The debate over Bernie Sanders

Bob Sheak – March 6, 2020

This post focuses on Bernie Sanders multi-issue agenda and the cost of the many proposals that make up his agenda. It also considers the benefits as well as the costs of the agenda. Sanders vision is of comprehensive and structural changes requires a large expansion of government, fiscally, programmatically, in regulations. However, Sanders approach is not one that calls for centralized planning or a command economy. In all cases, businesses in the a less monopolistic private sector do the actual work, while ordinary voters, workers, and consumers have more influence. If ever implemented, his policies would make the society more democratic, equal, just, and less militaristic, than it is or has been. While the costs of the proposals are high, the savings and benefits are also considerable. The question of whether, if nominated by the Democratic Party to be its presidential nominee, Sanders could defeat Trump is taken up, while it is recognized that Sanders must first beat Joe Biden in the Democratic primaries. The outlook here is less bright since Biden’s resounding victories on Super Tuesday. Whoever eventually wins the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, Trump and the powerful forces that support him will pose formidable challenges.

 Bernie’s transformative agenda

Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign identifies 34 “issues” on “Bernie Sanders on the issues,” website. Many of the issues include several or many proposals. For example, under the “College for All” issue there are ten separate proposals. The 34 issues include Medicare for all, a green new deal, college for all, a welcoming and safe America for all, workplace democracy, housing for all, the expansion of Social Security, justice and safety for all, honoring our commitment to veterans, free child care and pre-k for all, eliminating medical debt, reinvesting in pubic education, fair banking for all, supporting HBCUs and MSIs, taxes on extreme wealth, racial justice, high-speed internet for all, free and fair elections, income inequality tax plan, revitalizing rural America, responsible foreign policy, women’s rights, getting corporate money out of politics, LGBTQ+Equality, fighting for disability rights, empowering Puerto Rico, Tax increases for the rich, gun safety, legalizing marijuana, empowering tribal nations, real wall street reform, jobs for all, fair trade, and corporate accountability and democracy.

The limits of the electoral process on communicating the full agenda

My guess is that most of Sanders’ supporters do not pay attention to the whole range or details of his proposals. When they do, they focus on what items on a platform potentially reflect their interests, worldview, and values, and/or their party affiliation, and/or some “demographic” factors, and/or their “electability,” especially with respect to the need to defeat Trump. The strictures of campaigning, the rallies, debates, media appearances, organizational maintenance, coordination and planning, the endless greetings and handshakes, the miles of traveling, the candidates can only focus on their “major” proposals and/or the specific interests of a group being addressed or targeted. Pollsters sometime ask respondents whether their votes for a Democratic presidential candidate will be more influenced by the “issues” presented by the candidates or by their “electability,” with the assumption that the two can be separated.

Issues vs electability

 In the present Democratic presidential campaign context, the question often implicitly associates “issues” with Sanders and “electability” with Joe Biden. In fact, both candidates have multi-issue platforms. Bernie has an appeal to the left side of the political continuum based on structural reforms, his long record in both the House and Senate, and the belief that there is a need for a movement outside of the Democratic Party to propel his candidacy, with a movement like enthusiasm and funding from small donors. Biden’s appeal is more to the center based on incremental reforms, a mixed record in the US Congress, his association with former president Barack Obama, the support of black Democratic voters, the support of the Democratic Party leadership, and contributions from any and all sources, now including multi-billionaire Mike Bloomberg.

The impact – if ever implemented

 The overall effect of Sanders’ platform, if ever fully implemented, would be to reduce overall income and wealth inequalities, through an expansion of government programs and spending. It would reverse, or begin to reverse the neoliberal ideologically justified programs that that have emphasized small government (not the military), low taxes, minimal regulation when it in anyway threats business interests, the shredding of the safety net, the privatization of every potentially profitable economic sector, huge military expenditures, the hollowing out and politicization of federal government agencies, maximum support for fossil fuels.

