A collection of bad reasons relating to Bernie Sanders

#1: a bad reason to vote for Hillary Clinton
This article has been pretty popular at least among my Facebook friends. It's pretty funny, and has the combination of decent-sounding argument with really cutting putdowns that makes for internet success, but... It's not a good argument at all.

The article basically says three things. One is that Sanders' political revolution isn't going to happen, because he hasn't attracted enough support from enough different demographics to apply the kind of revolutionary pressure he talks about. There's something pretty sketchy about not supporting a candidate and their strategy because you think not enough people support it. If you think the revolution would be good, if only it could happen, then get on board and help it happen! But even if you put that aside, the only reason this matters is that if there's no political revolution, the Sanders platform won't get implemented, thanks to an obstructionist Congress full of Republican counterrevolutionaries. But as I've said before, that same obstructionist Congress would stop the Clinton platform being implemented. So why prefer her on that basis?

The second thing is that it would be bad for New York if big banks got broken up and banking jobs were lost. I don't have all that much to say about that, except that it seems fairly short-sighted, and if you really "agree with Bernie Sanders on almost every policy issue at the macro level", then you should probably bite the bullet and accept that there's going to have to be a shift of employment away from financial services, and probably some bankers will lose their jobs and that'll cause some difficulty in the short term. Hillary Clinton, by the way, claims to be offering a banking regulation plan which is in practice tougher than Sanders, because it's more thorough and covers more types of financial institutions. So it's not even obvious this is a point Sanders loses on.


The third thing is a very confusing combination of ideas: that Clinton is beset by aggressive, uncompromising Republicans at every turn, and that what we need is a candidate who's willing to cross the aisle and compromise with the other side. The general thrust is the same old 'Hillary will get things done' trope. But, again... How? Here are Clinton's great virtues:

"She believes in incremental change and compromise. She'd rather pass a crappy law that has some positive outcomes than watch a great law die in committee. ... Hillary Clinton is not why we progressives can't have nice things. The entrenched views of conservatives, racists, homophobes, xenophobes, climate deniers, zealots from all religions, and the gun lobby are why we can't have nice things. Hillary Clinton is the only candidate with a reasonable plan for dealing with those forces."

We never get told what this 'reasonable plan' is. Is it to compromise and agree on incremental change? With the entrenched forces of evil? Because just to repeat: if Congressional Republicans have the kind of lock on both chambers which dooms the Sanders platform, any plan to improve the affordability of healthcare, or college education, or to fight climate change, will die in committee. Crappy or otherwise.

I get that people want to support Clinton, and they want to feel hard-nosed and realist in doing so. I want that too! But it's really unclear what the hard-nosed, political realist reason to support Clinton is. It's certainly not in this article.

#2: a bad reason to be terrified of a Sanders Presidency
If you like your realist takedowns of Bernie Sanders more policy-oriented, then you can get very excited about Steven Pearlstein's extremely lengthy 'investigation' of the Sanders platform, which dwells on each of his centrepiece policies just long enough to conclude that it'd be a real disaster, before heading on to the next.

I don't want to go through this in detail, because it'd be really boring. But if you just read the first few paragraphs, you can pretty rapidly spot what a hatchet job this is. Pearlstein starts off pretending to be open-minded: "big government is not a guarantee of a country's economic success, but it's not a barrier either". But, he says, "the question is not whether it is theoretically possible for Americans to adopt Scandinavian policies and still be prosperous. The issue is whether Americans would be willing to accept the trade-offs that go along with such a system — higher taxes and unemployment rates, open trade, slower growth, more income redistribution".

If the cost of 'Scandinavian policies' is more unemployment and slower growth, then big government is operating as a barrier to economic success. The open-mindedness lasts all of about a paragraph. That's quickly followed by the claim that these policies just couldn't work in the US, because unlike Danish people, Americans don't like redistribution or trust their government - entertaining, because according to the International Social Survey Panel, Danes consistently have very low levels of support for redistribution - comparably low to the United States.

And look, I don't want to pretend that single-payer in America (where doctors are paid an immense amount and drugs are extremely expensive) wouldn't be costly or difficult to get off the ground, or that free university tuition is an uncontroversially good idea, let alone that a $15 national minimum wage wouldn't have costs. But this article - running through the platform so fast you can barely take it in, stopping over the free college policy briefly to tell us that a Cornell professor is "not sure this is a wise thing" - is laughably devoid of any attempt to understand why someone would support these policies, or to explain the debates over them, or really to do anything other than assure us that Sanders hasn't though these things through and is terribly, terribly wrong.

#3: a bad reason for Sanders still to be running
Basically any reason, that is.
By my rough count, Bernie needs to win 54.6% of the remaining delegates to win a majority of the delegates that are chosen by voters. That's against less than 46% that he's won so far. FiveThirtyEight predicts Sanders losing by 16 percentage points in New York tomorrow. If that happens, in what is a very big state, his task will get even more impossible. Even if it doesn't - even if he manages to narrowly win, but with less than 55% of the vote - his task will get harder. In every state from now on, less than 55% of the vote is underperforming what Sanders needs.

Which is to say: despite, everything I've been saying that's partly in his defence, Bernie Sanders is not going to win the Democratic nomination. So why is he still running? Maybe, a la Jeremy Corbyn, to broaden the debate - ensure a good hearing for progressive ideas, push Hillary Clinton to the left. But he's already done that. And though staying in the race might help continue to do that, there are surely pretty rapidly diminishing returns.

More to the point, there are much more useful ways Sanders could be advancing progressive causes within the Democratic Party. The Labour leadership election last year happened just after an election, and was the only opportunity to push left-wing ideas in the party. By contrast, over the next few months Democrats will be holding primaries for a large number of congressional and senate seats. If he really believes in a political revolution - or, more simply, if he thinks that he's done anything useful over the last several decades at all - then Sanders could be turning his network of donors and activists towards picking much more progressive candidates to run in safe Democratic seats in liberal parts of the country. That would actually create a solid base of legislators for pushing progressive causes in committees, and applying pressure on a President who's less left-wing than them to support more progressive policy than they otherwise might.

Realistically, Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee. Sanders and his campaign could be preparing the ground to work with, but also pressure from the left, a President Clinton, and to ensure Democratic control of the White House by picking new, progressive candidates who'll excite the Sanders base. Instead, he seems to be doing almost completely the opposite, getting more and more negative about Clinton in a way that makes his supporters less likely to bother turning out to vote Democrat at all. Less chance of a Democratic President, less chance of Democratic control of Congress, less progressive Democratic members of that Congress. Even if you don't much like where the Democrats stand at the moment, it's hard to see how you could justify that.

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