It’s the year of the outsider, if media coverage of the 2016 primaries is to be believed. Bernie Sanders has overtaken Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire according to some recent polling, Donald Trump has sustained his surge for months, while the other non-politician candidates like Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina have risen as well.
Many pundits have drawn parallels between Sanders and Trump as personifications of an anti-establishment insurgency, but have hastened to highlight crucial differences. Without fail, Trump has been consistently lambasted as a figure of hatred, divisiveness, and intellectual emptiness whose nomination or election to the presidency must be stopped at all costs for the sake of the country. Bernie Sanders has at worst been “ignored” by the media or labeled unelectable, even as it marvels at the crowds he draws and lauds his challenge to Clinton from the left.
Now you will not find me defending Trump or disputing the claim that his campaign lacks substance. But the relatively gentle media treatment given to Sanders is puzzling given that his positions are also ludicrous and dangerous – perhaps even more so, since they are given an air of appeal and legitimacy.
Pundits note that Trump runs his campaign based on an attitude rather than a coherent political philosophy. Sanders’ views, while much more consistent and policy-focused, are still basically demagogic. The difference is that Sanders is not unique in this regard, because emotion is a deep-seated feature of all left-wing politics.
The politics of Sanders in particular, and the Left in general, stem from a basic feeling of resentment, entitlement, and moral superiority (usually in a very secular sense). It is a worldview based on the notion that the poor have less than the rich because the rich have stolen from the poor – as if a factory worker would be paid more for the same work if only CEO’s took a pay cut – and that Americans must fight against the greedy One Percent.
One has to at least respect the intellectual honesty of a political faction that openly welcomes the notion of class warfare. This is enabled by the Left’s utter demonization of the rich and successful, as well as the almost religious, fervor with which they claim to be fighting for the Greater Good™ in order to be on the Right Side of History™.
In a Bernie Sanders presidency, the ends will justify the means. In this case, the ends will be massive wealth redistribution, while the means will be economic seppuku via policies ranging from merely naïve to catastrophic. A brief look at his campaign website’s Issues section reveals positions that are breathtaking in their radicalism and detachment from reality. He has ludicrously asserted that he would create 13 million jobs by spending $1 trillion “rebuilding” American infrastructure, and another one million jobs by spending $5.5 billion on an unspecified “youth jobs program” (Sanders has a history of overstating the impact of government action on jobs).
He has proposed taxing every financial transaction, such as the trading of stocks and bonds, which would shrink the economy, lead to a net loss in tax revenue, and do little if anything to specifically deter risky trades. He has proposed tearing up free trade agreements and eliminating normal trade relations (yes, you heard that right) with China.
A socialist dabbling so extensively with nationalist protectionism that would uproot the world economy is definitely worrisome, but one cannot help but appreciate the irony of the oft-lauded Bernie Sanders championing a Trumpian foreign trade agenda – the difference being that his sympathy for the American worker stops with immigration. President Sanders would still grant amnesty to all illegal aliens and oppose stronger border security.
There are too many policy recommendations to debunk in one sitting. The examples above are just observations at the very first glance of his website. But Sanders’s platform can be best summarized as a litany of economy-choking regulations and taxes alongside promises of free health care, free college, free childcare, and expanded Social Security benefits.
Sound too good to be true? Well, no kidding. And yet if Donald Trump promised the same things tomorrow the media would rightfully paint him as all talk and no substance.
In some ways, this is why the appeal of politicians such as Trump and Sanders to their respective bases is so strong. Establishment politicians can be compromising to a fault, and their best chance to enact the changes they want only comes if they have establishment legitimacy. As such, they are more cautious about proposing far-reaching reforms when experience tells them that they are unwise, unworkable, or just politically toxic.
Even Barack Obama’s individual health care mandate and proposal for free community college, which represent some of biggest expansions of government in American history, pale in comparison to Bernie Sanders’s support for nationalizing health care and eliminating tuition at all colleges and universities. Because he can sincerely talk about such sweeping and utterly unrealistic goals without knowing any better, his supporters adore his authenticity and devour his red meat musings.
I remain unconvinced that any “outsider” candidate, including Sanders and Trump, will win their party’s nomination. So why am I fretting over a crazy old man who will never be president? First of all, anybody should be called out when they are spouting nonsense as a matter of principle. But more importantly, Sanders’ ideas have real appeal and are in line with what many liberal Democrats believe. Even economic illiteracy from a total dud like Sanders can have serious consequences if it impacts the country’s political narrative or coaxes other candidates to join in.
We now have establishment Democrats like Hillary Clinton parroting similarly radical rhetoric but being treated as relative “centrists” and pragmatists. Lest we forget, Clinton has claimed businesses do not create jobs, rich people do not contribute to schools or hospitals, employers should be imprisoned for “wage theft,” and that every criticism of her under the sun is sexist.
By virtue of being less left-wing than Bernie Sanders, she represents the center of the Democratic Party. Rather than fully embracing central planning, she only has to adopt a few tenets of economic creationism, believing that complex socio-economic problems – like stagnant American wages – can be solved by waving a magic wand of government intervention. Raise the minimum wage and – poof! – everyone will have more money. If X is bad for the country, the government must simply outlaw X. If one points out the downside to this strategy, he is against higher pay for everyone and hates the poor. This passes for “serious” and wonkish in eyes of the media.
This brings us back to Bernie. He is particularly dangerous, but is merely the symptom of a larger problem when politicians are judged by their intentions and the elegant simplicity of their solutions rather than the second degree consequences of their actions. Being on the Right Side of History™ means that you never have to say sorry.
But the 2016 primaries are as good a time as any to change this. While the Sandernistas rant and rave about how their man is destined for the White House, will build a strong new America, and represents perfectly the views of approximately 150% of voters, keep in mind that this does not just represent the idealistic musings of the young and naïve. This is the latest manifestation of a historically disastrous and tyrannical worldview under the guise of a zany Brooklynite.
Let’s not just treat Bernie Sanders as a harmless cartoon character. And let’s hold the rest of his adopted party accountable for catering to his views.