The NYT has published an editorial in which senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon declares for Sanders. He mounts a good argument
. This is the kind of reasonable discourse that had me kinda, sorta
leaning toward Sanders, back in the days before fanaticism took hold of the BernieBots and historical revisionism of the 1992-2000 period became the norm.
But there's one thing missing from Merkley's argument: Electability.
Yes, I'm well aware of the polls which say that Sanders can crush Trump. The dimwits at Salon keep harping on those numbers. Despite the current state of play, most intelligent observers -- and by "intelligent," I mean chess players who can think more than two moves ahead -- understand that Bernie Sanders will be clobbered
by Cruz or Trump in the general election.
Let's repeat a few previously-made points:
1. We have a serious "dog that did not bark" problem. The media attack dogs have, so far, refused to snarl at Bernie Sanders -- hell, they've barely yipped. Why would they weaken a man who weakens the hated Clintons? The beasts will regain their bite the moment Sanders wins the nomination. They'll make the Hound of the Baskervilles look like Snoopy.
2. According to consistent Gallup polls, some 69 percent of the country thinks that Big Government is America's top problem, while 25 percent sees Big Business as the biggest problem. The entire Sanders campaign consists of assaults on big business -- and no-one can call him a proponent of small government. Such a candidate cannot win.
3. The word "socialist" is an insurmountable general-election turnoff. Pew polling
tells us that 59% of the public views "socialism" negatively, while just 29% views the word positively. Gallup polling
reveals that Americans are much more disposed to elect a gay, Muslim or atheist candidate, as opposed to a socialist. That one word destroys
Bernie's chances. Don't kid yourself: The word cannot be rehabilitated, no matter how much you try to "educate" the public.
Whenever I mention those three points, BernieBots refuse to engage the argument. Instead, they quickly change the subject: But Killary murdered Vince Foster...!
Whenever I encounter a rapid subject-switch, I conclude that my point is inarguable.
Here's another inarguable argument: Much of the public has yet to look at Sanders' actual program. Once they do, anti-Sanders sentiment will skyrocket. Even some present-day BernieBots will repent.
As one commenter
on Talking Points Memo has put it:
The voters don't know Sanders Tax Plan and if you look at as a GOP strategist would you would realize Sanders makes for a delicious target to the GOP...to think otherwise is being politcally naive..
Precisely. The BernieBots are psychologically incapable of doing the one thing that a winning campaign must do: You must look at the situation through the eyes of people who do not share your biases
Bots who scoff at this notion are fools. In today's America, 38 percent of the country identifies as "conservative" while only 24% favors the term "liberal." Fox News remains the most popular news source -- and even if Fox were to disappear tomorrow, the conservative media infrastructure would still outweigh the liberal competition. I strongly doubt that the major mainstream news sources -- the NYT, the WP and so forth -- will have Bernie's back.
In such an environment, a Republican message will not only get through to the public, it will dominate
For example, Sanders' proposed fracking ban is, in my opinion, defensible on environmental grounds. But in a general election, the economic argument
will win out:
But his support for a fracking ban would likely undo one of the greatest benefits of the U.S. oil boom: low gasoline prices.
Americans saved $120 billion at the pump in 2015 because of historically low gas prices. That comes out to about $565 in savings per licensed driver, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).
“Today’s gas price savings are even more significant when compared to a few years ago. For example, the most expensive first quarter ever was in 2012, when prices averaged $3.58 per gallon,” according to AAA. “In comparison to that quarter, Americans have saved about $50 billion or $240 per licensed driver during the first three months this year.”
You can argue with the AAA's numbers. (Hell, I
could do so, as an intellectual exercise.) But any such argument is casuistry. It's a simple fact: Once people hear the message "Bernie Sanders wants you to pay billions more at the pump," the Republican candidate will get millions
Now let's look at taxes. The chart to your left tells the story, though not the whole of it. Those in the $250,000 and above bracket will pay massive amounts -- as much as 77 percent.
