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“Change Requires More Than Righteous Anger”: How Sanders Can Avoid Becoming The Ted Cruz Of The Left

As it becomes increasingly clear that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic presidential nominee, a lot of people are beginning to talk about what Bernie Sanders should do now. The more interesting question is: what happens to the “movement” he has inspired once this election is over. That is what Brian Beutler attempted to address. Here is a summary of his advice:

Sanders must keep the apparatus he’s built largely intact, but refocused on lobbying for progressive policies and promoting and financing progressive candidates—and making establishment Democrats fear the price of opposing both.

That sounds like good advice to me, with one caveat: don’t become the Ted Cruz of the left.

After the election in November, Bernie Sanders will go back to being the Senator from Vermont. Unless he wants to give up that seat – he will be working from inside the system. As Beutler goes on to point out, if Democrats win control of the Senate, Sanders will be in line to be chair of the Budget Committee. Using that position to advance his progressive agenda means playing the “establishment” game. Unless he wants to become a full-time activist working from outside the system (which would be a viable option), here are some things he could do:

  1. Develop a plan for universal health care coverage that is more than simply throwing numbers at a page that don’t add up. In other words, develop a plan that would actually work.
  2. Submit the Rebuild America Act to address this country’s infrastructure needs and create jobs.
  3. Work with Senate colleague Sherrod Brown to develop a serious proposal to break up the big banks.

I could go on with other things Sanders has advocated for in this primary, but perhaps you get my drift. As a candidate, Sanders has been good at naming and describing problems. Where he has been weak is in developing serious plans to address them. Energizing his movement to maintain the pressure for more progressive policies means providing the country with actual progressive policies. Sanders could then mobilize the army of his young supporters to take up the cause and fight for them. As President Obama said at Howard University:

You have to go through life with more than just passion for change; you need a strategy. I’ll repeat that. I want you to have passion, but you have to have a strategy. Not just awareness, but action. Not just hashtags, but votes.

You see, change requires more than righteous anger. It requires a program, and it requires organizing.

The alternative is to become the Ted Cruz of the left – always disrupting but never offering anything constructive that could actually change things.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 10, 2016

May 11, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Nominee, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“DEFCON 4”: Bernie Sanders’ PUMA Moment; Hillary Clinton ‘Not Qualified’

That didn’t take long.

I wondered Tuesday night how nasty both Democrats would get—whether Bernie Sanders would start aping conservative talking points against Hillary Clinton, and whether she would try to out-Israel him in New York. We’re not quite to those places yet, but Sanders’s blunt statement Wednesday night that Clinton “is not qualified” to be president ratchets up the arms race considerably.

This started Wednesday morning when Clinton appeared on Morning Joe and Joe Scarborough—jumping off from Sanders’s wobbly Daily News editorial board interview—tried to ask her four times whether she thought Sanders was qualified to be president. Here’s the full exchange so you can decide for yourself:

JS: In light of the questions he had problems with, do you believe this morning that Bernie Sanders is qualified and ready to be president of the United States?

HC: Well, I think the interview raised a lot of really serious questions, and I look at it this way. The core of his campaign has been break up the banks, and it didn’t seem in reading his answers that he understood exactly how that would work under Dodd-Frank and exactly who would be responsible, what the criteria were; and that means you really can’t help people if you don’t know how to do what you are campaigning on saying you want to do. And then there were other—

JS: So is he qualified?…And I’m serious, if you weren’t running today and you looked at Bernie Sanders would you say this guy is ready to be president of the United States?

HC: Well, I think he hadn’t done his homework and he’d been talking for more than a year about doing things that he obviously hadn’t really studied or understood, and that does raise a lot of questions and really what it goes to is for voters to ask themselves, can he deliver what he’s talking about, can he really help people—

JS: What do you think?

HC: Can he help our economy, can he keep our country strong…Well, obviously, I think I’m by far the better choice—

JS: But do you think he is qualified and do you think he is able to deliver on the things he is promising to all these Democratic voters?

HC: Well, lemme put it this way, Joe. I think that what he has been saying about the core issue in his whole campaign doesn’t seem to be rooted in an understanding of either the law or the practical ways you get something done. And I will leave it to voters to decide who of us can do the job that the country needs, who can do all aspects of the job. Both on the economic domestic issues and on national security and foreign policy.