Under a Sander’s presidency, there would be programs that provide benefits for everyone, but especially for those in the lower 80% of the population and even more for those in the bottom 50%, that is, “the working class” of industrial workers, non-supervisory workers generally, farm workers and small farmers, those without jobs who want work, and the poor. It would provide the phasing in of universal, single-payer Medicare for All and free childcare and pre-K for all. It would eliminate medical debt, expand Social Security, support full employment (“jobs for all”; the 20 million jobs expected to be created by The Green New Deal), improve wages through a higher federal minimum wage and support a minimum salary of $60,000 for teachers . It would “reinvest in Public Education.” It would “Honor our commitments to Veterans.” Additionally, the Sanders’ platform would eliminate student debt and lower the interest rate on future student debt, support black colleges and universities, empower tribal nations and Puerto Rico, and work to end discrimination and improve opportunities for women, blacks, the disabled, and the LGBTQ communities, while “revitalizing rural America” and providing “high-speed internet for all.” There is more. Sanders would work to pass comprehensive immigration reform that support DACA and recognize the international right of asylum, advance a foreign policy that emphasizes diplomacy and strives for international cooperation. It would even legalize marijuana. Much of this agenda can only be advanced with the support of both the Senate and House. And, even in the most propitious circumstances, it doesn’t all happen overnight. Some programs could be instituted quickly, while others would take years to phase in, some requiring more than one administration.

The expansion of government under Bernie’s plan requires a robust, non-mega- corporate-dominated private sector

Sanders has at times called his campaign “revolutionary” in what he wants to achieve. Indeed, in 2016, he wrote and published a book entitled Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In.  All the many proposals address problematic economic, political, and social challenges that, if ever enacted, would domestically make America more democratic, equal, and just than it has ever been. The platform offers proposals to diminish the power of mega-corporations generally, and specifically of Wall Street financial institutions, of the military-industrial complex, the pharmaceutical industry, and eliminating or phasing out fossil fuels and the big energy corporations, insurance corporations in health care, and for-profit corporate control in the prison-industrial complex.

Bernie Sanders is a self-described “democratic socialist, which, contrary to his many critics, does not mean that he wants a centralized planned command economy. There is no doubt his policies, if supported congressionally, would greatly increase the role of the federal government in the economy. It would break up or reform the Wall Street banks (eliminating the “too big to fail” conundrum) and encourage the development of public banks at the state and local level. It would transform the health-care sector, taking over the funding of health care but leaving physicians, hospitals, and other health-related sectors to operate much as they have, while giving consumers the right to choose their providers and hospitals. His agenda would institute ways to negotiate prices for prescription drugs. It would advance policies to replace fossil fuels, supporting companies in the private sector that are investing and producing renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, and conservation. The green energy program would provide opportunities for small and larger contractors in the private sector. The Sanders agenda would cut the huge and bloated military budget, although his campaign has not specified clearly how much they would  cut (https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/02/27/bernie-finally-puts-a-number-on-cutting-military-spending).

Then, of course, his administration would expand benefits for Social Security beneficiaries, strengthen the social safety net, and generally expand what is known as the social-welfare state. This expansion would be like the social democratic systems in many European countries. Additionally, he would ask the congress to fund a massive housing program, built by private developers but under strict, non-discriminatory guidelines. And there would be massive support for a repair and renewal of the national infrastructure, again with the work done largely by private contractors. All work funded by the federal government would require that workers have the choice of being represented by a union, that there would decent wages and benefits, and that they would be non-discriminatory in hiring and other job- related areas. It is clear that Sanders wants to transform the role of the federal government but without the command structures, the one-party domination and interference, and the ownership of the means of production associated with, more or less, countries such as Russia, China, North Korea, and Cuba.

What about the costs?

Ronald Brownstein argues that the cost of Sanders agenda is troubling and could be economically disastrous, estimated by some experts to cost at least $60 trillion over ten years (https://cnn.com/2020/01/14/politics/bernie-sanders-proposals-cost/index.html).

Brownstein’s basic point is that Sanders’ proposals would at least double federal spending over the next decade, [while] he has provided little detail about how he would implement or finance such a massive increase.” According to “a wide variety of fiscal experts, according to Brownstein, the cost of Sanders’ agenda would represent “an expansion of government’s cost and size unprecedented since World War II.” Quoting Larry Summers, the former chief of White House economic adviser for Barack Obama and treasury secretary for Bill Clinton, the cost of Sanders’ agenda would  exceed as a share of the economy “far more than the New Deal under President Franklin Roosevelt, the Great Society under Lyndon Johnson or the agenda proposed by any recent Democratic presidential nominee, including liberal George McGovern in 1972.” Brownstein also quotes Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonprofit group that advocates reducing federal deficits, who reiterates the point that “Sanders’ agenda would at least double federal spending. ”

