Heads up: a revised and expanded edition of my bestselling 2015 graphic biography of Bernie Sanders will be published on May 5th. It brings us up to the present primary campaign and includes 24 brand-new additional pages of artwork.
“Bernie” remains the only comprehensive biography of the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate. Normally I would send you to your neighborhood independent bookstore but given the fact that the coronavirus crisis has closed all of those nationally, probably the only place you can reliably get it is via Amazon. Currently Amazon is not shipping box very quickly but they will be sending them out using some of the 100,000 new workers that they’re hiring.
Americans don’t expect much from their government. But even by the standards of a nation with one of the flimsiest social safety nets in the Western world, the inability and unwillingness of both major political parties to manage and solve the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic is shocking.
President Trump’s lack of leadership is well documented elsewhere so I won’t go into detail here. Democrats aren’t blameless; the DNC-engineered pre-Super Tuesday soft coup against Bernie Sanders replaced a frontrunner whose prescient ideas were tailormade for this crisis with a babbling dolt without an original thought in his foggy brain.
Congress is squabbling over an economic stimulus package as if they had all the time in the world. My favorite part was Mitch McConnell letting the Senate take the weekend off. Hey, Japan, not cool about Pearl Harbor but we’ll get back to you about declaring war in a week or whatever. Meanwhile, experts predict that unemployment could go as high as 30%, significantly worse than the depth of the Great Depression.
But now is not the time to cast blame. The ship is sinking. We can make the captain walk the plank later. Right now we have to fix the problem.
First, we have to save lives.
Trump says he doesn’t want to “nationalize” American companies. Actually, no one’s suggesting that. But they should. This is still a spectacularly wealthy nation with incredible resources and brilliant entrepreneurs. Shortages of face masks, testing kits, ventilators, rubbing alcohol and so on are inexcusable. The federal government must immediately requisition factories, hire workers directly and place manufacturing of needed supplies on an emergency war footing. If a company is already set up to make something we need yet refuses to do so, it should be nationalized and put to work for the American people.
In the fight against COVID-19, the biggest danger to the privileged is the poor health of the underprivileged. You can hunker down in the Hamptons but your newly-purchased freezer full of hoarded steaks won’t protect you from infection as long as others are too vulnerable to protect themselves. Some of the 17 million vacant homes in the United States should be immediately seized to house America’s half a million homeless and other vulnerable populations. The vast majority of prisoners, many of whom are awaiting trial, convicted of minor offenses or convicted of serious crimes but safe to release, should be immediately released from facilities whose conditions create cesspools of contagion.
Healthcare must be free. Hospitals and doctors should send their bills to the government. That debate, along with the canard that we have the best healthcare system in the world, is obviously over.
Second, we have to save the economy.
I’m not normally one to agree with Thomas Friedman, but he’s right when he points out that economic collapse will kill people on a scale on par with COVID-19: “Either we let many of us get the coronavirus, recover and get back to work—while doing our utmost to protect those most vulnerable to being killed by it. Or, we shut down for months to try to save everyone everywhere from this virus—no matter their risk profile — and kill many people by other means, kill our economy and maybe kill our future.”
I don’t think we really need to “let” many of us get the coronavirus. That has already happened.
News coverage that emphasizes test results is an idiotic distraction. Roughly 1/10 of 1% of American citizens have been tested. We know nothing about the COVID-19 status of 99.9% of the population. We don’t call elections based on 0.1% of the poll results and we can’t draw real conclusions from the testing so far.
However, there is reason to believe that many, many people have already had it.
Roughly one out of five people who get the coronavirus will never know it because they are asymptomatic. COVID-19 was first identified in early December in Wuhan, China. Although the median incubation period is 5 days, it can be as long as 11 days. That means we are talking about a pandemic that dates back to late November 2019.
When did it arrive in the United States? Probably in a day or two, the amount of time it took for one asymptomatic and/or incubating carrier—people like this account for about 10% of new infections—to board a plane and fly across the Pacific Ocean. Roughly 10,000 people a day flew from China to the United States at that time.
This is not a new thing—and you should feel good about that.
Let me explain.
The number of new cases in the U.S. has been doubling about every three days. Get a calculator and start multiplying by two: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024. That’s 10 three-day periods, aka the month of December. Keep going. By the end of January you’re at over a million. By February, a billion. The U.S. population is about 330 million. So when New York governor Andrew Cuomo says that 40 to 60% of the population is going to get the coronavirus, he’s being conservative.
The rate of transmission will stop increasing exponentially at some point. Some patients will die. The virus will run out of new Americans to infect. But mostly, we are going to recover and emerge with full or partial immunity to COVID-19. Many, many Americans have already had coronavirus, recovered, and are now fine.
Must they stay at home too? Maybe not. The U.S. government must pull out all the stops to test everyone, not just for current infection, but for past infection. A team at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York has developed a promising test for acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that lets you know if you’ve ever had it. We don’t know if it’s possible to be reinfected by coronavirus or, if so, whether a second bout would be equally or less severe. But there are promising signs that the human immune response can tackle COVID-19.
