Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Bernie's tax plan makes him a dead duck in the general election

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 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 of votes.

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 before 2005.

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.


Anonymous said...

Let me engage you on your three points.

1. No media attack on Sanders.

Very true. No press at all in fact. Bernie can't get no air. It's all gone to Donald. The media are slaughtering Donald. And guess what? No one cares. My theory is that is related to the multi decades of imiserization of the US working classes and middle classes. Basically all but 1% of the population has been screwed for 40 years by the elite and people have a pretty good sense of it. Which is why the two anti establishment candidates are doing so well despite the media doing is best to kill them.

2. These polls are old. The current dissatisfaction is new.

3. Socialist? Maybe. But can't we find out? More of the same is gonna be the death of the middle class and the rest of the middle east. I am not afraid of losing. I'm afraid of more of the same. I don't want to support a politician who had policies which are not in my interests because there is another one who has even worse policies. They have been selling that story for 40 years now. We ain't talking about communism. We are talking about single payer.

And is not like HRC had no baggage. It's not like there isn't plenty of ammunition to take her down if the GOP picks someone who isn't Cruz or Trump.

To quote Anton Chigur badly from memory, "if the road you traveled brought you to this place, what use was the road"?

I'm not saying I'm definitely right. Im not saying Bernie boys are not obnoxious. But I just want the candidate who represents the "throw all da bums out vote.


Joseph Cannon said...

Glad to see someone TRY to engage.

1. Bernie has gotten a LOT of positive coverage. You're kidding yourself if you think otherwise.

2. The polls about attitudes toward "big government" and "big business" have been consistent over decades. Throughout that time, certain starry-eyed lefties have said "It's different now. The common people in Kansas and Alabama have suddenly started to read the Grundrisse. It's a new day!"

Every single time, that pronouncement was balderdash...wish fulfillment. You've fallen prey to the "me and my buddies" fallacy, which I've explained in previous posts. You cite no figures; I do.

3. "Can't we find out?" At the risk of giving our nuclear launch codes to a loon like Donald Trump?

"Single payer"? Stop kidding yourself. Again, you've fallen prey to the "me and my buddies" fallacy. Get out of your social circle and find out what's really going on. I would love single payer, personally, but I'm not under any delusions that it is going to happen. Laws are made in the Congress, not the White House. There is no way that the Senate (where red states hold disproportionate power) is going to vote for single payer. They don't even like Obamacare.

Hillary is pre-disastered (to borrow a phrase from an old movie). We already know what the Republicans will toss at her. It'll be bad, and she may not be able to fight back effectively, since she is no longer young. But what will hit her will not be nearly as bad as what will hit Sanders.

I was just now listening to a lecture on how Hitler came to power. It reminded me of the dangers of the "throw the bums out" sentiment. Sorry to violate Godwin's law, but historical precedent is what it is.

Anonymous said...

It's true I'm not getting out much. So you may well be right about how an election will pan out. My outlaws are my benchmark. The parents in law are going to vote Donald despite being union organizers. I don't know what they think of HRC vs Bernie but my guess is they think Bernie is unacceptable as suspect The brothers in law are going with Bernie cos they are distrustful of HRC, and the kids you can guess.

But single payer is a big change that would make a lot of lives better. I am not sure you can get that kind of big change in one election cycle. But more and more Americans are looking overseas and realising that the argument that single payer is infeasible has to be bunk because single payer is EVERYWHERE else. If the Canadians etc have it, why can't you?

I'm not afraid of Trump. I actually suspect he would end up being only a mild disaster compared to the last 40 years. He had shown interest in using fiscal policy, and he is no neoconservative. Plus how can you "threaten" me with something which clearly terrifies the GOP leadership. Trump won't be the candidate if the Pluto-rats get their way. If you want to threaten me, use Cruz. Way more scary. But Trump isn't a Hitler. He is a Berlusconi!

I'm a starry-eyed optimist. I think if you make people poor enough they will try and vote for change. Well they have gotten pretty poor. Youre just saying not poor enough yet. Well believe me it's coming. The 538 website has consistently underestimated his support. That suggests to me that something about their modeling is off. Possibly, just possibly, there is a shot at real change.

But hey, what do I know!


Gus said...

Man you are a real downer Joseph ;-) Of course, that's because you are a realist. If there is one thing that I see as consistent over the past 16 or so years, it's that Americans consistently vote against their best interests. I don't see that changing, especially when so many are obviously being driven by emotion and not by reason. I think Bernie would be just what this country needs, but then I'm not your average American. I suspect that because he is just what we need, he probably doesn't have a chance.

I tend to agree with Harry, for the same reason that I probably don't hear much from people outside my small social circle. That said, my friends actually cover the gamut....I have two very good friends who are lesbians and married to each other.....they are all for Hillary and have been since 2008. Most of my other friends are for Sanders, but probably every last one of them would vote for Hillary if she is nominated. Then, I have a small number of friends who want Trump. Basically, they see him as the person to shake up the status quo (foolishly, if you ask me) and they like that he is scaring the establishment types. Those friends I would classify as center-left liberals. So yeah, even though all my friends are more or less liberals (there is one or two that are pretty Libertarian and probably won't vote at all this election, or just go with whoever the Libertarian candidate is), they seem to be pretty split on who to vote for. This, to me, is probably a bad sign. Then again, they were all excited about Obama (even my two lesbian friends eventually got swept up in the hysteria......if they couldn't have a woman, a black man was a close second).

As depressing as I find your analysis, I can't really argue with it other than on ideological grounds, and there is not point to that since I suspect our ideologies aren't too far apart. As much as I'd like Bernie to be the next President, it's hard to see how it can actually happen in the current environment. Maybe if the Trump lovers go over to him? I can't see that happening, at least, not very many of them. They seem to be mostly right leaning folks or people who have been disgusted with politics for years and probably would be voting for the first time if Trump gets on the ballot.

In any case, I'll likely vote for whoever the Dem nominee is.

Gus said...

Also Joseph, you don't have much to worry about:

Michael said...

"But what will hit her will not be nearly as bad as what will hit Sanders."

Care to offer a supporting example or two? (But if your example is "socialist!" then don't waste your breath.)

Anonymous said...

Obviously Sanders' movement isn't about anything other than preventing Hillary from becoming the president. They shed out any pretend of decency or ideological endeavors as of late, it just became vile attacks and destructive efforts against the democratic party. Sanders is a tool. In his old age he fell victim to the most vicious of Clintons haters, and he doesn't the strong constitution to resist.

Marc McKenzie said...

People now forget that one of the big issues debated during the 2000 election was "What shall we do with the surplus?"

I haven't forgotten. And I remember the media giving then-candidate George W. Bush a whole lot of leeway with his "It's your money!!" nonsense for why he wanted to just give the surplus away (with very irresponsible tax cuts, I may add).

But here's what I also haven't forgotten, Joseph--when they took down the debt clock in New York City during the last couple years of Clinton's second term. Why? Because, as you said, the US was running a surplus and the deficit was going to be gone in less than ten years. After seeing it run up to stratospheric levels during Reagan's terms, it was amazing to see this happen.

And it would have happened, except for the imbroglio in 2000 bought about by an irresponsible news media, Jeb Bush and Miss Harris, and Ralph Nader.

But that's all I have to say on that.

And yes, many of Sanders' supporters, and in some cases Sanders himself, are ripping whole chapters out from the GOP Hillary-hate book. It's disturbing and very sad, to boot, especially with those "Bernie or Bust!" folks who are more than willing to let the country get bent over the fence by Trump or a GOP President.