There are difficulties in coming up with a precise cost estimate of his proposals because the “exact cost projections on all of Sanders proposals aren’t available, in part because he hasn’t fully fleshed out some of the ideas he’s embraced (such as universal pre-K and child care). Nonetheless, Brownstein insists, there are estimates that put the likely cost of the single-payer health care plan he has endorsed around $30 trillion or more over the next decade. Depending on the estimates used, including projections from his own campaign, the other elements of the Sanders agenda — ranging from his “Green New Deal” to the cancellation of all student debt to a guaranteed federal jobs program that has received almost no scrutiny — could cost about as much, or even more than, the single-payer plan. That would potentially bring his 10-year total for new spending to around $60 trillion, or more.” Brownstein reports that multiple officials at the Sanders’ campaign have not responded to requests for comments on the scope of his agenda or their own estimates of its cost.

Brownstein also provides some details on the “most expensive elements of the Sanders plan,” estimated by various organizations and the Sanders’ campaign itself. The Urban Institute estimated that Sanders’ single-payer health plan would cost $34 trillion over the next decade. According to the campaign, the ten-year cost of the Green New Deal will be $16.3 trillion. The campaign’s plan is to build 10 million “more units of affordable housing” over ten years at a cost of $2.5 trillion, $1 trillion to improve the nation’s infrastructure, $1.6 trillion to pay off all student debt, $460 billion for the cost of tuition-free public college, $1 trillion on federal spending on K-12, including a guaranteed $60,000 minimum salary for all teachers, $350 billion in support of universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds and universal child care support, and $275 billion to raise Social Security benefits. These plans alone add up to over $57 trillion.

Higher yet

The total costs may end up to be more expensive than $57 to $60 trillion over ten years. The two biggest uncertainties on the cost side are on the ten year costs of “paid medical and family leave for private-sector workers funded by an expansion of the payroll tax, and, most of all, Sanders “pledge to enact a federal jobs guarantee, to ensure that everyone is guaranteed a stable job that pays a living wage.” One estimate is that the employment program would “provide federal jobs to roughly 11 million Americans who are either unemployed or out of the workforce but still desiring to work” and “would cost around $7.5 trillion over 10 years,” including benefits and administrative costs. The costs in this program could turn out to be less than $7.5 trillion, as there is other funding in Bernie’s agenda to be allocated for the creation of up to 20 million jobs linked to the clean energy plan. However, the estimates for the demand of the federal jobs may well be too low. Jobs that pay $15 dollars an hour with benefits are likely attract millions of workers who are not only unemployed, or out of the labor force, but also workers who are employed in jobs that pay less than $15 and/or do not provide benefits. The existing federal and state employments services are not now equipped to handle such a demand for employment, gather information on the jobs created in the energy, infrastructure, housing sectors, and the full-employment, guaranteed job program.

Tax revenues

According to Brownstein’s sources the proposed taxes, economists across the ideological spectrum, is that the “sheer size of Sanders’ spending agenda dwarfs the proposed tax increases he has offered to pay for it.” He refers to an estimate by Brian Riedl, a former Senate Republican budget aide who’s now a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, who has calculated that “Sanders’ existing proposals to raise taxes on the wealthy, Wall Street and corporations would raise about $23 trillion over the next decade.” In addition, “the CBO projects the total amount the federal government will collect over the next decade from the personal income tax is $23.2 trillion. When the new Sanders’ taxes and the taxes projected by the CBO are combined, that is $43.2 trillion over ten years, there is a gap in the estimated $60 trillion costs of the Sanders’ agenda of $16.8 trillion over ten years and $1.68 trillion a year. Though these estimates are rough and subject to all sorts of unquantifiable contingencies. It should also be noted that there have been continuous “limits on government’s capacity to raise money from the wealthy and business.” These considerations raise the specter of a situation in which either the federal debt will rise, or there will be taxes on the middle class to keep the federal deficit from rising too much, or some or many of programs promised by Sanders will have to be postponed.

Savings and benefits

There could be offsetting savings that reduce any possible additions to the fiscal deficit. Brownstein points out that “Sanders and his supporters have responded to concerns about the cost of his plans by arguing that single-payer health care will save on total health care costs for average families by eliminating copayments, deductibles and premiums; that Sanders will save money by cutting defense spending; that spending in areas such as universal early childhood education or free public higher education will generate more benefits than costs for society by improving the productivity of the workforce; and that the overall agenda will accelerate economic growth to a point that makes the cost easier for the economy to absorb.”