If COVID-19 patients can emerge with total or near total immunity to the strain, they can help people who are sick. There’s no risk of them transmitting the infection or of contracting it. They are the key to restarting our economy. We can’t waste a moment finding those people and getting them back to work.
Third, we have to save people’s individual economies.
As we saw after the 2008-09 Great Recession, there’s not much point saving banks or corporations or the stock market without targeting individual American citizens for direct relief. Bernie Sanders has proposed that the United States Treasury pay out $2000 per person per month until the end of the coronavirus crisis. Sounds right.
Republicans want an absurd regressive form of means testing—the poorer are you are, the less you would receive. Saying they don’t want to subsidize millionaires, Democrats like Nancy Pelosi also want means testing but from the other direction.
Both are ridiculous. There’s no time for detailed analysis or a new government bureaucracy to determine who gets what. Checks and wire transfers need to go out yesterday. So what if Bill Gates gets one?
It’s time to act, not to blame. But if there’s no action or if the action is late and/or insufficient, there will be plenty of blame to go around. And there will be no limit to the rage of the survivors who are suffering against politicians who did not do what was needed to be done.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Establishment media is ridiculing Bernie Sanders for stating some simple truths: establishment media was out to get him, the DNC was out to get him and young voters who support him haven’t been good about showing up at the polls.
But that doesn’t mean that Bernie Sanders didn’t make mistakes. So let’s take a look at those.
No matter what happens between him and Joe Biden, and it isn’t over yet, Sanders deserves credit for some remarkable achievements. In the face of formidable establishmentarian opposition, Jewish, with a speaking manner that is anything but conventional in U.S. politics, relying only on small individual donations and promoting a political agenda many Americans would consider radical, Bernie Sanders currently controls 42% of the Democratic primary vote against a recent sitting vice president. Much of his agenda, including making college affordable, increasing the minimum wage, and improving the healthcare system, has become mainstream Democratic Party policy after many decades during which the party didn’t even pretend to give a damn about normal people. Bernie Sanders is running an issue-based campaign, not one based purely on personality. Even if he loses, historians will mark this election as evidence of the strength of progressive and left-leaning electoral politics.
But he’s not perfect. There are things that he could have/could still do better.
Politics is first and foremost about framing, and Sanders isn’t great at it. “Medicare for All” is meaningless to millions of Americans who have had no contact with Medicare and don’t know anything about it. “Free healthcare” would have been easier to understand and would not have turned off or confused union members who already have decent healthcare plans. “Free college tuition,” on the other hand, tells too little of the story. Sanders’ plan only helps low-income college students but many voters seem to still think that he wanted to use their taxes to help out children of wealthy people. The “Green New Deal” hasn’t been defined or well-publicized beyond the fact that it would be expensive.
Sanders’ plan for student loan forgiveness was also presented in a problematic fashion. Many Americans don’t have college degrees; they wondered, why should we pay for those who do? Many other Americans went to college, took out student loans and then paid them back. Why shouldn’t millennials do the same? There are good answers to those questions: millennial student debt is many factors higher than Generation X and Baby Boomer debt because tuition has skyrocketed at a rate much faster than inflation. Student loan forgiveness would stimulate the economy by freeing up young people to buy cars and homes. People who already paid their loans should have been added as beneficiaries of his plan so that they didn’t feel like suckers due to a simple accident of birthdate. Most importantly, Sanders should not have proposed student loan forgiveness without coupling it to a free college tuition program and/or job retraining program for people who are older and don’t have college degrees or need retraining in order to retool for the 21st century.
Speaking of costs, I found it endlessly frustrating that Bernie Sanders never seemed able to clearly answer the question of how he would pay for his proposals. Generally, he should simply have said: “I’ll take it out of the Pentagon budget.” Maybe this wasn’t true. If it wasn’t true, he should have made it true. Not only is the defense budget bloated, most Americans, including people who favor strong military, know about the $800 toilet seats. I’m not sure why he didn’t bash the military.
He also hasn’t been good about explaining Medicare for All. What he should have said was, everyone is going to pay less for healthcare, so much less, that even though your taxes will go up a bit, you’ll still come out way ahead. And if you got hit by something catastrophic like cancer, it would all be covered. Instead, he talked about how European countries somehow managed to pay for national healthcare plans. He’s right about that, but Americans have been told that Europeans pay high taxes. He needed to explain in plain language that that would not happen here.
He ignored my advice to own and explain his self-described “democratic socialist” label. He probably assumed that it would be more of a problem in the general election against Donald Trump, but what he underestimated was the Democratic Party’s long history of red bashing as well as the well-established fact that other people will define you if you don’t do it yourself. He should have followed the example of JFK when he gave a speech assuring Americans that he would not take orders from the pope as a Roman Catholic. Sanders should have given a speech entirely about democratic socialism.
Some things, it’s hard to do anything about. A campaign has the candidate that it has with a personality that he or she comes with. Bernie Sanders has an underlying vulnerability and warmth that his tendency to bellow often covered up. The media had a field day portraying him as a guy who likes to yell a lot. This is where something like “The Man from Hope” video that the Bill Clinton for President campaign created would have come in handy. A biographical look at Bernie’s roots in Brooklyn, his childhood struggling in a working-class family and the premature death of his mother due to poor healthcare would have helped to humanize a very human person.
