So, now Bernie Sanders is launching the 2020 Democratic primary season with a proposal to create "Single-Payer-Medicare-for-All" legislation. He has quickly gained a number of co-sponsors, many of whom seem to have an eye on the Democratic nomination for President in 2020. Why? And why now?
Rather than beating a dead horse, I remembered an essay I wrote (before the Blast existed) back in February of 2016 --- while Primary Season was in full swing. It's a bit long --- and contains a history lesson, of course --- but it expresses why I am no fan of Bernie, why I've never "felt the Bern." Whatever your personal slant on all this (and I'm not against Single Payer at all --- it's a matter of practicality and party cohesion at this point) feel free to read, to comment, to critique.
A Jacksonian Democrat?
* February 11, 2016*
(PLEASE NOTE THE DATE)
For those college aged Bernie Sanders supporters his campaign, to them, is like sex --- that is, they think they discovered this passion, this idealism, this ecstasy! In the Twittersphere, Facebook-World, and the Instagrammatical Universe, where history only began when you started college, there is no awareness of Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, or even Howard Dean. Harsh words from Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem are seen as an affront --- what could those Grandmas know? This is the world of #mylifemattersmost and it is one lacking historical, cultural, or political perspective.
Bernie’s idealistic platform is very appealing. Who wouldn’t want free college education? Who’s against universal, single-payer health care? Who doesn’t want to break up Wall Street and the banking cabal? Who isn’t against making the very wealthy pay more? Who isn’t on board with Bernie’s platform?
Well, about half the country (if you check the “flyover” red states and all those who recoil at the term “socialist”) and a sizable majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives. While his ideas are great, he has no track record of Senatorial leadership, important legislation introduced and passed, or even a sense that his Democratic “colleagues” are “all in” for Bernie (NO endorsements from Senate Democrats). While Hillary has a “checkered past” a thoughtful, reflective electorate needs to question why we know so much about that and why Bernie is a rather opportunistic Idealist-Come-Lately.
Young people believe they know Hillary --- and why not? She’s been front-page news/fodder since 1992 --- almost a quarter century. She’s not a “new” face to them (or anyone) and her approach (practicality, get things done, etc.) is not particularly exciting or inspiring. And, yes, there are issues --- largely because she has not only been in the public spotlight (doing some serious work as a Senator and, oh, yeah, Secretary of State) but, as with President Bill C., has been a target of conservative, right-wing attacks since Day One. So, young people have been hearing about Hillary for so long (often through a negative media filter) that she really can’t be considered their candidate. But Bernie, like Obama in 2008, is shiny and new and idealistic --- and a less probable reformer than Obama has proven to be.
Let’s talk for a minute about the possibilities of Bernie’s proposals. Free college education for everyone. His platform says that the taxes on corporations and the wealthy (another plank) will pay for this but here’s the two edged sword that will cut both those planks to ribbons. #1. How will a 52% tax on the wealthy and a tax on corporate profits in the Caymans happen? Obama struggled to maintain the W. Bush era tax cuts because he tried to take away cuts for the wealthy (he didn’t succeed)! From the college side (public or not), the University Lobby is so strong that the only impervious debt when you declare bankruptcy is your college loan! While the loan may be put in limbo for a few years (“in abeyance”) it is NEVER forgiven and wiped away, as all other bankruptcy debts are. So, the notion that the Congress and the University Lobby, under Bernie’s magic spell, will suddenly relent and we will begin our “political revolution” is, at best, questionable.
The whole “break up the banks” diatribe is fun to listen to. No doubt the banks are excruciatingly greedy and were largely responsible for the collapse of the economy in 2007. The banking industry needs serious oversight and regulation (though that is exceedingly difficult to get conservative/Republican politicians to agree to). While I am no proponent of the banking industry (or the Federal Reserve, for that matter), I am wary of Bernie’s idea that, in one fell swoop, we “reform” the banking industry. This is where knowledge of history intervenes and Bernie Sanders could be viewed as today’s foremost Jacksonian Democrat. For those not familiar with United States history, here’s the quick and dirty summary (through a biased lens, of course, but you’re welcome to do the research and check the facts --- something we’re seeing little of in the 2016 political world).