I don’t know how you read that, but I read it as Scarborough trying four times to get Clinton to say outright that Bernie Sanders is not qualified to be president, and her refusing to do so. She came sorta close; The Washington Post headlined a write up on it “Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president,” but she never said the words, and after attempt number four, she retreated to the standard, and appropriate, dodge about it being up to the voters. From there, the interview moved on to other topics.

And what did Sanders do? This, in a speech in Philadelphia Wednesday night.

She has been saying lately that she thinks that I am not qualified to be president.

Well, let me, let me just say in response to Secretary Clinton: I don’t believe that she is qualified, if she is, through her super-PAC, taking tens of millions of dollars in special interest funds. I don’t think that you are qualified if you get $15 million from Wall Street through your super-PAC.

I don’t think you are qualified if you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq. I don’t think you are qualified if you have supported virtually every disastrous trade agreement which has cost us millions of decent paying jobs. I don’t think you are qualified if you’ve supported the Panama free trade agreement, something I very strongly opposed and, which as all of you know, has allowed corporations and wealthy all over the world people to avoid paying their taxes to their countries.

Wait. What? “Has been saying”? “Has been saying,” as if she’d said it seven times? She didn’t even say it once!

Now—Sanders apologists will scream that she started it, and even neutral observers, if there are any, may be confused. But there’s a big difference between saying “raises serious questions” and “I’ll leave it to the voters to decide,” and saying flat out that one’s primary opponent is “not qualified.”

Clinton is still the favorite to win the nomination. I heard Chuck Todd say Wednesday morning that Sanders needs to win 67 percent of the remaining pledged delegates to overtake her lead. Since all delegates are awarded proportionally, and since there aren’t likely to be many huge blowouts in the upcoming states (we’re almost done with caucuses), that seems a tall order.

Clinton also leads the popular vote tally by almost exactly 2.4 million. Pretty hard to picture him overcoming that, too. How hard? Let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, big Sanders wins in New York and California. In 2008, Clinton won both of those handily over Barack Obama—New York by 17 percent and around 250,000 votes, and California by 8 percent and around 430,000.

It’s pretty unlikely that Sanders can equal those results, but let’s just say he does, and then let’s give him another 100,000 in Pennsylvania. That would be 780,000. That still puts him 1.6 million votes behind. Say he even runs the table and nets another 300,000 or so from the smaller states. He’s still more than a million votes behind in the most optimistic scenario.

Votes are important because they tend to determine what the superdelegates do. Superdelegates are hesitant to undo the voters’ collective will. It’s worth noting here that in 2008, Clinton lost the popular vote tally to Obama by only 300,000 or 400,000, depending on how you counted them. There were controversies then over whether to count Florida and Michigan, which had disobeyed the party’s mandated calendar. If you don’t include them, Obama won by around 450,000. If you do, he beat Clinton by just 60,000 (out of 35 million cast).

So it was much closer than it seems this is going to be, but even so, the superdelegates wouldn’t overturn the voters’ choice.

Why all these numbers? Just to show that it’s still likely that at the end of the process, Clinton will be ahead, and Sanders will have to endorse her. Not certain, of course, but likely. So the question is, how can he endorse her after saying flat out that she’s not qualified to be president?

Well, politicians have their ways. “She’s better than Trump/Cruz.” But won’t it ring awfully hollow? For her part, Clinton, looking toward a future mending of fences, brushed off Sanders’s  remarks. It’s worth noting, too, that back in 2008, Clinton gave up the fight in early June right after the primaries ended and endorsed Obama. One has trouble picturing Sanders doing the same, if it comes to that, and what he said Wednesday night makes it even less likely.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 7, 2016

April 8, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Tentative, Unprepared And Unaware”: Rough Interview Raises Awkward Questions For Sanders Campaign

If you talk privately to Hillary Clinton campaign aides, one of the more common complaints is that Bernie Sanders just hasn’t faced enough scrutiny. It’s ironic, in a way – Sanders supporters generally argue the Vermont senator doesn’t get enough attention from the national media, and in a way, Team Clinton agrees.

As the argument goes, much of the political world has treated Sanders as a protest candidate, who’s serious about putting his ideas in the spotlight, but less serious about actually winning the presidency – a dynamic Sanders’ own campaign has conceded was largely true at the start of the race. The result has been less scrutiny and a less robust examination.

Whether you find these concerns compelling or not, Sanders’ Democratic critics embraced this Sanders interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News with the kind of enthusiasm we haven’t seen all cycle. The Atlantic’s David Graham helped explain why.

There’s little doubting Bernie Sanders’s core political convictions – he’s been saying the same things for decades, with remarkable consistency. But turning convictions into policy is the challenge, and the Vermont senator’s interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News raises some questions about his policy chops.

Throughout his interview, Sanders seemed taken aback when he was pressed on policy – and not just on the matters that are peripheral to his approach, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or interrogation of detainees, but even on bread-and-butter matters like breaking up the big banks, the Democratic presidential hopeful came across as tentative, unprepared, or unaware.

It’s easy to overstate these things. A Washington Post piece called the interview, conducted on Monday and published yesterday, a “disaster.” A writer at Politico argued that when Sanders was pressed for specifics on trade and jobs, the senator was “not much better than Trump in his cluelessness.”

I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s not unfair to note that the Daily News interview raised concerns about Sanders that the Vermonter has largely avoided after nearly a year on the campaign trail.

If the senator had flubbed a question or two, struggling with details on obscure areas outside his wheelhouse, it wouldn’t have made much of a ripple. But as Jonathan Capehart noted, this happened more than once or twice in this interview. Asked about breaking up the big banks, Sanders wasn’t sure about the Fed’s authority, or the administration’s. Asked about court fights over too-big-to-fail measures, Sanders conceded, “It’s something I have not studied, honestly, the legal implications of that.”

There were a few too many similar answers. On negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, Sanders said, “You’re asking me a very fair question, and if I had some paper in front of me, I would give you a better answer.” Asked whether the Obama administration is pursuing the right policy towards ISIS, he responded, “I don’t know the answer to that.” Asked about interrogations of ISIS leaders, Sanders said, “Actually I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.”

This is a sampling. There were other related exchanges. They were not encouraging.

For Sanders’ supporters, I suspect the response is that the senator is leading a revolution by emphasizing broad themes and identifying systemic crises. Presidents don’t need to know a lot of specific details, the argument goes, so much as they need to establish clear goals.

For Sanders’ detractors, meanwhile, it’s likely this interview was evidence that Sanders’ understanding of major issues is, at best, superficial. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are technocratic wonks, fluent in granular policy details on a wide range of issues, and Sanders just isn’t in their league when it comes to knowledge, preparation, and breadth of expertise.

Obviously, observers will make up their own minds about the significance of the interview. But as an objective matter, Sanders is just now facing the kind of questions he’s avoided for months: there’s no doubt the senator has a clear vision and the ability to inspire his supporters to follow his lead, but how much does he know about implementing his goals? Sanders can paint beautifully with a broad brush, but how prepared is he when it comes to the unglamorous work of governing?

If the senator and his campaign have good answers to these questions, now would be an excellent time to offer them.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 6, 2016

April 7, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, National Media | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Case Against Bernie Sanders”: The Despairing Vision He Paints Of Contemporary America Is Oversimplified

Until very recently, nobody had any cause to regret Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. Sanders is earnest and widely liked. He has tugged the terms of the political debate leftward in a way both moderates and left-wingers could appreciate. (Moderate liberals might not agree with Sanders’s ideas, but they can appreciate that his presence changes for the better a political landscape in which support for things like Mitt Romney’s old positions on health care and the environment were defined as hard-core liberalism.) Sanders’s rapid rise, in both early states and national polling, has made him a plausible threat to defeat Hillary Clinton. Suddenly, liberals who have used the nominating process to unilaterally vet Clinton, processing every development through its likely impact on her as the inevitable candidate, need to think anew. Do we support Sanders not just in his role as lovable Uncle Bernie, complaining about inequality, but as the actual Democratic nominee for president? My answer to that question is no.

Sanders’s core argument is that the problems of the American economy require far more drastic remedies than anything the Obama administration has done, or that Clinton proposes to build on. Clinton has put little pressure on Sanders’s fatalistic assessment, but the evidence for it is far weaker than he assumes. Sanders has grudgingly credited what he calls “the modest gains of the Affordable Care Act,” which seems like an exceedingly stingy assessment of a law that has already reduced the number of uninsured Americans by 20 million. The Dodd-Frank reforms of the financial industry may not have broken up the big banks, but they have, at the very least, deeply reduced systemic risk. The penalties for being too big to fail exceed the benefits, and, as a result, banks are actually breaking themselves up to avoid being large enough to be regulated as systemic risks.

