Tag Archives: free college tuition

A Premature Postmortem of the Bernie Sanders Campaign

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.)

Here is the Progressive Agenda

Image result for progressivism

Clintonite corporatists still control the Democratic National Committee despite their long string of failure at the polls. But the overwhelming majority of Democratic Party voters—72%—are self-identified progressives.

44% of House primary candidates in 2018 self-IDed as progressive. If you’re after the Democratic nomination for president you have to be—or pretend to be—progressive. Even Hillary Clinton claimed to be “a progressive who gets things done.”

All the top likely contenders for 2020 claim to be progressive—but they would prefer that voters ignore their voting records and unsavory donors. “Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris have spent the past two years racing to the leftmost edge of respectable opinion,” reports New York magazine. “In recent weeks, they have also all reached out to Wall Street executives, in hopes of securing some funding for their prospective presidential campaign.” It does no good for your heart to be in the right place if your ass is owned by bankers.

“You don’t just get to say that you’re progressive,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told progressive donors recently.

Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, called the 2020 election a chance to “leverage our power.” She says it’s critical “that we have some very clear guidelines about what it means to be progressive.”

Here are those guidelines.

You can’t be a progressive unless you favor a big hike in the minimum wage. Elizabeth Warren, the first pretty-much-declared candidate for 2020, wants $15 an hour. But she told a 2013 Senate hearing that it would be $22 if it had kept up with increases in worker productivity. The official inflation rate makes that $24 today. And according to the real inflation rate (the official number as it was calculated before the Labor Department downgraded the calculation in 1980 and 1990) at ShadowStats.com, $22 in 2013 comes to at least $35 today.

If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968 using the same methodology used to track inflation at the time, it would be closer to $80 per hour.

What should be the progressive demand for the minimum wage? Nothing less than $25 per hour.

(For the record, I see no reason why the minimum wage should be lower than the maximum wage. But we’re talking about progressivism here, not socialism or communism.)

Thanks to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign “free college became a litmus test for liberals,” notes The Atlantic. But a 2017 bill cosponsored by Sanders and Warren defines “college for all” rather narrowly. It only addresses public colleges and universities. It would “make college tuition free for families earning $125,000 a year or less and allow current student loan borrowers to refinance their debt at lower interest rates.”

A quarter of American college students attend private schools. Considering that the average cost is $35,000 a year and some run as high as $60,000, even families earning more than $125,000 need help too.

The progressive stance on college should be three-pronged. First, the obscene $1.5 trillion student loan business should be abolished. Student loans should be replaced by grants but if loans exist at all they should be a zero-profit government program. Second, all outstanding loans should be forgiven or have their interest rates dropped to a zero-profit basis. Third, the government should rein in out-of-control public and private college tuition and fees—which have gone up eight times faster than wages—by tying them to the official federal cost of living index.

Progressives agree that Obamacare didn’t go far enough. With 70% of voters in favor, even centrist Democrats like Kamala Harris have climbed aboard Bernie Sanders’ call for “Medicare for all” bandwagon. Warren, Gillibrand and Booker now say they want single-payer public healthcare. Being progressive, however, means demanding more than what mainstream politicians deem practical—it’s about pushing hard for more ways to improve people’s lives.

In 2020 progressives should be calling for nothing less than universal healthcare. If it’s good enough for the rest of the developed world and many developing countries like Botswana and Bhutan, why not us?

I cosigned a letter to Sanders calling on the Vermont senator to use his platform as the country’s most prominent and popular progressive to talk more about foreign policy and to openly oppose militarism. Now it’s time to get specific.

Progressives should demand that U.S. troops come home from any country that did not attack the United States—i.e., all of them. They should put an end to the disgusting drone wars. The bloated nearly-$1 trillion Pentagon budget should be shredded; let’s see what they can do with $100 billion (which would still be far more than Russia’s defense spending).

From banks that charge usurious credit card interest rates to employers who fire full-time employees and hire them back as “independent contractors,” there are plenty of other targets for progressives to go after.

Progressives: you are no longer the ugly stepdaughter of the Democratic Party. You own the joint.
Now’s the time to demand what’s yours, what you want and what’s right.

(Ted Rall, the cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: How Bernie Can Pay For His Ambitious Agenda? Slash the Military

Late last year, I interviewed Bernie Sanders while working on my biography “Bernie.” I asked him if he planned to reduce the defense budget if elected president. “We will take a hard look at that,” he told me, agreeing that there’s an awful lot of bloat in America’s military spending that ought to be cut.

Why doesn’t he say that now?