In 1824 Andrew Jackson, the “hero of the Battle of New Orleans” (a slave owner, Indian-killer and self-made politician) ran for President against John Quincy Adams (son of U.S.President #2 & Secretary of State), Henry Clay (the powerful Speaker of the House), and William Crawford (Secretary of the Treasury). Even though Jackson, the candidate representing the “common man” and the first “western,” non-college educated, non-Virginia/Massachusetts resident, won the Electoral Election, he did not receive a majority of the Electoral votes (because of the 4 way race). The 12th Amendment sent the election to the House of Representatives where Adams was chosen and he promptly appointed Speaker of the House Henry Clay his Secretary of State (the stepping stone to the White House – Jefferson, Madison, Monroe & Adams himself had ALL been Secretary of State before becoming President). Jackson screamed “corrupt bargain” and the stage was set for the 1828 election between Jackson (the Common Man’s representative) and Adams (the Northeastern Establishment, moneyed, special interest candidate).
Long story short, Jackson won and won again in 1832 and his major crusade, in the interest of the Common Man, was to destroy the National Bank (and its Director, Nicholas Biddle). In 1834 Jackson vetoed the renewal of the Bank’s charter and three years later the United States was mired in its first Great Depression (from 1837 to about 1841 --- with poor Martin Van Buren, Jackson’s former Vice President and successor --- taking the heat for it --- not unlike Obama being scapegoated for W’s debacle). The U.S. then experienced a “Boom/Bust” economy with a chaotic banking system until the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913. Over-speculation and overextension of credit still haunt our banking and the Federal Reserve has been no magic bullet, though it has provided some stability.
Bernie has offered little, in terms of policy, beyond “breaking up the largest financial institutions” and levying “huge” taxes on the wealthy, Wall Street, and big corporations. Wonderfully idealistic proposals --- but how do they become actualized? Since the ‘60’s we have only seen greater and greater income (and taxation) inequality. Congress has the “power of the purse” and shows no will to make those changes. Oh, right --- Bernie Sanders has been a member of that Congress for the past 30 years!
Okay, that’s a 19th century historical example (and Bernie certainly isn’t the slave owning, Indian-killing war hero Jackson was) but an underlying fact is that big financial institutions and banks actually do perform some important and useful functions in a capitalist world. Breaking them up will not necessarily bring an economic heaven-on-earth for working or middle class people. Again, while the banking industry needs oversight and regulation, the slash and burn rhetoric of Bernie Sanders does not sound: a) possible, and b) practical.
Circling back to Millennials’ love of Bernie: it seems to be a classic Generation Gap (as it used to be called) Love Affair. “If my parents like someone (Hillary) then I don’t!” And here’s a guy who is pitching exactly the softballs I can believe in: democratic socialism, woohoo!
One last note on the elections of 1824/1828: in 1824 all the candidates ran as “Democratic-Republicans.” In 1828, Jackson becomes a “Democrat” (Republicans didn’t appear until 1854) so maybe Bernie’s “democratic socialist” label is another apt comparison to Jackson (and maybe will create a new symbol --- the donkey was supposed to represent the “jackass,” Jackson). But the predominant attitude bringing people into the Sanders and Trump camps is anger and disgust with “business as usual.” In 1828 Jackson supported increasing “democracy” for non-landholding white men in the West and reforming the federal government (there is certainly a strong strand of Jacksonian white supremacy and demagogic executive power in the Trump campaign). Unhappy voters and “increased” democracy seems to be the wave Bernie is hoping to ride to victory. Citizens should study history and use the recent example of Obama vs. the Republican Legislature to make informed decisions about who the best candidates are in 2016.