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“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

“Stop Lying!”: GOP Congressman Daniel Webster Called Out By Constituents Over His Multiple Votes To Repeal Obamacare

Things got heated for Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) during a town hall question-and-answer session in Winter Haven, Florida on Thursday. His constituents called him out over his multiple votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his misleading claims that the law’s consumer protections are being dismantled by the Obama administration.

Webster was responding to several constituents’ questions about the consequences that repealing Obamacare — which House Republicans, including Webster, have voted to do on 40 separate occasions — would have for the people in his district. Attendees asked Webster if he had any plans to replace consumer protections included in Obamacare, such as guaranteed insurance coverage for Americans with pre-existing medical conditions and free preventative health screenings for seniors:

QUESTIONER: What happens to us when Obamacare is repealed? What happens to people with pre-existing conditions that can’t get health care? What happens to those of us who finally have access to health insurance for the first time in nine or ten years? What happens to us? And you want to make this local, I’ll make this local. I’m a constituent, right now I can’t get health care. I’m waiting for this [insurance marketplace] to open and I’d like to know why we keep repealing [Obamacare]?

The congressman defended his repeal votes by saying the law would drive up Americans’ health care costs by requiring insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions. He then claimed that President Barack Obama himself thinks his signature law is unworkable. As evidence, Webster implied that the law’s protections — such as its cap on consumers’ annual out-of-pocket medical costs — were being dismantled by the Obama administration. That prompted an outcry from the audience, as people booed and countered Webster’s claims.

An event official interrupted at that point, asking the audience to be respectful and give Webster a chance to speak. One audience member replied by saying, “Well, tell him to stop lying!”

Watch it, courtesy of advocacy group Health Care for America Now (HCAN) and its local Florida partner Organize Now.

The Obama administration did, in fact, delay the health law’s cap on Americans’ out-of-pocket costs through their co-payments and deductibles. But as the audience correctly pointed out, it is a temporary one-year delay that only applies to certain employer-based insurance plans. The cap still applies for health policies sold through Obamacare’s statewide marketplaces beginning in October.

Webster isn’t the first GOP congressman to get flak from his constituents over his opposition to the health law. Last week, constituents confronted Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) over his many votes to repeal Obamacare and asked why he wanted to take away protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. One grieving mother in the audience had told reporters before the town hall that her own son had died of colon cancer after being denied coverage for having a pre-existing condition.

Obamacare critics who have incessantly demonized the reform law and pushed for its repeal have been brushing up against a growing number of people that support its consumer protections. A recent poll from the Heritage Foundation’s advocacy arm that was ostensibly meant to show Obamacare’s unpopularity by over-surveying Republicans inadvertently showed that it is actually popular. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) admitted that a “handful of things” in the law are “probably OK” in an interview on Wednesday.


By: Sy Mukherjee, Think Progress, August 16, 2013

August 18, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Koch Brothers Thriving On Confusion”: If Obamacare Is So Horrible, Shouldn’t It Be Easy To Attack Without Making Stuff Up?

Earlier this week, Reince Priebus, commenting on the Affordable Care Act, said, “People know what Obamacare is. It’s European, socialist-style type health care.” The quote struck me as fairly hilarious because the second sentence helps debunk the first — anyone who thinks the federal U.S. system is in anyway similar to European, socialist-style type health care clearly has no idea what “Obamacare” is.

The truth is, most Americans remain confused about the basics, and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity apparently hope to make matters much worse on purpose. Watch on YouTube

Last month, AFP invested $1 million in support of a remarkably dishonest ad campaign, hoping to mislead Americans about the health care system, and this week, the right-wing group is at it again, making a six-figure ad buy in support of a radio ad.

The problem, of course, is that the message of the ad is pure garbage. Salon called it the “stupidest anti-Obamacare campaign ever,” and given some of the advertising in recent years, that’s no small claim.

The spot features a woman’s voice that tells listeners, “Two years ago, my son Caleb began having seizures … if we can’t pick our own doctor, how do I know my family is going to get the care they need?”

In reality, there’s simply nothing in the Affordable Care Act that stops consumers from choosing their own doctor. Literally, not one provision. Under a variety of HMOs, there are limits on out-of-network physicians, but that was an American norm long before “Obamacare” came around.

For that matter, if you’re a parent of a kid with seizures, the Affordable Care Act is perhaps the best friend you’ve ever had — not only does the law protect you and your family’s coverage, but it extends protections to those with pre-existing conditions, and ends annual and lifetime caps. And since treating children with seizures can get a little pricey, that’s important.

So why are the Koch brothers saying largely the opposite? Because they hope to use deceptions to scare people. It’s as simple as that.

Greg Sargent highlighted the other most obvious misleading claim.

[P]erhaps the most revealing thing of all is the ad’s warning of public confusion about the law. To buttress the impression that the ad is a catastrophe, the ad claims: “ABC News says confusion and doubt are prognosis for Obamcare.”

And it’s true: The ABC News article in question does bear that headline. But the article actually presents this not as a sign that the law itself is flawed, but as a sign that the public remains ignorant about what’s actually in it. The article is about how many Americans, even those who stand to gain from the law, are not yet aware of its benefits.

This neatly underscores the game plan behind ads like these: spread confusion about the law — in a deliberate effort to prevent folks from learning what’s actually in it — while simultaneously citing confusion about the law as evidence that it’s a disaster in hopes that folks will give up on it.

If Obamacare were really as horrible as right-wing activists and lawmakers claim, shouldn’t it be easier to attack the law without making stuff up? Wouldn’t conservatives be eager to simply give people the truth, rather than resort to ugly demagoguery?

Careful, Kochs, your desperation is showing.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 16, 2013

August 17, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Mitch McConnell Digs A Hole, Falls In”: Frankenstein Has Found That His Monster Is Running Out Of Control

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) talked to a local reporter this week about the Affordable Care Act, which he described as the “single worst piece of legislation passed in the last 50 years in the country.” The Republican senator restated his position that “we need to get rid of” the law.

But McConnell also made an off-hand comment that seemed wholly uninteresting at the time: “I mean, there are a handful of things in the 2,700 page bill that probably are OK, but that doesn’t warrant a 2,700 page takeover of all American health care.”

In 2013, with the right’s hysteria over health care seemingly getting worse, the comments are apparently controversial.

In an ordinary political environment, McConnell’s remarks would hardly be newsworthy…. But the political environment surrounding Obamacare is anything but ordinary — with the ferocious Republican assault on the bill, the party’s exaggerated warnings that it will ruin American freedom, and the base’s determination to scrap every last bit of it. So McConnell’s remarks quickly became fodder for his conservative primary challenger, Matt Bevin, who accused the GOP leader’s of “flip-flop[ping] on repealing Obamacare in its entirety.”

“We have to do whatever it takes to repeal Obamacare, and if we can’t repeal it, we have a responsibility to the American people to defund it,” Bevin said in a statement Thursday, responding to McConnell’s remarks. “If Mitch McConnell had ever worked in the private sector, he might understand that. If Senator McConnell is not willing to act to end Obamacare, he needs to get out of the way.”

So let me get this straight. For reasons that have never really made any sense, McConnell described “Obamacare” as the “single worst piece of legislation passed in the last 50 years in the country.” He vowed to “get rid of” the law. He condemned it (falsely) as a “takeover of all American health care.”

And for some Republicans, this position is too moderate and accommodating.

This is silly, but let’s not overlook the larger context: McConnell helped create this mess in the first place. If he’s annoyed by the inflexibility, the senator has no one to blame but himself.

I imagine McConnell was probably trying to offer himself a little general-election cover by saying “there are a handful of things in the 2,700 page bill that probably are OK.” The more the senator says he wants to destroy the entirety of the law — every letter of every page, no matter how effective or popular the idea — the more vulnerable he is to criticisms from the American mainstream.

Would McConnell take coverage away from young adults who can now stay on their family plans through age 26? Would he scrap protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions? Would he end tax breaks for small businesses? Would he end breaks for seniors on prescription medication? McConnell left himself an out — sure, there are some elements he can tolerate, but he still hates the law.

But McConnell is in a red-state primary fight, and it’s apparently a problem to say anything even remotely supportive of the dreaded “Obamacare.”

Sahil Kapur concluded, “That McConnell is being attacked for his remark illustrates the box Republicans have put themselves in while feeding conservatives’ greatest fears about the Affordable Care Act.” So true. GOP leaders, including McConnell, have to realize that they created this monster — they have spent years telling Republican activists and Republican media that “Obamacare” is a communist/fascist/Nazi takeover that will kill the elderly, destroy capitalism, and quite likely end civilization as we know it.

GOP leaders’ rhetoric has never made a lick of sense — Obamacare is a pretty moderate law, built around mainstream ideas that have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support — but McConnell and his allies pushed this garbage anyway, in part to keep the Republican base fired up, and in part because it was good for fundraising.

And now Frankenstein has found that his monster is running out of control. Well, Mitch, you probably should have thought of that before.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 15, 2013

August 16, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Let’s Take Healthcare Away”: Lindsey Graham Struggles With Fiscal Basics

There was an exchange yesterday between Fox News’ Chris Wallace and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that was hard to watch, but nevertheless illustrative of a larger point.

WALLACE: You know that if we go into the sequester the president is going to hammer Republicans. The White House has already put out a list of all the things, terrible things that will happen if a sequester kicks in: 70,000 children losing Head Start, 2,100 fewer food inspectors, small business will lose $900 million in loan guarantees. And, you know, Senator, the president is going to say your party is forcing this to protect tax cuts for the wealthy.

GRAHAM: Well, all I can say is the Commander-In-Chief thought — came up with the idea of sequestration, destroying the military and putting a lot of good programs at risk. Here’s my belief: let’s take “Obamacare” and put it on the table…. If you want to look at ways to find $1.2 trillion in savings over the next decade, let’s look at “Obamacare”. Let’s don’t destroy the military and just cut blindly across the board.

Now, the first point is obviously ridiculous. Republicans are heavily invested in the idea that automatic sequestration cuts were something President Obama “came up with,” but reality shows otherwise. It’s trivia anyway — what matters is resolving the threat, not imagining who created it — but what Graham chooses to overlook is every relevant detail: the sequester was part of the ransom paid to the Republican Party when it took the nation’s full faith and credit hostage for the first time in American history. GOP leaders, at time, bragged that this policy was their idea, not Obama’s.

If Graham doesn’t like the sequester — and he clearly seems to agree that it’s a serious problem — he can support scrapping the policy or coming up with a bipartisan alternative. For now, he’s opposed to both of those options, making his whining yesterday rather unpersuasive.

But Graham turning his focus to the Affordable Care Act serves as a reminder of just how unserious he is about public policy.

Let’s be clear about what the South Carolinian is saying here. About $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts are set to kick in, doing real harm to the economy, the military, and the country overall. Lawmakers could cancel or delay the policy, though Republicans aren’t interested in either of these options, or they can come up with a bipartisan alternative that replaces the sequester with something else.

With 11 days to go, Lindsey Graham’s contribution to the discussion, in effect, is, “I know! Let’s take health care benefits away from millions of Americans!”

It’s worth noting that even the most reflexive partisans should realize their anti-“Obamacare” preoccupation is quickly becoming laughable. Republican governors are implementing the law; House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently conceded the Affordable Care Act is “the law of the land“; public support for repeal is evaporating; and when folks like Orrin Hatch and Michele Bachmann unveil repeal bills, even most GOP lawmakers ignore them.

Graham, in other words, really needs to get over it.

But more important from a substantive perspective is that the South Carolina Republican still doesn’t understand the basics of the fiscal debate. The point of looking for a sequester alternative is to find a new policy on debt-reduction. If policymakers scrapped the Affordable Care Act, it would make the debt worse, not better.

In other words, Graham thinks Washington can produce smaller deficits by producing larger deficits. That doesn’t make any sense.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 18, 2013

February 19, 2013 Posted by | Sequester | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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