Don’t Worry, Centrists. Bernie Isn’t Radical.

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            Watching panicky corporate-owned Democrats twist on the devil’s fork of Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution” is almost as much fun as it must have been for my mom and her fellow villagers to watch Vichy collaborators and Nazi sympathizers being executed by the resistance at the end of World War II. (That, Chris Matthews, is how you do a Nazi-to-2020 metaphor.)

            Centrist/moderate/Third Way Dems are afraid of Bernie, not because he would lose to Trump or inverse-coattail down-ballot candidates, but because they would lose their longstanding minority control of the party apparatus. After the convention in Milwaukee, for example, the nominee gets to choose the new DNC chairman. Sanders will not keep Tom Perez.

            Electability, however, is the moderates’ supposed chief concern. And enough moderate Democratic voters are buying it to make it A Thing.

            Don’t worry, centrists. The data is clear. As they did throughout 2016, head-to-head matching polls show Bernie defeating Trump by a comfortable margin.

            More to the point, you can’t trust corporate media outlets that describe Sanders’ policy agenda as radical or extreme. I wish he were! He’s a classic liberal Democrat, not as ambitious as FDR or LBJ, more like Humphrey or Mondale.

            And that’s just on domestic economic issues. On foreign policy, Bernie Sanders is no progressive. In fact, he is to the right of where the Republican Party was before Ronald Reagan.

            He acknowledges it was a mistake but he voted for George W. Bush’s 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. He voted several times in favor of funding the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He favors military interventions like those against Syria and Libya, albeit in a limited fashion. He is less critical of Israel than most progressives. He is OK with drone assassinations.

            Sanders is basically George W. Bush plus deadlines minus the invasion of Iraq. No real “socialist” shares his views. Socialists, democratic or otherwise, are anti-interventionist. So why are centrists so freaked out?

The answer, obviously, is his domestic platform. But even that is relatively moderate if you take a hard look at it.

            Bernie Sanders wants to raise the federal hourly minimum wage to $15. That movement goes back at least to a strike by fast-food workers in 2012. Seven big states and several major cities including New York and San Francisco, have already instituted $15.

            Over the last eight years, of course, inflation has eaten away at the value of those $15. Meanwhile, corporate profits have risen. And it would be at least another year until a President Sanders could theoretically sign a bill. At the official, ridiculously understated-from-reality inflation rate, $15 in 2012 will be equivalent to $17 in 2021. If the inflation rate were still calculated the same way as a few decades ago, the minimum wage would be at least $25 in order to be worth the same as it was in 1970. If it were up to me, I’d start the discussion at $50.

            Looking at it from a historical vantage point, Bernie’s proposal is too little, too late for workers. It isn’t radical and it won’t tank the economy—New York and San Francisco are proof of that.

            Sanders wants to forgive all $1.6 trillion of student loan debt and make college tuition and fees free at public four-year colleges and universities. Let’s take those two ideas one at a time.

            Financial aid budget cuts, soaring tuition and high interest rates have made student loan debt explode. In 1999 it totaled $90 billion—adjusted for inflation, 8.7% of the current total. In 1986 it was $10 billion—and that’s after the Reagan Revolution replaced almost all student grants with loans.

Restoring student debt to 1999 levels would require forgiving 91.3% of today’s total. Bernie wants 100%. Not a huge difference. And it would stimulate the economy by freeing up young adults to buy houses and cars. But the banks sure would miss “their” profits.

            Bernie’s tuition plan only covers 70% of college students; those in private institutions would receive nothing. Tuition and fees only account for 39% of expenses for the average public college student living on campus. So Bernie would pick up the tab for 27.3% of total expenses for American college students at four-year schools.

            Actually, it’s not even that much. Kids whose parents earn a total of $125,000 a year would get nothing. That eliminates 12% of students. Total cost to taxpayers would be $48 billion a year. A sizable sum to be sure, but less impressive/scary than you might think. Here’s another way to think about it: it’s the same as occupying 2.3 Afghanistans at once. We can easily afford to get closer to “richer” countries that offer completely free college—tuition, fees, housing, books, everything—economic dynamos like Turkey, Uruguay, Slovenia, Morocco, Malaysia, Brazil and Kenya.

            Medicare For All is as close as the senator from Vermont comes to pushing a radical agenda. But that’s only by narrow American standards. Compared to other countries, MFA would be a relatively modest affair. It wouldn’t come close to what the rest of the world expects government to supply in terms of healthcare. Like, I just got a mysterious surprise bill for $1,800. Description: “lab test.” What lab test? It was June. I don’t remember. And I’m insured.

            First, the cost: $34 trillion over 10 years. But Americans would have a net savings because healthcare costs here are even higher than that: $36 trillion over 10 years. Net savings: $2 trillion over 10 years. What Sanders does not talk about, and would need to be addressed, is how to deal with the insurance company employees who would be laid off. Job retraining would be needed for them as well as previously displaced workers.

            Denmark, Britain and Germany are among the countries that have systems more or less similar to MFA. No one is suggesting that their governments are “radical.”

