Bernie Sanders and his appeal
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) always posed a serious challenge to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) for delegate support at the Democratic National Convention next year. If anyone doubted that as the year began, they cannot doubt it now. He draws crowds numbering in the tens of thousands. He raises money in small amounts, and still has plenty to spend. He bids fair to win the Iowa Caucuses (so say The New York Times). CNN tells us a long-time Democratic activist in neighboring New Hampshire endorsed him.
What makes Bernie Sanders so popular? Simple. He gives a contrast with Hillary Clinton. That contrast should instruct his eventual opponent in the general election.
Bernie Sanders, populist
Begin with this maxim: every serious candidate seeking to have the Democratic Party nominate him (or her) for President, seems to have read his (or her) Karl Marx. Only Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist. But every candidate acts like a socialist, and proposes like a socialist. To one degree or another, they all believe a government that lets private industry supply certain “needs” for persons or “society,” outsources its functions. And thus fails in its basic duty to “the people,” whatever that means.
But Bernie Sanders draws more people than does Hillary Clinton. Why? Because the kind of people who would vote Democratic, believe him. And don’t believe Hillary.
And why should they believe Hillary? Everyone who cares to know, knows about the clique of rich donors and hangers-on who back Hillary. They give millions to the Clinton Foundation, or pay Bill Clinton a ridiculous honorarium. And Hillary does something for them. That includes clearing the Keystone XL Pipeline. The environmental lobby anathematized that project from the start. (Why did that project stall anyway? Because Barack Obama had another, more powerful hanger-on to placate: Warren Buffet. Who ships oil by rail and would lose business to the pipeline.)
Bernie Sanders does not seem to have any rich donors or hangers-on. He has no foundation. He gets all his money in tiny portions, the most any one person can give. If anyone “bundled checks” for him, one presumes The New York Times or The Washington Post would have found this out by now. In fact, Dudley Dudley, the New Hampshire activists who endorsed him, did so for this reason. Democrats all lament “money in politics.” But Bernie Sanders actually raises his money from other than a few rich donors. So no one can obviously tell him what to do.
Maybe he has some donors who hide behind such a shroud as none can imagine. But Hillary Clinton throws her hangers-on, her nomenklatura (a Russian word for the Big Names with Pull), in the faces of the public. “These fine, upstanding citizens of the world sponsor me,” she seems to say. “I have the support of these Enlightened Ones. Bow before them, and me.” Bernie Sanders, in contrast, says, “I have no ‘experts’! I live, breathe, and walk just like you! I’ll never ask you to bow before me. I ask you to follow me. And I will tear down the Big Names with Pull!”
Bernie Sanders on the issues
What he proposes, might compromise liberty as much as anything Hillary Clinton proposes. But Bernie Sanders does not obviously do any one person or group any special favors. And his programs, if private charity were to support them, would stand a better chance of working.
Everyone knows he wants a single-payer health-care system. Thus Bernie Sanders forthrightly says every physician, surgeon, and hospital administrator must work for the government or else have a government contract, not an insurance-acceptance contract. His followers like the idea for a simple reason: no middlemen. And no special favors.
This week he proposed to spend $3 billion in 15 years to roof over every poor person’s house with solar batteries. That amounts to $200 million a year. Lay aside for a moment whether anyone could hold the costs down to that level. (It would amount to a buck a year for every voting citizen, or two bucks, tops.) Lay aside whether those panels really would give a homeowner all the electricity he would need. This essay treats only his appeal, not whether his plans would work or not. And how does this appeal to the people? Again: no middlemen. No specific subsidy to any one company. No Solyndra. And for that matter, a direct threat to the conventional utility companies. (Who have been in public-private partnership with the government since Edison, or at least since Westinghouse.)
In nearly every debate, Bernie Sanders prescribes policies giving no obvious benefit to any big company. CNN interprets this as “outflanking Hillary Clinton to the left.” Not necessarily. But Hillary Clinton has her big donors, and must protect them. Bernie Sanders has thousands of little donors, and will look out for them.
Oddly enough, he hasn’t embraced the “turn them all in” stance of, say, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on guns. He explains himself honestly about that, too. He hails from Vermont, after all. And though Vermonters embraced most of the trappings of socialism, they never embraced gun control. So he can’t afford to propose to take from his neighbors the guns he has seen them carry and use, especially hunting for wild game. And maybe he can defend that as he defends everything else he proposes. Where he lives, people can even take food straight from the wild and put it on their tables. Again: no middlemen.
Bernie Sanders did propose a ninety percent top marginal income-tax rate. He said so in an interview. He gave no details, except to remember the top rate during the Eisenhower years. He might want to give more details. Because hardly anyone paid that ninety-percent rate on any part of their income. And no one paid ninety percent on all their income. Tax brackets do not work that way. Whoever would come anywhere near that bracket, would itemize so many deductions that they would never come near it. That would distort the economy further. (To encourage people to mortgage their homes and pay interest practically in lieu of taxes, for instance. They would lose very little at that margin.) Maybe he hasn’t thought the matter through. Maybe he lumps any captain of industry who comes by his money honestly, with a Hillary Clinton donor or a Warren Buffet. And seeks to tear them all down. But at least (so far) he projects a consistent image of friendship with the people. Whether he really means it, remains for us to discover.
Dick Morris said it best today: Bernie Sanders will shake up the Democratic Presidential race, much as Howard Dean (also of Vermont) once did. CNAV goes further: the most honest, that is, straightforward, Presidential contest could only have Bernie Sanders on one side, and Donald Trump on the other. (And who knows? Maybe Donald Trump could cut a deal with him everyone could appreciate.)