members of Congress (from either party, but especially Dems) who talk a good game and then get nothing done. Others have started to copy Sanders’ approach with some success. He’s shown it’s possible to stand by one’s principles while compromising on the approach to making progress toward them.

Sanders is also notably a more strategic political thinker than many on the left. The fact he’s even looking at a run inside the Democratic Party, rather than outside of it, is a testament to that. But he’s probably most noted for having entered elected office as an independent after some early failed quixotic statewide runs, by studying where his biggest bases of support were in those campaigns and then concentrating on working his way up from there. So, first running in city politics in the community where he was most well regarded… then rising from Mayor to U.S. Representative… and ultimately to the U.S. Senate where he is now. By starting small and delivering results, he could show everyone he meant business, which was rewarded by re-election and elevation. All without compromising his principles to get there.

In sum, I think there’s no real reason to oppose him running for the Democratic nomination — though I wouldn’t be in favor of him running outside the party and splitting the vote — but it’s a very open question as to how effective he would be, both as a candidate or as a president (if he made it that far). And I have doubts it will achieve even the goal of bringing up important issues/questions inside the Democratic Party primary process. But that’s no reason not to try. If anyone can move the dial, it’s Bernie Sanders.