            Finally, there’s the Green New Deal. Sanders wants to abolish fossil fuels in the U.S. within 10 years. He’d spend trillions to accomplish that. But consider the alternative: mass extinction. Not doing it is the wild-and-crazy option.

            To recap: love, hate or be indifferent to Bernie Sanders, that’s up to you. But moderates shouldn’t fear him because he’s a radical. Radicals shouldn’t love him because he’s one of us.

            He’s really not.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the forthcoming “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

10 thoughts on “Don’t Worry, Centrists. Bernie Isn’t Radical.

  1. All of these are fair points. I’m going to assume your math is correct.
    Let’s say Sanders came out and said, “I want to guarantee food for every single child in this country. Until you’re 18, you will receive money to buy food so that you do not go hungry..”
    He would lose the election.
    Why? Because that should-be-burning-in-triple-hot-hell war criminal Hillary Clinton and her ilk of scummy criminal pals have so conditioned people that you can’t just start saying “Children shouldn’t go hungry.”
    If Sanders offered a totally universal college plan–literally zero cost to every single person–they’d chase him off the stage. “What next, ya pinko. Gonna try to feed hungry children? You’re a monster.”
    Remember the first dot-com bubble? There’s one crucial lesson that applies.
    “I need $50 million.”
    “You’re nuts.”
    “Okay. Can I have $25 million now and $35 million next week?”
    “Okay, now you’re being reasonable.”
    “I may need another $10 million after that for incidentals.”
    “Of course.”

    Sanders is no dope. Incrementalism got Gen X shafted. And I mean 11-incher bottoming out shafted. If any of us can hope for a livable retirement, we’re going to need someone who can take the same little-bit-at-a-time approach to getting our benefits back.

  2. Speaking of Mr Sander’s political programme, an important, not to say vital, aspect that Ted doesn’t take up above is his attitude toward military spending. David Swanson has now published an article in which he analyses Sander’s position on the basis of a recently published «fact sheet» on the so-called «Green New Deal» from the campaign….

    Radical or not, I leave it to others to decide….


  3. While Ted has a point – indeed several – we shouldn’t lose sight of Bernie’s revolution opening the door to radical policies.

    While politics has regressed in the past decades, people’s awareness of social (in)justice has steadily increased: both in terms of outsider groups (minorities, women, cihldren, elderly, QUILTBAG, ableism, neurodiverse…) and domains (household, workplace, economic order, militarism…). In particular, Millennials/Z are by far the most progressive and radical leftist generation since at least WWII.

    Greg Wilpert (Changing Venezuala by Taking Power) documented that Chavez actually did not start out as much of a leftists, but steadily moved left as poor constituencies were brought into the fold – much like Sanders’ aim of expanding the electorate.

    The ruling classes have clearly overplayed their hand and have outsourced a lot of state power to supranational organizations and treaties and institutions such as the Federal Reserve. Then again they have dismantled a lot of the checks on the executive branch, with Trump and Bernie exploding what was left of the filters that should have kept outsiders beyond the pale. So we are in uncharted territory.

    Unlike Obama’s demobilization of the grassroots, Bernie’s “revolution” could indeed blossom after the election by showing that we can get state power to respond to our needs. When we look back on this moment in a few decades, we might well see that several key policy directions – including carbon reduction, a multipolar world order, trust-busting, workplace democracy, guaranteed basic income – took off and became locked in. (Or, equally plausible, that we didn’t know what to do with state power and didn’t have enough time to figure it out).

  4. Never underestimate the irrationality of political campaign spin. Bernie on 60 Minutes daring to say something positive about Castro’s policies, Bernie’s honeymoon in Moscow(Burlington sister city trip should not be a big deal), uttering the word socialist….they will endlessly repeat these to make the older voters afraid. And he probably lost the Florida Cuban vote.
    If we were all rational we would analyze Bernie’s policies and agree that they are not all that radical(heck, I do!). Yet I talk to my contemporaries and they are so brainwashed about electability about how only a centrist can win. I was talking to a Latina friend who is a big Bernie fan and it was refreshing to talk to someone enthusiastic instead of afraid! Too many of us are traumatized by the political system, maybe even since 2000, but definitely since 2016. I want to vote with hope.

    • @No

      “[I]t was refreshing to talk to someone enthusiastic instead of afraid!”

      Sometimes speaking out requires a greater fear of something else before daring to risk being tagged déclassé.

      A lot of people lost their fear of speaking out in the sixties when faced with the draft.

    • Thanks for this link. Also in this website was an article about Bloomberg doing everything to thwart Bernie, then Warren will look like the reasonable compromise candidate. It’s rather convoluted, but I find the scenario plausible. Bottom line is, Bernie needs to explain Democratic Socialism in a pithy way since 53% of the electorate say they would not vote for a socialist
      and instead of dismissing the question he has to appeal to those of us who are not coastal elites (who already know what it all means).

      • I’m speaking as someone who would be labeled a coastal elite…
        After watching the 60 Minutes interview I was asking this is radical? No. But just because we are intelligent and know what socialism is doesn’t mean the rest of the electorate does.

  5. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to going to the Bernie rally in San Jose on Sunday! I don’t think he will be saying anything different, but will be among those who want him to be President.