Economist Jeffrey D. Sachs also emphasizes the social and political benefits to Americans that will flow from Bernie’s programs (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/02/26/even-wall-street-plutocrats-cant-burn-bernie). He notes that the Wall Street Elite, among other powerful forces, lobby against or ignore the benefits of Sanders proposals, writing: Sanders is a social democrat in the European mold who ‘wants to restore basic decency to America life: ‘universal publicly financed health care; above-poverty wages for full-time workers, along with basic benefits such as family leave for infants and paid leave for illness; college education that does not drive young adults into lifelong debt; elections that billionaires cannot buy; and public policy determined by public opinion, not corporate lobbying (which reached $3.47 billion in the United States in 2019). He refers to polls that find ‘large majorities….want government to ensure health care for all. They want higher taxes on the rich. They want a transition to renewable energy. And they want limits on big money in politics. These are all core Sanders positions, and all are commonplace in Europe.” The beneficiaries would include “tens of millions of Americans lack basic health-care coverage and that medical expenses bankrupt around 500,000 each year, or that one in five US households has zero or negative net worth and that nearly 40% struggle to meet basic needs….that ‘44 million Americans burdened by student debt totaling $1.6 trillion, a phenomenon essentially unknown in other developed countries. And while stock markets have soared, enriching the elites, suicide rates and other ‘deaths of despair (such as opioid overdoses) have also soared, as the working class has fallen further into financial and psychological insecurity.”

Picking up on the last point about the unmet needs that will be addressed by Sander’s proposals, Robert Reich considers “the humongous costs of inaction.”

(https://robertreich.org/post/610881487293874178). He notes that Larry Summers has put the price tag on Sanders agenda at a ten-year $60 trillion – and recognizes the problems of inaccuracy of that estimate. But inaction, Reich contends, will cost more over time than the costs of Bernie’s proposals, that is, the “costs of doing nothing.” Reich refers to several specific examples to make his point.

“A Green New Deal might be expensive but doing nothing about climate change will almost certainly cost far more. If we don’t launch something as bold as a Green New Deal, we’ll spend trillions coping with the consequences of our failure to be bold.”

“Medicare for All will cost a lot, but the price of doing nothing about America’s increasingly dysfunctional healthcare system will soon be in the stratosphere. A new study in The Lancet estimates that Medicare for All would save $450 billion and prevent 68,000 unnecessary deaths each year.”

“Investing in universal childcare, public higher education and woefully outdated and dilapidated infrastructure will be expensive too, but the cost of not making these investments would be astronomical. American productivity is already suffering and millions of families can’t afford decent childcare, college or housing – whose soaring costs are closely related to inadequate transportation and water systems.”

Reich says the main consideration on determining the value of a program is as follows. “As long as every additional dollar of spending reduces by more than a dollar the future costs of climate change, inadequate healthcare and insufficient public investment, it makes sense to spend more.” But critics raise another issue, arguing it “would be safer to move cautiously and incrementally.” Reich rebuttal: “This argument might be convincing if the problems Sanders… address were growing slowly.

But, according to Reich, experts on the environment, health, education and infrastructure are nearly unanimous: these problems are worsening exponentially.” Thus, in the final analysis, “the reason to support Sanders’ …proposals isn’t because they inspire and mobilize voters. It is because they are necessary.”

 A cleaner, less harmful environment

Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams, reports that Sanders and two other senators have taken aim recently at corporate polluters with a bill to clean up toxic “forever chemicals” in drinking water (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/01/29/sanders-takes-aim-corporate-polluters-bill-clean-toxic-forever-chemicals-drinking). She brings attention to the regulator functions of the government and how, with adequate staff and relevant government regulations, the federal government can reduce the negative environment impacts of corporate policies and practices generally, though in this article the focus is on one instance of such potentially avoidable impacts. This would involve more funds for regulation but the costs would be outweighed by the savings from avoiding costly health and environmental outcomes.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on January 29, 2020 introduced legislation, The Prevent Future American Sickness Act, targeting toxic “forever chemicals” in drinking water. The chemicals in question are per- and polyfluoroalkl substances, known as PFAS. Corbett quotes Wenonah Hauter, Food and Water Watch, who says: “It [the bill] lays out a plan to finally hold polluters accountable to pay for cleanup of the worst contamination, while providing much needed financial relief for rural homeowners and local governments that need to upgrade treatment plants to remove these forever chemicals.” The problems associated with PFSAs have been scientifically documented. According to Corbett, Studies have tied this class of chemicals—which have been used in products ranging from nonstick pans and stain-resistant furniture to firefighting foam—to health issues including various cancer, weakened childhood immunity, and endocrine disruption.”

