David Brooks, one of those Never Trumpers:
A few months ago, I wrote a column saying I would vote for Elizabeth Warren over Donald Trump. I may not agree with some of her policies, but culture is more important than politics. She does not spread moral rot the way Trump does.
Now I have to decide if I’d support Bernie Sanders over Trump.
We all start from personal experience. I covered the Soviet Union in its final decrepit years. The Soviet and allied regimes had already slaughtered 20 million people through things like mass executions and intentional famines. Those regimes were slave states. They enslaved whole peoples and took away the right to say what they wanted, live where they wanted and harvest the fruits of their labor.
And yet every day we find more old quotes from Sanders apologizing for this sort of slave regime, whether in the Soviet Union, Cuba or Nicaragua. He excused the Nicaraguan communists when they took away the civil liberties of their citizens. He’s still making excuses for Castro.
To sympathize with these revolutions in the 1920s was acceptable, given their original high ideals. To do so after the Hitler-Stalin pact, or in the 1950s, is appalling. To do so in the 1980s is morally unfathomable.
I say all this not to cancel Sanders for past misjudgments. I say all this because the intellectual suppositions that led him to embrace these views still guide his thinking today. I’ve just watched populism destroy traditional conservatism in the G.O.P. I’m here to tell you that Bernie Sanders is not a liberal Democrat. He’s what replaces liberal Democrats.
Traditional liberalism traces its intellectual roots to John Stuart Mill, John Locke, the Social Gospel movement and the New Deal. This liberalism believes in gaining power the traditional way: building coalitions, working within the constitutional system and crafting the sort of compromises you need in a complex, pluralistic society.
This is why liberals like Hubert Humphrey, Ted Kennedy and Elizabeth Warren were and are such effective senators. They worked within the system, negotiated and practiced the art of politics.
Populists like Sanders speak as if the whole system is irredeemably corrupt. Sanders was a useless House member and has been a marginal senator because he doesn’t operate within this system or believe in this theory of change.
He believes in revolutionary mass mobilization and, once an election has been won, rule by majoritarian domination. This is how populists of left and right are ruling all over the world, and it is exactly what our founders feared most and tried hard to prevent.
Liberalism celebrates certain values: reasonableness, conversation, compassion, tolerance, intellectual humility and optimism. Liberalism is horrified by cruelty. Sanders’s leadership style embodies the populist values, which are different: rage, bitter and relentless polarization, a demand for ideological purity among your friends and incessant hatred for your supposed foes.
A liberal leader confronts new facts and changes his or her mind. A populist leader cannot because the omniscience of the charismatic headman can never be doubted. A liberal sees shades of gray. For a populist reality is white or black, friend or enemy. Facts that don’t fit the dogma are ignored.
A liberal sees inequality and tries to reduce it. A populist sees remorseless class war and believes in concentrated power to crush the enemy. Sanders is running on a $60 trillion spending agenda that would double the size of the federal government. It would represent the greatest concentration of power in the Washington elite in American history.
These days, Sanders masquerades as something less revolutionary than he really is. He claims to be nothing more than the continuation of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. He is 5 percent right and 95 percent wrong.
There was a period around 1936 or 1937 when Roosevelt was trying to pack the Supreme Court and turning into the sort of arrogant majoritarian strongman the founders feared. But this is not how F.D.R. won the presidency, passed the New Deal, beat back the socialists of his time or led the nation during World War II. F.D.R. did not think America was a force for ill in world affairs.
Sanders also claims he’s just trying to import the Scandinavian model, which is believable if you know nothing about Scandinavia or what Sanders is proposing. Those countries do have generous welfare states, but they can afford them because they understand how free market capitalism works, with fewer regulations on business creation and free trade.
There is a specter haunting the world — corrosive populisms of right and left. These populisms grow out of real problems but are the wrong answers to them. For the past century, liberal Democrats from F.D.R. to Barack Obama knew how to beat back threats from the populist left. They knew how to defend the legitimacy of our system, even while reforming it.
Judging by the last few debates, none of the current candidates remember those arguments or know how to rebut a populist to their left.
I’ll cast my lot with democratic liberalism. The system needs reform. But I just can’t pull the lever for either of the two populisms threatening to tear it down.
Charlie Sykes, like Brooks no fan of Trump:
Let’s stipulate the profound unseriousness of a Republican Party that has morphed into a Trumpist cult. But the Democrats have pretensions; they want us to believe they are the serious party, the party of grownups.
