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?
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.)
Ten Years into the Iraq War, the U.S. Repeats in Syria
The Quagmire Pattern always seems to play out the same way.
There’s a civil war in some country deemed by the CIA to be Of Strategic Importance (i.e., energy reserves, proximity to energy reserves, or potential pipeline route to carry energy reserves).
During this initial stage, a secular socialist dictatorship fights Muslim insurgents who want to create an Islamist theocracy. To build public support – or at least apathetic tolerance – the conflict is cast to and by the media as a struggle between tyrannical torturers and freedom-loving underdogs.
The U.S. must get involved!
If not us, who?
Alternative answers to this question – the European Union, the African Union, the United Nations, or nobody at all – what about self-determination? – are shrugged off. It is as if no one has said a word.
The Pentagon selects a rebel faction to support, typically the most radical (because they’re the most fanatical fighters), and sends them money and weapons and trainers.
It works. The regime falls. Yay!
Civil war ensues. Not so yay.
The craziest religious zealots are poised to prevail in this second stage. Because they’re militant and well-trained (by the U.S.). Suffering from buyers’/backers’ remorse, American policymakers have a change of heart. Pivoting 180 degrees, the U.S. now decides to back the most moderate faction (because they’re the most reasonable/most pro-business) among the former opposition.
Then the quagmire begins.
The trouble for Washington is, the radicals are still fanatical – and the best fighters. Minus outside intervention, they will win. So the U.S. pours in more help to their new moderate allies. More weapons. Bigger weapons. More money. Air support. Trainers. Ground troops. Whatever it takes to win an “honorable peace.” And install a moderate regime before withdrawing.
If they can withdraw.
The moderates, you see, never enjoyed the support of most of their country’s people. They didn’t earn their stripes in the war against the former regime. Because of U.S. help, they never had to up their game militarily. So they’re weak. Putting them in power isn’t enough. If the U.S. leaves, they collapse.
Boy, is the U.S. in a pickle now.
Americans troops are getting offed by a determined radical insurgency. The harder the Americans try to crush the nuts, the stronger and bigger they get (because excessive force by invaders radicalizes moderate – but patriotic – fence sitters). Moreover, their puppet allies are a pain in the ass. Far from being grateful, the stooges resent the fact that the U.S. armed their enemies during the original uprising against the fallen dictatorship. The puppet-puppetmaster relationship is inherently one characterized by mistrust.
Starting with the Carter and Reagan Administrations’ arming of the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the 1980s and continuing today with the ineffectual and ornery Hamid Karzai, the Quagmire Pattern is how the U.S. intervention unfolded in Afghanistan.
However, the American electorate isn’t told this. They are repeatedly told that abandonment – as opposed to isolationism – is the problem. “The decisive factor in terms of the rise of the Taliban and al-Qaida was the fact that the United States and most of the international community simply walked away and left it to Pakistan and to other more extremist elements to determine Afghanistan’s future in the ’90s,” claims James Dobbins, former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo in a standard retell of the Abandonment Narrative.
The logical implication, of course, is that the U.S. – er, the “international community” – shouldn’t have left Afghanistan in the early 1990s. We ought to have remained indefinitely. The problem with this argument is that we have been over there for 12 straight years, and have little to show for our efforts. (It also ignores history. The U.S. was involved in the 1996-2001 Afghan civil war. It helped both sides: weapons to the Northern Alliance, tens of millions of dollars to the Taliban.)
The Abandonment Narrative is total bullshit – but it has the force of media propagandizers behind it.
The Quagmire Pattern has played out in Afghanistan. And in Iraq. Again in Libya, where a weak central government propped up by the Obama Administration is sitting on its hands as Islamist militias engage in genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Now the Quagmire Pattern is unfolding again, this time in Syria. When the uprising against the secular socialist government of Bashar al-Assad began two years ago, the U.S. rushed in with money, trainers and indirect arms sales. Jihadis received most of the bang-bang goodies. Now people like Dobbins are arguing in favor of weapons transfers from Pentagon arms depots to the Syrian opposition. And President Obama is considering using sketchy allegations that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons – here we go again with the WMDs – as a pretext for invading Syria with ground troops.
Dobbins admits that there are “geopolitical risks,” including distracting ourselves from America’s other Big Possible Future War, against Iran. Yet he still wants to arm the Syrian rebels, who include members of Al Qaeda.
There is, he told NPR, “the possibility that the intervention wouldn’t work and that it would look like a failure.”
“Possibility”? Such interventions have never worked.
So why does he still want to give weapons to people who will probably wind up aiming them at American soldiers?
“I think the consequences of not acting and the risks of not acting are even greater.”
In other words: we do what we do because that’s what we do.
That’s how the Quagmire Pattern works.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL