As many of you are already aware, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has announced his 2016 presidential campaign with much fanfare from the online political community. Impressively, he raised $1.5 million in the first 24 hours after announcing his campaign, and a flood of pro-Sanders articles have been pumped out on every left-leaning political website in the past couple of days.
Technically an independent, Sanders is the only politician to admit openly that he is a socialist in a country that has historically been very hostile to socialism. Even as a conservative, I’m impressed with Sanders’ willingness to admit he belongs to a political sect that has not seen any significant success in America.
What does Sanders stand for? He is opposed to the NSA, the Patriot Act, and free trade agreements, and for more taxes on the wealthy and corporations, free higher education, alternative rehabilitation for convicted criminals, pro-choice legislation, building up the middle class, increasing minimum wage, aggressively combating climate change, breaking up the big banks, more regulations on Wall Street, equal pay for women, more opportunities for minorities, and unions. In other words, the prototypical perfect politician for Wesleyan.
Sanders, who receives a lot of monetary support from unions, has publicly stated that he will refuse public financing and will not accept donations from the wealthiest Americans. He claims he doesn’t want a Super PAC, although technically he isn’t allowed to interact with any PACs that form in his name, so I’m not quite sure what his plans under those circumstances.
Is Sanders electable? At this point in time, absolutely not. He is polling in the single digits in all of the early battleground primary states, but that was before he declared his candidacy. I suspect he will gain some ground in the next round of polls, but Hillary Clinton will likely remain far in the lead. Clinton has a household name, a lot of liberals and moderates who still love her husband, and a much more moderate political position. Left-leaning media outlets have already gone into spin mode trying to portray Sanders as a centrist, reaching as far as to say that if Sanders were in Europe he would be considered a moderate, intentionally and conveniently leaving out the fact that Europe isn’t the USA, and its economy is having a lot of problems (I believe due to their socialist policies).
Not only will Sanders have to overcome the “socialist” stench that he has, he will also have to answer very uncomfortable questions about his track record; he is known as a politician who can give great speeches and say nice-sounding things, but when he has to point to something that he has actually accomplished, I think he is going to have to tap dance. He is all talk, and no substance. For example, he is against the War on Terror and trimming the military budget, but has no problem fighting for military contracts in his state because of the jobs they bring. Trying to have his cake and eat it too. Hypocrisy, thy name is you.
Another issue I foresee is the fact that we don’t have a dictatorship in America. In other words, Sanders will have to work with politicians across the spectrum in order to run the government. Is he willing to compromise and work with conservatives, or will he try to force his own agenda through? His past clearly shows he isn’t willing to compromise, even with moderate Democrat liberal politicians. That is not the hallmark of a good president, and it isn’t even a good trait of a senator. There is a fine line between being true to one’s principles and having the presence of mind to realize that the government is composed of several hundred individuals who all have their own values. The job of a politician is the ability to compromise to get things done, something that Sanders hasn’t demonstrated.
His opposition to free trade agreements and support of unions could be characterized by some as containing Economics 101-level errors that can be picked apart by his opponents. Free trade is very beneficial, and while unions once served a purpose, many now associate them with corruption, inefficiency, and bullying.
Yes, free trade does cause some jobs to be shipped overseas, but if other countries are able to accomplish tasks more efficiently than in America, why shouldn’t we shift our resources to areas in which we are proficient? And before anyone decries the wages in countries that manufacture our cheaper goods, you should read up on what those foreign workers think: They are very worried that America will try to reabsorb their manufacturing jobs and leave them without any work at all.
His coziness with unions isn’t respectable, either. While Bernie said that he is against the influence of PACs and the wealthy, he has no problem taking union money, especially from groups like the AFL-CIO. I would argue that unions destroy jobs, inflate wages, make corporations unable to compete, are frequently corrupt and penetrated by organized crime, and bully workers into joining. They destroyed the American auto industry, are on their way to destroying Hollywood, and are partially responsible for the degradation of American education. Public unions are costing cities and states dearly, whether through wages or their bloated pension liabilities. That being said, how can Sanders be pro-worker when he supports groups that have been proven to destroy jobs in the long run?
Further evidence that Sanders isn’t as worker-friendly as he claims is his vote against tax breaks for small businesses. These small businesses drive the economy, employing most Americans and provide a lot of benefits to their local communities. America’s corporate taxes are already some of the highest in the world, and any further increases not only will come at a cost of jobs, but also will add incentive to larger corporations to move their businesses overseas.
I also suspect there will be additional regulations as well, likely in connection with his environmentalist statements, which are also a heavy burden on small businesses. Larger corporations can soak up the additional requirements a lot easier than smaller ones, and his policies have the potential to further undermine the middle class.
His anti-NSA and anti-Patriot Act position is very concerning as well. I understand that with today’s lackluster “journalism,” the average American has a distorted view of what the NSA and Patriot Act actually do, but for a senator, it is irresponsible. There is a reason why Obama and the liberals in 2008 quickly backpedaled from their “close Gitmo” and anti-Patriot Act stances when they assumed power: There are realities that are inescapable in today’s world. Does Sanders acknowledge that these programs are nowhere near as nefarious as they are portrayed in today’s media? Is he simply taking a stance to gain votes, or is he negligent in his duties to understand fully the Patriot Act and NSA? I suspect it is the former, considering how often Sanders is willing to wring his wrists without actually achieving anything of substance.
Nevertheless, as I stated before, at this point in time he is unelectable. He certainly has the potential to force the more centrist Democratic candidates to inch left in order to prevent a schism in their party, and that will likely be his biggest impact. I suspect next year there will be a large number of Wesleyan students who support him, and I look forward to the back-and-forth. Despite my opposition to his campaign, I wish Sanders the best of luck; at the very least, he will bring important topics to the forefront of the debates next year.
Stascavage is a member of the class of 2018.