But would a serious party nominate Bernie Sanders?
The real problem with Sanders is his platform, which even his fans seem to suspect is the stuff of fevered fantasies and fiscal unicorns. Outside of the Bernie Bros themselves, the best case for Sanders is that his proposals are so lavishly extreme that there is little or no chance they will ever be adopted.
In other words, the implausibility of his ideas is actually a selling point.
Perhaps that explains why none of his Democratic rivals seemed especially interested in pushing Sanders to show how his math works. Spoiler alert: they know it doesn’t. Hell, Bernie knows it doesn’t work. So his fellow Democrats gave him a pass the other night.
The result of their passivity, writes Ron Brownstein in Atlantic was that “the blustery and disorderly session once again failed to fully explore what could be the Vermont senator’s greatest general-election weakness: the massive size and scope of his spending and tax proposals, which, depending on the estimate, would cost $50 trillion to $60 trillion over the next 10 years. ”
Sanders’s proposals, notes Brownstein, “would roughly double the size of the federal government, an unprecedented increase outside of wartime.”
On the eve of the debate, Sanders released a document that purported to detail how he would pay for all of the free stuff he was promising – Medicare for All, College for All and Canceling Student Debt, Housing For All, Universal Childcare/Pre-K, Eliminating Medical Debt, Increasing Social Security, and the Green New Deal. The numbers did not even come close to adding up.
As Brownstein notes: Sanders has also proposed “other expensive spending plans that he did not list, notably: increased funding for K–12 education, which has been estimated to cost $800 billion to $1 trillion; a federally funded paid-medical-and-family-leave program for workers, which the Congressional Budget Office recently scored at about $500 billion over a decade; a $1 trillion infrastructure initiative; and a federal guaranteed-jobs program whose cost estimates vary widely but that could run into the trillions”
Depending on which numbers you use, this raises federal spending somewhere around $50 to $60 trillion dollars over the next decade — or roughly double the current rate of spending. To pay for this, Sanders has proposed at least $30 trillion in new taxes on business and the rich, along with another $12 trillion in ‘”revenue and savings.” Those tax hikes, Brownstein notes, “would increase federal taxes as a share of GDP by as much as 11 percentage points.”
Sanders’s tax hikes would be the largest peacetime increases in history. And they would inevitably hit the middle class hard.
But they would still not be enough. A fact-check by the Progressive Policy Institute’s Center for Funding America’s Future, found that Sanders’s “pay-for” would still leave a massive $25 trillion hole.
Sanders’ proposed pay-fors don’t even come close to covering these costs. The document Sanders published last night, along with others released earlier in his campaign, claim to collectively raise less than $43 trillion in new revenue—meaning that he’s at least $10 trillion short. But the revenue projections Sanders uses for his tax proposals are well outside the mainstream of what independent analysts at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Congressional Budget Office, Tax Policy Center, Penn Wharton Budget Model, and others have estimated.
After reconciling Sanders’ latest list of pay-fors with these independent estimates, PPI concludes that even if Congress were to adopt every single revenue option Sanders has offered for consideration, it would fall almost $25 trillion short of his proposed spending increases over the next decade—leaving a gap nearly equal to the total value of all goods and services produced by the U.S. economy in one year.
Brownstein quotes Jared Bernstein, an economist and senior fellow at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who admits: “You would need even more revenue than he is proposing to fully offset those costs. It is not realistic to believe you can get all those revenues from the top 1, 5, or 10 percent [of households]. You would have to go down further than that. The rest of it has to come from a broader base of taxpayers or it has to go on the deficit.”
But Bernstein insists that we need to take Sander’s numbers seriously, but not literally. He says that Bernie’s proposals are more “aspirational than realistic.”
This, of course has become a familiar feature of our politics. Politicos who indulge in the politics of aspiration make “bold” proposals that they have no intention of actually enacting. Donald Trump claimed that he would build a big, beautiful wall and that Mexico would pay for it. Elizabeth Warren proposes a plan for everything and says that her new “wealth tax” will cover the tab. Bernie and the others embrace sweeping environmental schemes that are unconnected with reality.
And no one takes them literally. Of course. Because the fundamental unseriousness is baked in.
So now the question is whether the Democrats as a whole will embrace the mantle of fiscal frivolity, by nominating a man who is making promises that they know he can never possibly keep.