It is true that the Great Recession inflicted catastrophic economic damage, and that fiscal policy did too little to alleviate it. The impression of economic failure hardened into place as the sluggish recovery dragged on for several years. Recently, conditions have improved. Unemployment has dropped, the number of people quitting their job has risen, and — as one would predict would happen when employers start to run short of available workers — average wages have started to climb. Whether the apparent rise in the median wage is the beginning of a sustained increase, or merely a short-lived blip, remains to be seen. At the very least, the conclusion that Obama’s policies have failed to raise living standards for average people is premature. And the progress under Obama refutes Sanders’s corollary point, that meaningful change is impossible without a revolutionary transformation that eliminates corporate power.

Nor should his proposed remedies be considered self-evidently benign. Evidence has shown that, at low levels, raising the minimum wage does little or nothing to kill jobs. At some point, though, the government could set a minimum wage too high for employers to be willing to pay it for certain jobs. Even liberal labor economists like Alan Krueger, who have supported more modest increases, have blanched at Sanders’s proposal for a $15 minimum wage.

Sanders’s worldview is not a fantasy. It is a serious critique based on ideas he has developed over many years, and it bears at least some relation to the instincts shared by all liberals. The moral urgency with which Sanders presents his ideas has helped shelter him from necessary internal criticism. Nobody on the left wants to defend Wall Street or downplay the pressure on middle- and working-class Americans. But Sanders’s ideas should not be waved through as a more honest or uncorrupted version of the liberal catechism. The despairing vision he paints of contemporary America is oversimplified.

Even those who do share Sanders’s critique of American politics and endorse his platform, though, should have serious doubts about his nomination. Sanders does bring some assets as a potential nominee — his rumpled style connotes authenticity, and his populist forays against Wall Street have appeal beyond the Democratic base. But his self-identification as a socialist poses an enormous obstacle, as Americans respond to “socialism” with overwhelming negativity. Likewise, his support for higher taxes on the middle class — while substantively sensible — also saddles him with a highly unpopular stance. He also has difficulty addressing issues outside his economic populism wheelhouse. In his opening statement at the debate the day after the Paris attacks, Sanders briefly and vaguely gestured toward the attacks before quickly turning back to his economic themes.

Against these liabilities, Sanders offers the left-wing version of a hoary political fantasy: that a more pure candidate can rally the People into a righteous uprising that would unsettle the conventional laws of politics. Versions of this have circulated in both parties for years, having notably inspired the disastrous Goldwater and McGovern campaigns. The Republican Party may well fall for it again this year. Sanders’s version involves the mobilization of a mass grassroots volunteer army that can depose the special interests. “The major political, strategic difference I have with Obama is it’s too late to do anything inside the Beltway,” he told Andrew Prokop. “You gotta take your case to the American people, mobilize them, and organize them at the grassroots level in a way that we have never done before.” But Obama did organize passionate volunteers on a massive scale — far broader than anything Sanders has done — and tried to keep his volunteers engaged throughout his presidency. Why would Sanders’s grassroots campaign succeed where Obama’s far larger one failed?

Sanders has promised to replace Obamacare with a single-payer plan, without having any remotely plausible prospects for doing so. Many advocates of single-payer imagine that only the power of insurance companies stands in their way, but the more imposing obstacles would be reassuring suspicious voters that the change in their insurance (from private to public) would not harm them and — more difficult still — raising the taxes to pay for it. As Sarah Kliff details, Vermont had to abandon hopes of creating its own single-payer plan. If Vermont, one of the most liberal states in America, can’t summon the political willpower for single-payer, it is impossible to imagine the country as a whole doing it. Not surprisingly, Sanders’s health-care plan uses the kind of magical-realism approach to fiscal policy usually found in Republican budgets, conjuring trillions of dollars in savings without defining their source.

The Sanders campaign represents a revolution of rising expectations. In 2008, the last time Democrats held a contested primary, the prospect of simply taking back the presidency from Republican control was nearly enough to motivate the party’s vote. The potential to enact dramatic change was merely a bonus. After nearly two terms of power, with the prospect of Republican rule now merely hypothetical, Democrats want more.

The paradox is that the president’s ability to deliver more change is far more limited. The current occupant of the Oval Office and his successor will have a House of Representatives firmly under right-wing rule, making the prospects of important progressive legislation impossible. This hardly renders the presidency impotent, obviously. The end of Obama’s term has shown that a creative president can still drive some change.