Images of him being manhandled by cops during his participation in the civil rights movement of the early 1960s couldn’t have hurt him with African-American voters who ended up turning out for Joe Biden.
Of course the biggest mistake Sanders made may not have been a mistake at all. He ran inside the Democratic Party. They were never going to let him have the nomination.
He had to know that. (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
MSNBC host Chris Matthews predicted that if socialism ever came to the United States, talking about Bernie Sanders, capitalists would be hung in Central Park and that he might be one of them. Would that necessarily be bad?
The main stream centrist corporatists who run the Democratic Party are reacting to the rise of likely Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders as though it were some sort of emergency. All that’s really happening here is democracy.
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 completelyfree 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.
Bernie Sanders is now the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. But the DNC is still trying to recruit someone to stop him. First it was Kamala Harris. Then it was Joe Biden. Now it’s Mike Bloomberg.
Bernie Sanders is currently the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. He and everyone else knows exactly how the Republicans will attack him if and when he becomes the nominee: old-fashioned redbaiting.
China became communist in name only during the 1980s, the Soviet Union shut its doors in 1991, the Cold War is dead, and the 64% of Americans under age 50 have no memory of an actually-existing socialist regime. Yet Trump and the GOP have already broadcast their plans to hang the “democratic socialist” label around Bernie Sanders’ neck.
Whether such archaic fear-mongering—against long-dead adversaries—will be effective even with elderly voters is anyone’s guess. Considering the fact that 40% of Americans consistently tell pollsters they prefer socialism or communism to capitalism, branding Bernie Sanders as a nefarious democratic socialist might have the unintended effect of bringing out people who don’t normally vote to support an ideology they’ve never had the chance to get behind before.
On the other hand, only 76% of Democrats say they would vote for a socialist.
One thing is for sure: the socialism thing will be Sanders’ biggest challenge. And so what? Every candidate enters the game with a handicap of some sort.
Political weaknesses are inevitable; what makes or breaks a candidacy is how his or her campaign chooses to address it. History’s answer is clear: take it on honestly, directly and credibly.
Own your crap. Americans voters hate sneakiness and avoidance.
Bernie has no one but himself to blame for this potential electoral albatross. As Paul Krugman of The New York Times points out, the independent senator from Vermont is not really a socialist: “He doesn’t want to nationalize our major industries and replace markets with central planning.” He is a New Deal Democrat indistinguishable from old liberal figures like Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern. The economic model Sanders wants to establish isn’t the USSR or even Yugoslavia, but the Scandinavian countries with their superior safety nets and enlightened penal systems. Capitalism as we know it would continue, albeit with reduced overall cruelty.
Bernie is a social democrat, not a democratic socialist. For some unknown reason, however, he chose to label himself as a democratic socialist. “It’s mainly about personal branding,” Krugman speculates, “with a dash of glee at shocking the bourgeoisie. And this self-indulgence did no harm as long as he was just a senator from a very liberal state.”
Now he’s going to have to explain himself and his beliefs to American voters who have been propagandized through education and the media to believe that socialism equals communism equals totalitarian dystopia.
If he’s smart – and there’s no reason to believe that he and his staff are anything but—he will own the phrase and address those concerns head on.
During the 1960 campaign John F. Kennedy responded to worries about his Roman Catholicism that he might take orders from the pope in a speech that allowed anti-Catholic voters to take a chance on him. “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act,” Kennedy said.
Aware that he was going to run for president in a few years, Barack Obama discussed his drug use as a young man, specifically the fact that he had tried cocaine, in his memoir and in an interview published ahead of the race. By the time he ran in 2008, the coke thing was old news baked into the politics of the time.
“Democratic socialism” is a pretty meaningless term. Which is not necessarily bad. Because it doesn’t define an existing party or ideology in the real world, Bernie can imprint his own definition upon his awkward tabula rasa.
Like every crisis, this is an opportunity. Voters want to know what Bernie stands for. Their confusion about democratic socialism (confusion caused by Sanders’ weird word choices) is his chance to explain himself and his policies.
The one thing he should not and cannot do is to shy away from the S word. No matter how much he protests, Republicans are going to call him a Marxist, a communist, a socialist and worse. So there’s no point in protesting. “Yes,“ he could say, “I am a socialist. A democratic socialist. A democratic socialist is a person who cares more about you as an ordinary American than about greedy billionaires and corporations who pollute your water and lay you off at the drop of a hat.”
Nothing neutralizes an attack more effectively than to cop to it.
If nothing else, even if he loses, Bernie can rehabilitate socialism as an acceptable economic alternative. In the long run, that would be a greater accomplishment than anything Sanders could accomplish in eight years as president.
Ted Rall is the political cartoonist at ANewDomain.net, editor-in-chief of SkewedNews.net, a graphic novelist and author of many books of art and prose, and an occasional war correspondent. He is the author of the biography "Trump," to be published in July 2016.