The proposed Senate bill includes findings from studies that the chemicals “‘have so far been confirmed in the groundwater or tap water of more than 1,400 communities’ nationwide, though scientists estimate that more than a million people in the country could be living with PFAS-contaminated tap water.” There is currently no federal legislation dealing with the problem of PFSAs, though “Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Michigan are leading the way in terms of setting robust drinking water standards for PFAS chemicals.” Corbett points out: “The bill would direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to designate PFAS as hazardous under both the Clean Air and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act—commonly called CERCLA or Superfund. As Sanders’ office summarizes (pdf), it also would set up “authorizations for EPA grants for drinking and wastewater infrastructure to address PFAS contamination in publicly owned water treatment plants, and residential water wells.” It would also “ban these ‘forever chemicals’ in food packaging and ban the incineration of PFAS firefighting foam. It would direct the EPA to examine other contaminated waste that shouldn’t be burned and require the Pentagon to put out a report detailing where in the country its firefighting foam is now and where it has been incinerated over the past decade.”

Sanders is quoted: “it is unconscionable that huge corporations like DuPont have, for decades, concealed evidence of how dangerous these compounds are in order to keep profiting at the expense of human health. Congress must pass this legislation to put an end to corporate stonewalling and criminal behavior and tackle this public health crisis.” Corbett also quotes one of the other co-sponsors, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), “who introduced the Green New Deal with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in February 2019.” Markey highlighted that landmark climate and economic resolution, which Sanders supports, in the statement Wednesday. “PFAS pose a serious health risk to residents across Massachusetts and the country,” he said. “Cleaning up our air, soil, and water of these forever chemicals is an important component of the Green New Deal, as we fight to provide our communities with a future free of the legacy of corporate pollution.”

 The bottom line on the costs of Sanders’ agenda and the presidential election

 There is no definitive analysis of the cost of Sanders proposals, as there is not for any other political platform. The estimate that Sanders’ proposals will cost $60 trillion or more over ten years, do not take into account sufficiently the amount of tax revenues that will be collected, do not take into account the savings and benefits that will reduce “future” costs, including how environmental regulations can reduce environmental damage and health effects. At the same time, the challenges of implementing at least even only major aspects of Sanders’ agenda are daunting in the scope and magnitude of the changes envisioned. However, it is important to keep in mind, for example, that Sanders’ Green New Deal is the only proposal that gives the United States the chance of taking effective action to curtail “climate change,” which, according to virtually all climate scientists, is an existential threat to humanity that is accelerating and approaching a point where the devastation overwhelms society’s institutions. (Go to “sanders.com/issues” and check out “The Green New Deal.”) Sander’s presidential bid is hardly in the bag. He will face immense opposition in the remaining Democratic primary season from the mounting Democratic Party support for Biden.

Can Bernie beat Trump in 2020?

No – Sanders cannot be Trump. He should not be the Democratic Party’s nominee

In an article for the New York Times, Thomas B. Edsall interviews experts and brings his own knowledge to bear in an analysis that concludes that, if Bernie wins the Democratic Party presidential nomination, it will not bode well for the Party (https://nytimes.com/2020/02/05/opinion/sanders-2020-election.html).

Edsall summarizes his foreboding as follows. “The potential pitfalls for the Democratic Party of nominating Sanders go beyond the possibility of losing to Trump again, raising the likelihood that the Senate will remain in Republican hands and threatening the re-election prospects of the 40+ Democrats who defeated Republicans in moderate districts in 2018. Edsall discounts the “seven most recent national head-to-head surveys shows Sanders ahead of Trump by 3.7 points, 49.0 to 45.3,” arguing that the polls “were taken before any concerted Republican efforts to demonize Sanders, which are certain to start in earnest if he becomes the nominee.” Indeed, Edsall writes, “Sanders stands out among the leading Democratic presidential candidates in that none of the others have accumulated as many potentially debilitating liabilities as he has over 50 active years in politics.”

Edsall thinks that Sanders agenda will alienate too many voters in the general election, referring to a few examples such as “a Medicare for All plan eliminating private health coverage, a ban on fracking highly unpopular in Pennsylvania, the decriminalization of illegal border crossings.”