But here is a second irony: Those areas in which a Democratic Executive branch has no power are those in which Sanders demands aggressive action, and the areas in which the Executive branch still has power now are precisely those in which Sanders has the least to say. The president retains full command of foreign affairs; can use executive authority to drive social policy change in areas like criminal justice and gender; and can, at least in theory, staff the judiciary. What the next president won’t accomplish is to increase taxes, expand social programs, or do anything to reduce inequality, given the House Republicans’ fanatically pro-inequality positions across the board. The next Democratic presidential term will be mostly defensive, a bulwark against the enactment of the radical Ryan plan. What little progress liberals can expect will be concentrated in the non-Sanders realm.

So even if you fervently endorse Sanders’s policy vision (which, again for the sake of full candor, I do not), he has chosen an unusually poor time to make it the centerpiece of a presidential campaign. It can be rational for a party to move away from the center in order to set itself up for dramatic new policy changes; the risk the Republican Party accepted in 1980 when Ronald Reagan endorsed the radical new doctrine of supply-side economics allowed it to reshape the face of government. But it seems bizarre for Democrats to risk losing the presidency by embracing a politically radical doctrine that stands zero chance of enactment even if they win.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 18, 2015

January 19, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Federal Government’s Little-Known Pension Heist”: The Ones Who Will Suffer The Most Had No Part In Managing The Funds

“Too big to fail” means one thing for banks and another thing for union pension funds.

When banks are on the verge of collapse, Congress bails them out. When union pension funds are in mortal danger, Congress changes the law to let them shaft retirees.

Did you miss that newsflash? So did many of the 407,000 unsuspecting Teamsters, mainly former truck drivers, who received letters in October announcing whether their pension benefits will be cut.

Two-thirds of them got bad news. The Central States Pension Fund claims it will be reducing members’ retirement checks by an average of 23 percent. Union activists say that figure is much higher, and for some the reductions will top 60 percent.

That means hardship for people who have deferred compensation for their entire work lives in exchange for a pension. Bills won’t be paid and mortgages won’t be met — and it will be through no fault of their own.

It once was illegal to cut promised pension benefits. But at the end of 2014 Congress voted to change that — for some. It did so with no debate and no hearings. The Multi-Employer Pension Reform Act was attached to a must-pass omnibus spending bill. President Barack Obama signed it a few days later.

The law permitted the so-called multi-employer pension plans, run jointly by unions and employers, to apply to the Treasury Department to reduce benefits. And that’s what Central States did in October. Union member will notionally get a chance to vote on the cuts, but the Treasury Department can override that outcome. Count on it to do so.

Multi-employer pension plans are clearly in trouble. They cover more than 10 million workers and they are mostly underfunded. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the federal agency that backstops pensions, would not be able to withstand the failure of the Central States fund. (The federal program is also in trouble, reporting a $76 billion deficit in mid-November, and its estimated exposure to future losses runs to the hundreds of billions.)

How did the situation get to this drastic point, and what should be done?

First of all, Central States is not in trouble because of mob skimming, as some might presume. Yes, it was set up by the notorious Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa in 1955, and he was later convicted of improper use of funds from the pension. Courts intervened in the early 1980s, and Goldman Sachs and Northern Trust were set up as fiduciaries.

The main factors in Central States’ decline have been deregulation, de-unionization and demographics. Following the trucking deregulation of the 1980s, numerous companies went under, adding to the pension’s burdens. Over the decades, union membership has declined and retirees have lived longer.

The financial crisis of 2008-09 hurt as well. In 2007, Central States had $27 billion; it has since lost one-third of its assets. It is currently paying out $3.46 in pension benefits for every dollar it receives through worker’s contributions.

However one apportions the blame, the ones who will suffer the most had no part in managing the funds. And the whole point of federal pension guarantees is protecting such people. A more fair resolution would be to bolster federal pension protection.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio have introduced companion bills, the Keep Our Pension Promises Act. They would prop up the vulnerable pension funds through changes in the tax code affecting wealthier people.

Not all union-involved pension funds are in such straits. But when they do get into trouble, it’s fashionable for some politicians and opinion-page blowhards to blast the misfortune as just deserts. We need to remember that all benefits are compensation. Workers take them in lieu of wages, and to take them back once they have been earned is, well, theft.

Why is it that no one but the retired workers — the only people who have held up their side of the bargain through their years of labor — are being made to suffer the consequences?

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-age Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, November 27, 2015

November 29, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Multi-Employer Pension Reform Act, Pension Funds, Unions | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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