I get why people like Bernie Sanders.
He seems like a genuine person. Most of his funding comes from grassroots donors and he has a mostly-deserved outsider status. He’s honest about his political beliefs, and isn’t afraid to call himself a socialist. He has all the rancorous charm of Peter Finch in the 1976 film, Network:
He’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore!
There’s only one problem: he really wants to start a revolution, but forgot to bring any revolutionary ideas to the rally. His policy prescriptions–far from fresh, radical, or different–have long comprised the political status quo in Washington. While it’s true he often diagnoses real issues, he almost always suggests solutions that are a contributing or root cause of the problems in the first place.
He rightly sees student loan debt as an issue, yet he wants to flood the market with even more worthless college degrees by making public colleges “free”, ignoring the existing Federal loan subsidies and their market distortions. He rightly sees Wall Street and bank bailouts as a symptom of cronyism, yet flip-flopped away from supporting a bill to audit the Federal Reserve. He rightly sees unemployment as an issue, yet he is crusading for a $15 minimum wage which would create mandatory unemployment for perhaps millions of unskilled workers. He rightly calls out Big Pharma, insisting they have also fallen victim to the regulatory capture of Washington lobbyists, yet offers the solution of…even more regulations.
Bernie Sanders is the type of man who can point out specific grants of government privilege to private companies, then turn around and say “Unfettered free trade has been a disaster for the American people” without a hint of irony. All too often the “cure” to any given issue is to intensify the disease. After fifty years and $20,000,000,000,000 spent waging the War on Poverty without any appreciable alleviation of poverty, Bernie’s solution is riveting: spend more money on the same old programs.
Unsurprisingly, Bernie has made it exceedingly apparent that he does not understand even the most basic economic concepts, immortalized in his quote, “You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country.” Due to his inability to understand how humans acting freely produce wealth, he views the individuals who make up the economy as an entity that should (and can) be nationalized and managed like a business, mercantilism and all.
Foreign policy is supposed to be one of Bernie’s saving points, clearly holding an edge over his main (read: bloodthirsty) competition. Although he often boasts that he voted against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, he forgets to mention that he voted to continue funding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He also supported NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 and more recently supported a $1 billion aid package to the Ukrainian rebels as well as air raids in Syria. Oh, and he also said he would continue drone policies similar to Obama’s and has repeatedly supported Israeli occupation and bombing of Palestine.
On other issues, he is troublingly conservative. He would not pardon Edward Snowden and instead thinks he should face trial. He is staunchly closed border, calling open borders a “Koch brothers proposal”. He wants to legalize pot but voted to illegalize Internet gambling, demonstrating a lack of commitment to personal freedoms. He even has a “serious problem” with Uber and presumably the broader peer-to-peer economy. Perhaps nothing sums up Bernie’s view of government and economics more than his support for Vermont’s F-35 fighter jet contract, the world’s most expensive weapons program at $1,400,000,000,000, simply because it was to be manufactured in his home state. More of that “unfettered capitalism”.
Despite all this, I can still see why people like Bernie as a person. He seems like someone who actually cares instead of just saying he does. He once was a radical, someone who fought for abolishing mandatory schooling and legalizing all drugs. This alone is such a rare quality that it (almost) merits admiration.
However, the Bernie Sanders of today is just a politician who very much wants the government to intervene more and not less in our lives, which has been the prevailing attitude of every major politician of the past hundred years. For all of his peevishness towards today’s very real problems, his solution is always more of what we already have–a bloated, imperious central authority intervening in all walks of life. Bernie Sanders and his ideas are not revolutionary in any way, he is simply another flavor of authoritarian who believes he has the right to use coercion to achieve whatever ends he sees fit, and nothing more.
But hey, at least he’s not Hillary Clinton.