His evidence – the experts

Edsall writes that “many studies show that in general elections, the nomination of more extreme candidates has alienated moderates and driven up voting for the opposition,” citing a 2018 academic paper by political scientists Andrew Hall and Daniel Thompson, who write: “We have found consistent evidence that extremist nominees do poorly in general elections in large part because they skew turnout in the general election away from their own party and in favor of the opposing party.” Edsall also cites an email he received from Anthony Fowler, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, who writes: “Given this evidence, if I had to make a prediction, I’d say that the Democratic Party’s chances of winning the presidential election are notably lower if they elect Sanders or Warren as opposed to, say, Biden, Klobuchar, or Buttigieg. That’s not to say that Warren or Sanders can’t win the general election, but the evidence suggests that their chances are lower.”  And Wendy Schiller, a political scientist at Brown University, wrote in an email that “Sanders appears to generate the most fervent and intense enthusiasm among his supporters, but polls continue to show that Biden attracts more support among the key groups that are known to get out the door to vote in general elections, especially black voters and voters over the age of 35.” There is also concern that a Sanders’ presidential candidacy will rachet up Republican turnout in response to this radical agenda, stirring a counter-mobilization. Overall, Edsall writes: “Most political scientists I contacted this week saw greater disadvantages for the Democratic Party in a Sanders nomination than in the possible selection of other leading candidates,” especially as it is turning out, the selection of Joe Biden.

Most Democratic Party leaders are opposed to Sanders’ presidential candidacy

For an article published on February 27 in The New York Times, Lisa Lerer and Reid J. Epstein, interviewed 93 Democratic leaders, most of whom think that a Sanders’ presidential nomination will damage the party and lead to a loss to Trump in the general election in November. (https://www.nytimes.com/us/politics/democratic-superdelegates.html).

They summarize how the investigation was done. “Dozens of interviews with Democratic establishment leaders this week show that they are not just worried about Mr. Sanders’s candidacy, but are also willing to risk intraparty damage to stop his nomination at the national convention in July 13-16 at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, if they get the chance. Since Mr. Sanders’s victory in Nevada’s caucuses on Saturday, The Times investigators interviewed 93 party officials — all of them superdelegates, who could have a say on the nominee at the convention — and found overwhelming opposition to handing the Vermont senator the nomination if he arrived with the most delegates but fell short of a majority.” In such an eventuality, those interviewed worried about “a brokered convention, a messy political battle the likes of which Democrats have not seen since 1952, when the nominee was Adlai Stevenson.” They refer to the concerns that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, receive in text-messaging chains from their members in the Congress, worries about congressional losses in November if Sanders is the Democratic standard bearer, and of getting wiped out in the general election. Party leaders across the country “say they worry that Mr. Sanders, a democratic socialist with passionate but limited support so far, will lose to President Trump, and drag down moderate House and Senate candidates in swing states with his left-wing agenda of ‘Medicare for All’ and free four-year public education.”

Concern among Democratic “leaders” that a Sanders presidential candidacy may end up splitting the Democratic Party

The issue of a brokered convention is particularly worrisome to the 93 Democratic leaders interviewed by Lisa Lerer and Reid J. Epstein. At this point in the Democratic primary elections, it looks like there will be two viable presidential candidates who will arrive at the party’s convention in July – Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. According to the party’s rules, if a candidate gets fifty percent + one of the votes cast at the first round of voting, then that candidate will be nominated as the party’s presidential candidate. All the delegates voting in the first round of votes are pledged to one or other candidate – over 3,200 delegates. If neither of the candidates has a majority, there will be a second round of voting. The difference between the first and second rounds is that 771 Superdelegates, unpledged delegates who are not permitted to vote in the initial round but will be permitted to vote in the second round, And, in the second round of voting, the pledged candidates will be allowed to change their votes. Sanders and his team want the rules changed so that, if one of the candidates has a plurality of favorable votes in the first round, that candidate should be given the party’s nomination. No second round. No superdelegate influence. Biden and the Democratic Party leaders want to follow the rules and go to a second vote if there is an absence of a majority for either candidate in the first round of voting. Sanders is concerned about the prospect of Superdelegates participating in the selection of the party’s nominee, as they will do in this scenario, because they are likely to support Biden and significantly increase his change of getting the nomination. Who are the superdelegates? They include members of the Democratic National Committee, Congress members, Democratic governors, party insiders and VIPs – including lobbyists (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/02/27/class-war-dnc-and-fight-our-lives). The superdelegates represent one example of what Sanders calls the Democratic Establishment.

