We Don’t Have to Butt Heads Over Bernie
Citizen 1: “Come the revolution, we will all have peaches and cream!”
Citizen 2: “But I don’t like peaches and cream.”
Citizen 1: “Come the revolution you will like peaches and cream.’
You can’t go your own way
Sanctity of opinion is no longer respected
It has become a bit of a fashion within the Democratic Party lately to find and expose non-Bernie Democrats and to suggest that they are somehow less than credible voters because they don’t or won’t jump on the Sander’s train. I have seen some of the most demeaning language thrown our way by fellow Democrats who seem to have lost all sense of comity and appreciation for our divergent positions on Sander’s platform.
It is as if their decision to vote for Bernie elevates them to an intellectually superior place in the polling booth. As if their fears for the future of the nation — as it exists today and as it may not exist tomorrow — are unique to them and therefore nobler because they are going to place their bets on Sanders and not Biden. The damage that attitude is doing to the Democratic Party, and to individual Democrats like me, will be irreparable should the Democrats lose in 2020. It may be irreparable even if a Democrat should win.
Bernie supporters are as immovable as the Sphinx when it comes to honest discussions about our differences. It is Bernie’s highway or no way, and that unidirectional stance shuts off the flow of debate between Sanders’ supporters and Biden’s. And that’s a pity, because so many of us who believe Biden has the strength to defeat Trump head-to-head, also believe that much of what Sanders preaches aligns with our own worldview.
We all have a stake in this. Why fight?
I qualified that last sentence with “much of what Sanders preaches” because I cannot embrace the totality of his plans absent a realistic accounting of the costs. I have read through his point-by-point budget and understand why his ledger of costs vs. income might look appealing to his advocates. That statement has made me a pariah among Sanders’ supporters who try to shame me to look beyond my doubts and just go ahead and vote with faith in Bernie, given the existential threat to our country and the world.
Note to Bernie voters: I have as much at stake as you do in the battle between Trump and the Democrat who will emerge from Milwaukee in July. I have three children in their thirties, and two grandchildren, ages 2 and 4.
- I want their future to be as debt free as possible.
- I want them to enjoy affordable housing, broad-ranging health benefits, and educations that are not only second to none, but which are also unburdened by outrageous costs and long-term debts.
- I want them to have access to affordable carbon-zero energy that is not dependent on fossil fuels.
- I want them to have fair shots at good jobs free of income inequality, sexism, ageism, and unchecked corporate tyranny.
- I want them to enjoy national parks, clean air, fresh water, refrozen ice caps, and the resurgence of endangers species.
And yet, despite my vision for tomorrow aligning with most of what Sanders is preaching, I get yelled at, insulted (in four-letter terms), and dismissed as a dinosaur or kick-to-the-side relic because I am not unequivocally on-board the Bernie bus. I’m not on that bus for several reasons, some of them practical, some of them emotional. In almost all cases, it’s not because I think Joe Biden has a better plan.
Where we differ
At the top of my list of practical reasons to be wary of a Sanders’ presidency are two mountains I don’t believe Sanders can summit: cost and compromise.
Many economists have a problem with the long-term aggregate costs of Bernie’s wish-list programs. I’m not an economist, but I can read federal budgets, having worked on Capitol Hill (House and Senate) for 14 years, and then for the Executive Branch for 20 more years under presidents of both parties. I also take seriously the analysis of the $20 trillion cost of Sanders’ program proposals by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB). As reported by NBC News on March 6:
“‘Based on the calculations provided NBC News, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found it would take an additional across-the-board 15 percent to 20 percent tax on wages or income to fully fund Sanders’ proposals over 10 years.
This is on top of the 10 percent increase already baked into Sanders’ proposals.
Marc Goldwein, the committee’s senior vice president, called Sanders’ transparency about raising taxes to pay for his programs ‘commendable,’ but he said the levels Sanders has already proposed ‘only appear to cover three-fifths of the spending they are supposed to pay for’.”
“‘Covering this gap,’ Goldwein said, ‘would require the equivalent of more than doubling all payroll taxes or issuing more debt than the country has accumulated over its entire 244-year history’.”
I believe the CRFB’s analysis is probably pretty close to the truth, with other analytical organizations reporting more or less the same outcomes of Sanders’ proposals. As reported in The Atlantic’s February 26 issue, in an article by Ronald Brownstein titled, “The Sixty Trillion Dollar Man,”
“You would need even more revenue than he is proposing to fully offset those costs,” says Jared Bernstein, an economist and senior fellow at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who is generally sympathetic to Sanders’s agenda. “It is not realistic to believe you can get all those revenues from the top 1, 5, or 10 percent [of households]. You would have to go down further than that. The rest of it has to come from a broader base of taxpayers or it has to go on the deficit.”
The key phrase is, “it’s not realistic to believe…” and that is where I come down on my reluctance to cheer Bernie on when I am unsure how or where the money will be found or come from because all the signs on his highway indicate a major fiscal calamity not too far down the Sanders’ road. I will be long dead and gone when the bills for Bernie’s programs begin to impact the lives of my children and their children.
The national debt will be staggering, and the burden sharing will devastate all but the most fiscally-sound families. The revenue from the top one-percent of wealth holders, corporations, and Wall Street traders will not float that debt, and the nation’s middle class will find itself drowning in payments-due notices from the IRS. If spending like there is no tomorrow is the Sanders’ battle plan, the victory, if there is one, will be Pyrrhic indeed.
