In the first part of this two-part series, I argued that Bernie Sanders’ devotion to the cause of socialism has blinded him to the human cost of regimes that have implemented the kinds of policies he favors. He has bent over backwards, at great political cost, to find the silver lining in communist regimes like Fidel Castro’s Cuba and the Soviet Union. But it’s not just the way Sanders looks at the world around us, it’s what he’s proposing here at home. Sanders’ policy proposals exhibit, too, the same disregard for the on-the-ground realities, political or otherwise, of the nation in which he wants to implement them. His policies are, on one hand, authoritarian and, on the other, unrealistic — bordering on the juvenile.
Most people are aware of Sanders’ hallmark proposals, like nationalizing the health insurance industry (and kicking 217 million Americans off their private plans). It’s unsurprising, coming from someone who once said, “I favor the public ownership of utilities, banks and major industries” — the last being a category of industry broad enough to scare the hell out of anyone who adheres to a political philosophy this side of communism. But some of Sanders’ lesser known policies may actually be more helpful in understanding his philosophy.
Sanders wants the federal government to guarantee everyone a job (replete with paid vacations) and a home; get into the personal banking industry by charging 31,000 post offices around the country to provide basic banking services; legalize recreational marijuana nationwide by executive order on his first day in office (questionable given state laws criminalizing marijuana); force every company with an annual revenue over $100 million to be owned by at least 20 percent of its employees; and finally, put a cap on credit card and consumer loans interest rates and ATM fees.
The last proposal, I think, is helpful in understanding Sanders as a candidate and a politician. It is emblematic of what I call Sanders’ sophomoric socialism. Capping credit card interest rates sounds like a solid democratic-socialist policy on paper — but unfortunately, it seems that “on paper” is where it ends for Sanders. His website says this would protect ordinary Americans from credit card companies, or “modern day loan sharks,” as he calls them. Only, this policy has actually been tried before. Some years ago, the Chilean government capped interest rates. And what happened? Exactly what you’d expect. Studies show the cap decreased the number of loans made by 19 percent and caused an estimated 9.7 percent of all borrowers to no longer be able to get loans. The group hardest hit was those with poor credit, namely young and low-income people.
But my main point is not that the policy won’t work. My point is that Sanders hasn’t bothered to consider the negative externalities that come from having an economy subject to government fiat. Interest rates too high? Cap them. People unemployed? Not to worry, the government will guarantee you a job. Perhaps he’s just telling people what he thinks they want to hear. Either way, what you’re left with is either a childish approach to policy or a cynical approach to politics.
Unfortunately, when we look at Sanders’ record as a member of Congress, the picture doesn’t change. His unwillingness to compromise has made him one of the least productive senators in recent memory. With Sanders, it’s everything or nothing, and since, in Washington, one rarely gets everything, Sanders has almost always gotten nothing.
In his nearly 30 years as a congressman and senator, Sanders introduced 397 bills. He passed three. In 1991, he passed two bills: One declared March 4, 1991 as “Vermont Bicentennial Day”; the other called for the preservation of the Taconic Mountains. Then, in 2014, he ended his 23-year legislative drought with a bill that replaced the words “men” and “widows” with gender-neutral words in a veterans statute. In total, these three bills account for 840 words of the federal code. For comparison, this part of the column is over 1,300 words. In fairness though, if we include the bills on which Sanders was the primary sponsor, the total increases by four bills — two of which named post offices in Vermont.
But let’s say you agree with Sanders on the issues. You like, as I know many do, that he is unafraid to demand what he thinks is right and accept nothing less. There is still one good reason not to vote for him. And that is this: A vote for Bernie in the primary is a vote for Trump in the general. Trump would destroy Bernie.
Don’t be fooled. Bernie has not yet withstood the kind of scrutiny he’ll be subjected to in the general. Trump will have no qualms about painting Bernie as a closet communist. He will bash Sanders relentlessly for his praise of Fidel Castro (kiss Florida and her 29 electoral votes goodbye). He will harp on quotes like “When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto. You don’t know what it’s like to be poor. You don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you walk down the street or you get dragged out of a car.” And he will make no bones about unearthing previously forgotten essays in which Bernie has said, for example, a lack of female orgasms causes cervical and other cancers, that children too often have an “old bitch of a teacher” and that “the revolution comes when … a girl pushes aside all that her mother has ‘taught’ her and accepts her boyfriends (sic) love.”
But what about the polls that say Bernie leads Trump nationally and in several swing states? Indeed, those polls are the key piece of evidence for the far-lefties who, every four years, trot out their tired Lucy and the football routine to see how many Democrats they can trick, once again, into suspending their disbelief and buying into the idea that, in a nation of 72 percent Republican and Independent voters, and in a Democratic party where a majority identify as either conservative or moderate, the most electable candidate is the most left-wing, radical Democrat we can find. In actuality, those polls are historically very poor predictors this far away from the general election, and without seeing the effect Trump’s scorched-earth attacks will have on Bernie’s support, they’re mostly useless.
But there are some things we can look to for guidance: actual elections.
In the 2018 midterm elections, Justice Democrats — a left-wing political action committee founded after the 2016 election — endorsed 78 candidates who espoused the ideology of Bernie Sanders (Medicare for All, Green New Deal, Abolish ICE). Of those 78, 26 won their primaries. And of those 26, only seven won their races — including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). So, in a Democratic wave year in which Republicans lost 41 seats in the House, these Sanders-esque candidates barely got on the scoreboard. Something tells me Sanders will have a similarly difficult time winning over disaffected, moderate Republicans.
Don’t get me wrong, I get where Bernie is coming from. Bernie is speaking to people who feel the whole system has to change, people who feel dispossessed and unable to get ahead in the only nation in the world that has a dream named after it. But Bernie is the wrong man with the wrong revolution at the wrong time. His style may be appealing to some, but after four years of Donald Trump, do we really want to elect someone who just this week said, “This campaign is about asking one fundamental question: Which side are you on?” The corporations or the people?
That’s not exactly the type of question that someone asks when trying to unify the country. What this country needs more than ever is someone with realistic plans for the future, someone thoughtful who will consider all the ramifications of his policies rather than dogmatically follow some half-baked, utopian philosophy. Bernie may be a lot of things, but he’s not that.
Andrew Reed ’21 can be reached at
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Correction: A previous version of this op-ed stated that of the 78 candidates endorsed by the Justice Democrats in 2018, seven won their primaries and only one won their race in the general election. In fact, 26 candidates won their primaries, and seven candidates won in the general election. The Herald regrets the error.