A statement detailing his intent to reduce military spending — not just the on-the-books budget of the Pentagon, but also the “off the books” taxdollars that go to wars like the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the National Security Agency and other parts of the surveillance state that have expanded radically since 9/11 — would help answer one of Sanders’ critics’ most potent criticisms: that he’ll be an irresponsible Santa Gone Wild, giving away free college tuition and Medicare for all without a care in the world for how to pay for it.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign, already reeking of desperation, is turning ugly. Bill Clinton, of all people, accused Bernie of lying, and his supporters of sexism. Clinton surrogate Madeleine Albright called female Sanders supporters traitors to their gender. The once-respected Gloria Steinem called them sluts, implying they were hanging out at Bernie’s big rallies to get laid by hunky Bernie bros.

Pathetic. But Hillary remains a potent force. She’s the mathematical favorite. When she casts herself as the realist (“a progressive who likes to get things done”), her argument that Bernie’s promises are politically unrealistic and fiscally irresponsible carries weight with Democrats who are still on the fence.

If Bernie can answer this two-part question, he wins the nomination: how will he get his far-left programs (by American standards, not those of the rest of the world) through Congress? How will he pay for them?

The first question, I think, isn’t as big a hurdle as the corporate punditry seems to think. Most voters can imagine a sustained progressive movement centered around street activism — Sanders’ “political revolution” — that pressures Congress so that, as Sanders puts it, Mitch O’Connell sees hundreds of thousands of people marching outside his window whenever he plots to thwart the people’s will.

Like Occupy Wall Street, except that the president is encouraging the movement rather than ordering the cops to beat up its members.

Anyway, liberal Democrats are angry. Hillary’s “half a dream” sales pitch isn’t half as enticing to them as Bernie’s ambitious agenda. Come on, Hill: did you take half a bribe from Goldman Sachs? Even if Bernie’s idealism gets dashed on the rocks of Republican intransigence, progressive Dems don’t care; they want to see Bernie try. Democrats haven’t watched a Democratic president push for radical change since LBJ.

The second question of the skeptics is: show me the money! Where is the cash to pay for free public college tuition and a single-payer healthcare system?

Sanders has said he would cover the $75 billion per year cost of his college reform program by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculation. He would almost certainly increase taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals as part of moving the tax code back to a more progressive, pre-Reagan structure. Everyone would pay a higher tax rate to cover Berniecare, though working-class people would pay less than they’d save.

At the risk of sounding like a Republican, there’s waste throughout the federal budget. There is, for example, no evidence that the NSA has ever done its job by preventing a single terrorist attack. Meanwhile, as Edward Snowden informed us, they’re spying on all our phone calls and emails. Shut them down; save $10 billion a year or more. Similarly, the Department of Homeland Security could be trimmed to a fraction of its current size or eliminated, with its tiny portion of useful activities transferred to other agencies, including law enforcement.

Last year’s defense budget was nearly $600 billion, or 54% of discretionary federal spending. That’s more than the next nine countries combined, including China and Russia. Conservatively, at least half of that is spent on waste and fraud by DOD contractors, so there’s $300 billion right off the bat. I bet we could cut it 90% and still not have to worry about a foreign invasion, something that hasn’t happened since 1812.

These cuts could easily cover the several hundred billion shortfall between Bernie’s tax increase on the rich and the cost of his healthcare plan.

Nothing says fiscal conservatism like pacifism. As of 2015 the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, the most expensive in U.S. history, cost more than $1.5 trillion. More than $1 billion a year is still going down those ratholes. Bernie has said ISIS must be “crushed,” but he may want to revisit that. As of November, the anti-ISIS air and jihadi-training campaign had cost $5 billion and counting.

And obviously don’t start any new wars of choice.

Studies have shown that high student loan debt hobbles economic activity, delaying the age at which college graduates can afford to buy their first cars and homes. Freeing college graduates and their parents from exorbitant tuition bills would stimulate the automobile and real estate markets in particular, as well as the overall economy.

The same is true for healthcare costs. Every dollar you don’t spend on health insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays is one you have for something else. That’s a lot of potential stimulus.

I don’t know why the Sanders campaign hasn’t issued a detailed plan explaining how President Sanders would cover the costs of free college tuition and Medicare for All. Maybe they’re worried about getting attacked as weak on national security by the hawkish Secretary Clinton and, in the general election, by the Republican nominee (probably Trump or Cruz).

Though a valid concern, it should take a back seat to plugging the Bernie-is-just-a-dreamer narrative Hillary’s camp is framing him with. He’ll never be able to out-militarist Hillary or the Republicans, who will try to brand him as the second coming of Vladimir Lenin anyway. Why bother to try?

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)