The Democratic leaders and the experts interviewed by Edsall worry that Sanders ascendancy in the nomination fights, presently pitting Biden against Sanders, places the Democratic Party in a double bind. On the one hand, Edsall’s sources argue that Sanders is a “dangerously weak general election candidate. On the other hand, many of Sanders’ supporters are so strongly committed to his campaign that they “are likely to bolt on Election Day and vote for either a third-party candidate or even Trump…or sit out the contest altogether.” That is, their loyalty is to Sanders and not to the Democratic Party. And that could spell doom in the election against Trump. Edsall points to the 7 million votes in the 2016 election that “were cast for third-party candidates, more than enough to have given the election to Hillary Clinton.” Sanders himself has never encouraged such actions by his supporters and has repeatedly said that, if he loses the Democratic Party nomination, he will actively support whoever is the Party’s nominee in the 2020 general election. Nonetheless, to justify his unease, Edsall found a January 22-23 Emerson College survey that asked Democratic primary voters “will you vote for the Democratic nominee even if it is not your candidate?” In response, “87 percent of Joe Biden supporters said yes, as did 90 percent of those backing Elizabeth Warren and 86 percent of those aligned with Pete Buttigieg. 53 percent of Sanders supporters said yes, 16 percent said no, and 31 percent said they were undecided.” In a speech given the night of Super Tuesday, Sanders did say that his campaign had to fight both the “economic establishment” and “the political establishment,” with clear reference to the Democratic Party leadership.

Yes, Sanders can defeat Trump

In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Steven Phillips argues that “the math” says that “Bernie Sanders can Beat Trump” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/28/opinion/bernie-sanders-polls.html).

 So, what is “the math,” or evidence?

First, Phillips points out that most “of the current polling data shows Mr. Sanders winning the national popular vote.” He continues: “In the most recent national polls testing Democratic candidates against Mr. Trump, Mr. Sanders beat him in every single one, with margins varying from 2 percent to 6 percent. This has been the case for nearly a year now, with Mr. Sanders outpolling the president in 67 of 72 head-to-head polls since March.” The polling data also show Sanders doing well against Trump in “the pivotal battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Second, the exit polls and precinct analysis in the first three nominating contests, in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada document that Sanders received strong support from voters under 30 and from heavily Latino precincts, which represent a formidable base of support for the general election in November. Phillips refers to a Pew Research project that found the “share of eligible voters from Generation Z (18-23 year olds) will be more than twice as large in 2020 as it was in 2016 (10 percent versus 4 percent).

Third, on the youth component of the electorate in past elections, Phillips reminds readers that “Mrs. Clinton defeated Mr. Trump by nearly 20 points among voters under 30, and the anti-Republican tilt of that demographic was even more pronounced in 2018, when 67 percent of them voted Democratic, 35 points more than the number who voted Republican. As for Latinos, nearly two-thirds of that population consistently vote Democratic.” Fourth, the demographics favor Sanders in 2020. Phillips writes: “In Michigan and Wisconsin, which were decided in 2016 by roughly 11,000 and 22,700 votes respectively, close to a million young people have since turned 18. Beyond the Midwestern trio of states, the demographic revolution has even more transformative potential. Mr. Trump won Arizona, for example, by 91,000 votes, and 160,000 Latinos have turned 18 in that state since then.”

Fourth, of all the remaining candidates, Phillips maintains plausibly that “Mr. Sanders is the most likely to reclaim those Democratic voters who defected to the Green Party in search of a more progressive standard-bearer,” especially in states like Michigan and Wisconsin where there was an “increase in votes for Jill Stein from 2012 to 2016” and that it was “greater than Mr. Trump’s margin of victory” in those states.

Fifth, there are concerns that a Sanders candidacy would have a negative effect on down-ballot congressional races. Phillips thinks such concerns are overblown and refers to how in the midterm 2018 elections “the vast majority of congressional districts where Democrats ousted Republican incumbents …it was enthusiasm and the high turnout of Democratic voters [attributable at least in part to how Sanders 2016 campaign has energized parts of the electorate] that made the difference, much more than alienated moderate Republicans switching their party allegiance. In all but five of the 41 seats picked up by Democrats, increased Democratic turnout alone would have been enough to flip the seats without any Republican crossovers.”

