By James Kirchick – – – —
Is Bernie Sanders your stoner college roommate? After he fumbles his way through a Daily News interview, there seems to be far less to the socialist populist than meets the eye
Remember that guy who lived in your college dorm, always wore a Che Guevara t-shirt, and ranted about “the system?” That’s basically Bernie Sanders.
Throughout this presidential campaign, a fulsome narrative has sprouted up around the Vermont socialist: That whatever one thinks of his far-left political views, Sanders is undoubtedly bookish, erudite and extremely knowledgeable about the issues.
A highly revealing interview with the Daily News Editorial Board last week, however, shows that claim to be utter rubbish. Sanders is less Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party presidential candidate about whom he made a laudatory documentary, than Gene the Undergraduate Stoner, who, whenever
Take Sanders’ signature issue: wealth inequality. Despite railing endlessly on the stump about how American corporations are “destroying the national fabric,” Sanders was unable to name even three American businesses guilty of that grave charge. Similarly, while bemoaning how no Wall Street executive has been prosecuted for supposed crimes that sparked the financial crisis of 2008, he could not name any legal statute that they violated.
When it comes to how exactly he plans to “break up” the big banks, Sanders responded with Trumpian vagueness. Saying you’ll recruit “some people who know a lot about this” is apparently the democratic socialist analogue to “We’ll hire the best people.”
Given that he supports closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and also believes that Islamist terrorists should be subject to the criminal justice system, what would he do with captured ISIS commanders? “I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.”
Asked to clarify his panegyrics to “fair trade,” Sanders replied “what fair trade means to say that it is fair. It is roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the United States.” If you want to pay $5,000 for that shiny new iPhone, Bernie Sanders is your guy!
Sanders is like a wind-up doll spouting out reliable, populist platitudes — “Millionaries and billionaires,” “the top tenth of the top 1%,” “rigged economy” — that his audiences of debt-strapped, ignorant Millennials applaud like trained seals.
But ask him a real question? Nine times out of 10, the wind-up doll has no answer.
When Sanders did occasionally muster coherent answers to questions, he was usually wrong. Exploring the policy realm where he is weakest, foreign affairs, Sanders was mostly clueless. He did, however, expose his prejudices when he asserted that “over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza” during Hamas’ 2014 war against Israel. Reliable estimates put the number of dead people at less than a quarter of that grossly exaggerated figure — 2,100, of whom 1,462 were civilians.
Elsewhere, Sanders described America’s “rigged economy” as one “where the wealthiest family in this country, the Walton family of Walmart, pays its workers wages that are so low that the middle class has to pay more in taxes to provide food stamps and Medicaid for Walmart employees.” This is a strange argument for a self-declared socialist to make, assuming as it does that it is the sole responsibility of a low-wage employer — and not, say, society as a whole — to ensure a decent standard of living for all of its employees and their families.
But for Sanders and other economic illiterates, feeling good is more important than doing well. Now that New York State has approved a Sanders-backed $15 minimum wage, to be rolled out over the coming years, we may see the unemployment rate rise as companies fire all those employees whose labor is not worth $15 per hour. These people will, in turn, join the welfare rolls, something that should make a true socialist like Sanders happy.
Bernie Sanders is not the “conscience” of the Left. He’s more like the Sarah Palin of the Left: clueless, but embodying its cultural preferences and giving voice to its prejudices. Whereas Palin was the godfearin’, plainspeakin’ “hockey mom,” Bernie is a righteously angry agitator.
Sanders, like his right-wing mimesis Donald Trump, will likely condemn the News as part of the “Wall Street establishment” out to get him. The paper is, after all, owned by one of those evil billionaires Sanders is always screaming about. This will be a hard sell to make, seeing that the News has long been the voice of New York’s working class. It’s hardly a hostile venue.
The most revealing moment in the interview had nothing to do with policy. Asked if he rides the New York City subway, Sanders replied in the affirmative, and mentioned that one needs a token to board. The MTA discontinued tokens 13 years ago.
That Bernie Sanders. What a champion of the common man.