Senator Sanders’ track record as an effective compromiser on Capitol Hill does not auger well for a man who, as president, would have to bend the arc of his desires to meet the reluctant will of the legislative branch — no matter who has a the majority.
That is not to say Bernie does not understand the work-process of legislation. His reputation as the “amendment king” (noted in the March 2nd Daily Beast article “What Bernie Sanders Really Got Done in His 29 Years in Congress”) as evidenced by his more than 500 offered amendments (House and Senate records) demonstrates his persistence to advance his policies even if they have to ride on larger pieces of legislation.
And it must be acknowledged that while only one-in-five of those amendments made it into final bills (with many removed during House/Senate conferences), some of his most important positions did survive the partisan cut to become law, including $11 billion for community health centers rolled into the Obama health care legislation.
But a few victories achieved through limited applications of compromise or filibuster or outright social media force do not improve Sanders’ image as a man who would be reluctant at best, as president, to bend, twist, and re-shape his visions in order to garner Congressional votes.
Sanders’ supporters would be quick to say that the problem lies with the Congress, not with Sanders, and that as president, Bernie would hold fast to his principles. While admirable, sheltering principles behind thick walls of a defensive redoubt limits any chief executive’s maneuverability on the twin battlefields of the Congress.
Principles must be tested in the arena of public debate
Compromise is the lubricant necessary to smooth the passage of legislation from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to the Hill in the best of times; it is crucial grease in times of overwhelming partisanship. A President Sanders must be open to deal-making compromise in the face of the pleadings of his own party and the demands of the opposition who may not see the future as Bernie sees it, but who may have workable options worth considering. As of this writing in early March 2020, I don’t see Bernie’s willingness to open the door to suggestions regarding his trademark positions by either the Democrats or the Republicans.
It is my hope that should Sanders be the Democratic candidate, he will choose a vice-president who is capable of encouraging the better angels of Bernie’s nature to guide him toward a more conciliatory approach in advancing his vision. I would not be disappointed if he asked Amy Klobuchar to join him in his campaign against Trump, though other very capable women have been mentioned, each with strengths Bernie will need. I would counsel Joe Biden to look to the same excellent field of women for his running mate and to fill his senior Cabinet positions.
You don’t have to yell at us
With respect to the personal pummeling not-Bernie Democrats are taking from his strong and quite vociferous base, let me say this: your yelling and insults are not helping your cause. Ask anyone who knows me how I react to yelling and noisy arguments and they will confirm that I have no patience or stomach for screams and shouts. I will simply leave the room and be done with the matter. Been that way all my life. I’ve never seen the upside of angry retorts, pointed barbs, humiliating tantrums, or flailing fists. I don’t yell, and I don’t like to be yelled at.
Bernie’s supporters have been yelling a lot lately. They have been calling those of us with differing opinions fairly vile names on social media, and they appear to enjoy calling into question our intellectual abilities to discern that which we can support from that which we’d rather not support. If that is the way the campaign will proceed from Milwaukee should Bernie be the nominee, it will be hard — though necessary — to respect him and vote for him in the general election. A candidate is the reflection of his or her team, and a team is the reflection of their candidate. A hard and fast truism in politics. I shouldn’t have to say this, but the same rules apply to Biden fans: argue the facts, don’t belabor, or bully, the differences.
We’re not the enemy
I completely understand why it is imperative for Bernie and his team to take on media and individuals who bait him, impugn his character, lie about his record, troll him online and at functions, plant outright falsehoods about his plans, and suggest Bernie is less than a patriot.
Such calumny must not be a part of any behind-the-scenes Democratic Party agenda or tolerated if it comes from the White House and its proxies on the Hill, its PACs, or from foreign actors with malign intent. Even if I see the world in a non-Sanders light, I will defend him and his right to shoot for the stars.
Let me just wrap up here with a word of caution or plea for peace to Senator Sanders’ supporters who question those of us who may not want to ride the Bernie bus until we see what happens in Milwaukee: we are not the enemy. The enemy is the one who wants you to take your eye off the prize by engaging in infighting and promoting false narratives about motives.
If we cannot come together, he wins
The enemy is the orange-faced fool who has no desire to better the lot of anyone not named Trump. He doesn’t care about truth, science, facts, or humanity. He is shameless and he must be stopped. And if former Trump Russia adviser Fiona Hill is to be believed (and I do believe her), then Vladimir Putin is the end-game winner if Democrats fail to come together and forge an unbreakable bond that even the Electoral College cannot shear away.
Tuesday, November 8, 2016 should be etched into every Democrat’s list of tragedies not to repeat. It should be at the top of that list. Not only did the Democratic Party field a candidate for whom many voted with their noses held, the Democrats failed to capitalize on the immoral, unethical, boorish, vulgar bounty laid before the electorate in the form of Donald Trump. It was a strategic error of breathtaking ineptness.
It is one thing to point fingers at the Republicans for failing to stop Trump when they had so many early chances; it is another thing to look at all the wasted ammunition the Democrats could have fired back at Trump and his supporters. How Trump won on that November Tuesday will be the stuff of doctoral dissertations and historians’ energies for decades to come, but that bizarre failure of Democrats to thrive when presented with such a golden opportunity does not have to have an anodyne counterpart in 2020.
If you believe Bernie can overcome my doubts and lift the party to victory in November, great; I’m not there yet, and I may not be there until after Milwaukee. But I will be in the voting booth casting my ballot to stop the enemy, and if Bernie Sanders is on that ballot, he will get my vote.