Moderate voters need to take a second look at Bernie’s record

This is Jason Sattler’s argument in an article for Common Dreams titled “Moderate Democrats have a duty to consider Sanders” (https://www.commondreams.org/lviews/2020/02/10/moderate-democrats-have-a-duty-consider-sanders-he-has-a-clear-path-beating-trump).

They should take a second look because Sanders proposals seek to address problems that have been allowed to worsen. Sattler writes: “If you believe in saving democracy, the courts and the planet, and reversing the unrepentant cruelty, corruption and carelessness that define the current administration, you have a duty to at least consider the candidacy of the most popular senator in America, the top fundraiser in the Democratic primaries, and the man who has generally beaten Trump in head-to-head polls for five years now.” Sanders is a candidate is a candidate “who has spent decades warning against the evils of an economy where the top 0.1% own as much as the bottom 90%.” He has been effective legislator in the Congress, co-sponsoring more than 200 bills that became law—”including the 2014 Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act he negotiated with conservative lawmakers John McCain and Jeff Miller to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs.”  He had been “one of the greatest champions of the $15 minimum wage, a movement that has swept many states and helped drive income gains among the poorest workers.” Addition, Sattler adds: “Supposed big ticket items like free college and universal pre-K might seem overly generous, but they’re just rounding errors compared with the recent increases in the defense budget combined with the massive tax cuts for corporations passed by Trump’s GOP. And while the popularity for “Medicare for All” rises and falls in polls, it would be a strong selling point if the entire Democratic Party got behind it and made the case that it would lead to higher wages.”

Concluding thoughts

 Democratic Party leaders, voters who are afraid of radical or structural change that upend or significantly modify what they are used to, and many media pundits find Sander’s agenda too radical, unsettling, destabilizing, are opposed to Sanders’ nomination. His proposals are certainly far-reaching and want to take the society and many of its institutions to places that are unprecedented in US history. He is talking about systemic or structural changes designed to reduce the concentration of corporate power and private wealth, to detach politics from plutocrats, to reduce significantly inequalities in income and wealth, to guarantee good-paying jobs and health care for all, as well as providing free public college education, a strong regulatory regime, and a wide range of social-welfare programs more generous than the society has ever experienced.

It remains to be seen if the vision of Sanders and his supporters will come to fruition when it is opposed by many Democrats, opposed by the candidacy of Biden,  and undoubtedly opposed by Trump and his allies, especially among the corporate elites and rich Americans. In the meantime, Sanders campaign faces huge hurdles. He needs to keep and expand his base of support, win more delegates in the remaining primary states than Biden, go to the convention with a majority of the pledged delegates, and thus secure the party’s presidential nomination without a brokered convention. If he and his supporters are unable to do all this, his chances of winning the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination evaporate. This pathway to Sanders’ success seems to be increasingly narrow.

One major challenge eventually facing the Democratic Party leaders is whether they can somehow find a way to nominate Biden as the party’s candidate at the Democratic Party convention in July without at the same time alienating Sanders’ supporters. There is little question that the party does not have a chance of beating Trump and the Republicans in November if it is not unified. So, among many other issues, how do the leaders in the Democratic Party nominate Biden while at the same time resolving the differences in the issues that divide the Biden campaign and the Sanders campaign. The challenge is daunting. On the one hand, it involves finding ways to reconcile some very different positions on policy like whether to build on Obamacare or go for Medicare for all, whether to settle for a carbon tax or commence a Green New Deal, whether too-big-to-fail Wall Street banks will continue to exist or be broken up along with other structural changes in the banking system, whether the bloated and wasteful military budget will continue being supported or be subjected to major cuts, and how much taxes on the corporations and high-income – and -wealth families will be raised. These and other differences on important issues will be hard to reconcile. On the other hand, maybe the threat of another four years of Trump will, in the end, lead all factions to subordinate their policy differences to this goal. But that may not be enough either.

Whatever happens, there is the question of whether Biden and the Democratic Party are up to the challenge of facing off against a highly unified Republican Party, a president who seems to have the unyielding support already of something like 45% of the electorate, seemingly unlimited funding sources, the un-democratic benefit of extensive voter suppression in many states, and, the resources to utilize the most advanced methods of spreading disinformation and character assassination to smear opponents.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s