(Yes, I'm aware that the Sanders campaign offers different numbers. This chart is more accurate, for the reasons given here
As longtime readers know, I've called myself an "Eisenhower Republican" when it comes to taxation. In the 1950s, top tax rates were higher than they would be under Bernie Sanders. The nation allowed such a radical tax solution to come into existence only because we had been hit by two life-threatening emergencies -- the Great Depression and World War II.
We do not now face that level of emergency. If you pretend otherwise, you're kidding yourself.
For decades, the media -- both mainstream and alternative -- has drilled one message into the national consciousness: Higher taxes are an absolute evil
. Do you really think that four decades of incessant propaganda no longer has an impact? Again: Stop kidding yourself.
Even from a liberal standpoint, this plan is a loser. Democratic politicians tend to win when they argue for raising taxes a modest amount on the very wealthy while offering tax relief to "the middle class" (American-speak for "the working class"). But that's not what Bernie proposes.
If the numbers in this chart were put into actual practice, even someone struggling to get by on $1000 a month will pay more taxes. A family living on $2000 a month will be taxed at a rate of 39.1 percent -- higher than the current top tax rate of 37 percent imposed on zillionaires.
You may say that my arguments do not take into account deductibles, decreased health insurance expenditures, and other factors. Perhaps. But ask yourself one hard question: Will these numbers attract or repel voters in a general election?
Will people pay attention to a counterargument of any complexity?
No. That won't happen. Mr. and Ms. $2K-Monthly will shiver in fear as Cruz or Trump tells them: "If Bernie Sanders wins, you'll be taxed at a higher rate than we now apply to Bill Gates."
Sanders will argue otherwise. In the face of a nuclear firestorm of criticism, he will insist that the chart published above is misleading. He'll say that when all is said and done, and after you've factored in the savings in health insurance premiums, he won't raise taxes at all on the working class. And as he tries to stammer out the details of his argument, he'll sound a lot like Porky Pig.
If you're old enough to have lived through the last half-dozen election cycles, you know damned well that that's
how the story will play out.
The better way.
The way to restructure taxes is to follow the Bill Clinton model.
Clinton understood that our current political realities do not allow radical restructuring of the system. During the brief period when he had Congress on his side, he pushed for a plan which modestly increased the top tax rates, removed the cap on Medicare, and bumped up the corporate tax rate one point. A nudge here; a budge there.
A little did a lot. Clinton turned near-Depression conditions into a sustained economic boom -- a feat which almost no-one thought possible in 1992. As the boom kept going and going, a greater number of Americans slipped into the upper-income brackets, and an increased proportion of the national income poured into the treasury. Result: The nation got out of the red, and we were well on track to eradicate the entire national deficit
That's the painless
way to eradicate red ink. People now forget that one of the big issues debated during the 2000 election was "What shall we do with the surplus?"
Remember, a massive amount of our tax bill goes to paying off interest on the debt. Very soon, interest payments will gobble up 14 percent of the budget
-- and that number may go much higher if interest rates shoot up (as some predict).
In other words: If we had kept on Clinton's course, everyone's
tax bill would now be a lot less. Here are the hard facts which the "Better Trump than Hillary" crowd won't tell you...
The U.S. had budget surpluses from 1997 to 2000. Since then, tax cuts, spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and overall increases in spending all added significantly to the national debt. The economic crisis and the response also substantially contributed. Falling income levels and rising unemployment meant lower revenue, while spending also automatically grew on social safety net programs—such as unemployment benefits and food stamps.
Even the most zealous BernieBot cannot claim that the Sanders program will lead to sustained economic growth comparable to what we saw in the Clinton years. If Bernie tried to say those words, the muscles in his face would start to twitch. Or he'd have to cover a laugh with a cough.
The Clinton way is the way most Americans will favor, if they can get over their damned Clinton Derangement Syndrome. We must stop listening to the historical revisionists who keep telling us that 1992-2000 were The Nightmare Years.
They were, in fact, the best years of our lives.