Every day, I answer a reader question in my newsletter Tangle. This week, someone wrote in and asked me to make the case for Bernie Sanders. Here is the question and my response below. To subscribe to Tangle, just hit the button below.
Q: I was hoping you could do me a favor and make a reasonable argument for Sanders because I just had a long text battle with a supporter. They had no luck convincing me that universal healthcare would/could work in this country when our healthcare system is already bogged down. The infrastructure simply can't handle this many additional patients. What's the case for Bernie and some of these bigger policies actually working?
- Rob, Harrisburg, PA
Tangle: Two weeks ago, someone wrote in and asked me why so many people hated Bernie Sanders. I broke down some of his flaws in that newsletter, and I encourage you to read it so you don’t dig in here and think I’m a basic Bernie fanboy. I should note, though, that I did write an op-ed endorsing Bernie Sanders in 2016 (I later threw my editorial support behind Clinton), so I want to be transparent that I have a track history of backing his run for president. I’ve also always had some very big concerns about Trump. Plenty of my views have moved since 2016, but I do still feel positively about a lot of what Sanders represents.
I haven’t endorsed or thrown my support behind any candidate in the 2020 race. What I saw in Bernie in 2016 — and why I supported him — was not about thinking he’d deliver free college for every American or Medicare-for-All. It’s because I saw in him a candidate who fully recognized the dignity of America’s working class and the people who are truly suffering financially in today’s system. That does not make me a bleeding-heart liberal or a populist conservative — it just makes me someone who has seen that suffering up close and recognizes that our government is failing the vast majority of the country. And I genuinely believe Bernie Sanders will do what he can to try to fix that.
The case for Sanders is both that he’s a radical and the system needs a radical change. When I hear Bernie deliver his stump speech, that America’s wealthy are only getting wealthier while the poor are only getting poorer, I think of the neighborhoods in Brooklyn I walk through every day on my way to midtown Manhattan. I see that wealth disparity every morning. Similarly, I saw it in my hometown every time I drove across the river from Bucks County, PA to Trenton, New Jersey. When I hear him talk about the Wall Street greed that destroyed the economy in 2008, I think about my own parents and how the housing crisis destroyed their chances of holding onto a home they’d worked most of their lives to buy (with no recourse and no repercussions for the people responsible). When I hear him describe a broken health care system, I think about how my take-home pay is savaged thanks in large part to an expensive employer-provided health care plan that still doesn’t cover most of the treatments I need. When I hear him talk about a bloated or wasteful military budget, I think about the fact that I get about 60% of my net pay every year and a huge chunk of my tax money is supporting a military apparatus that has blown trillions of dollars. And yet, I remember I’m lucky — lucky compared to millions who don’t have health insurance, lucky compared to innocent civilians or young soldiers who are actually in the war zones, and lucky that I didn’t graduate college on the heels of the 2008 crash.
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Will Sanders pass Medicare-for-All through Congress? I very sincerely doubt it. In fact, your analysis here is a point that doesn’t get enough attention: forget the cost of it, making health care accessible for everyone raises some serious concerns about how we’d meet the sudden demand as a country. Many politicians recognize that and Bernie doesn’t have a great answer. Even if Democrats were to expand their majority in the House and win the Senate, most Democrats still wouldn’t go for such a plan. But he may expand Medicare in states where health care is desperately sparse and to poor Americans who still can’t get on Obamacare. What about a tax plan to make college free? Again, extremely unlikely — even assuming a favorable make-up in Congress. But it’s easier to envision a world where he cancels some or all student debt and frees a generation that can’t afford houses, cars or a family from thousands of dollars of debt. And there’s plenty of evidence that a move like that would help improve the economy — I know for certain it’d positively change the lives of hundreds of my friends.
Sanders, like Trump and Obama, also has a wide latitude of executive privilege. This is not a good thing for our country. But it does mean that while many of his biggest promises would be stymied in Congress, he’s also smart enough to craft the executive orders he’d need to change the country on day one. A number of those potential orders were leaked in a Washington Post article a few months ago, and I saw a few I’d be glad to see implemented: he’d immediately end the construction of the border wall, a wasteful and ineffective policy initiative that requires stealing privately owned land and serves as a gross divisive symbol with our southern neighbor. He’d reinstate DACA, which is a smart and well-crafted immigration policy supported by both Republicans and Democrats that grants legal status to immigrants brought here as children (barring they meet certain stipulations). He’d immediately allow the U.S. to import prescription drugs from Canada, making many of the most commons drugs cheaper overnight. He’d cancel federal contracts for firms paying workers less than $15 an hour, a move that — even if you don’t support a raise in the minimum wage — would be a government incentive to pay workers better.
There are other day one policies, too, that I don’t necessarily support but many liberals do: directing the Justice Department to legalize marijuana or declaring climate change a national emergency while banning the exportation of crude oil.
I also know that for many of my readers who are liberals, 2020 is only about one thing: defeating Donald Trump. And if that’s your concern there’s still a strong case for Bernie. While polls vary, plenty of reliable national surveys show Bernie doing better against Trump than any other Democrat. Much has been made of Bernie’s weakness in Pennsylvania, your home state and one that’s crucial to the election, but the latest YouGov poll shows Sanders doing better there vs. Trump than any of his competitors. Quinnipiac has Sanders beating Trump in Michigan and Pennsylvania. CBS has Sanders beating Trump nationally. Anecdotally, I don’t know a single Democrat who won’t cast a ballot for Sanders in 2020 if he’s the nominee — and he could pick up plenty of independents with a smart Vice President choice.
And while Sanders is divisive among the liberals on Twitter, he’s actually not divisive at all amongst real-life Democrats. Consistently, polls show that Sanders’s favorability rating (71 percent!) is higher among Democratic voters than any of his competitors. His net favorability is 16 points higher than Joe Biden, who is considered the most electable of the bunch by a lot of the chattering class. It’s 40 points higher than Michael Bloomberg, who many moderate Democrats now see as the last chance to stop Sanders and beat Trump.
Ultimately, there’s a case for Bernie regardless of where you fall on the spectrum. If you’re a progressive liberal who believes he can work his magic, cause a revolution and pass his biggest goals, you’re looking at free health care, better wages and cancellation of college debt. If you’re a moderate liberal who thinks he’ll only be able to act on executive orders, you’re going to get a sudden burst of energy addressing climate change, Medicare expansion, a more just and empathetic immigration system, the legalization of marijuana and a push for $15 minimum wages. You may even get student debt canceled for some borrowers. If you’re just someone who wants to beat Trump, Sanders is proving he has the base of support to do it and — despite everything they say on television — he is just as strong (if not stronger) against Trump in national polls as all of his opponents. Even if you’re a Trump supporter, Bernie offers something, too: he’s got the “establishment is screwing you” mentality and plans to shock the system, but instead of placing blame on globalism and immigrants, he puts it on the wealthy and corporations.
As divisive as Sanders may seem to the pundit class, the reality they continue to miss is that his candidacy offers something for everyone. People just have to be willing to look for it.