The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Understanding Bernie

It's highly unlikely that Democratic socialist candidate Bernie Sanders will ascend to the presidency, but as Barack Obama's disastrous eight year run indicates, nothing is impossible in modern American politics.

The media has treated Sanders as vapor, mentioning him now and then with a snippet of video showing the Vermont Senator railing against "millionaires and billionaires," but otherwise assiduously avoiding any discussion of his policy pronouncements, his taxation ideas, his true attitudes toward the private sector, his stance relative to Islamic terror or any of a dozen other important issues. The reason is simple. Like Obama in 2007-2008, an in-depth probe of Sander's positions might trouble a significant percentage of independent voters—so better, like Obama of 2008, to represent him as a glossy image rather than a politician with ideas that might have flaws and consequences.

Should Sanders win the Iowa and/or new Hampshire primaries—an increasingly strong possibility—he will become a media darling. It's highly likely that the trained hamsters of the mainstream media will treat him much as they treated Obama—asking softball questions that play to his strengths and avoiding subjects, policy positions, and ideology that the public at large might find troublesome.

Let's take a look at some wholly legitimate questions that should be asked of Sanders, but before we do, let's consider the man for a moment.

I actually like Sanders, even though I strongly disagree with his politics. Unlike candidate-Obama in 2008 or candidate-Clinton in 2016, Sanders appears to be principled, has no tinge of corruption associated with his past, isn't afraid to articulate the positions he feels strongly about, and appears to be as honest as one could expect from a politician.

But Sander's socialist ideology is extreme. Here are some questions that any competent mainstream journalist (is that an oxymoron?) should ask the Senator:

  • As a young man you honeymooned in the old Soviet Union. More than most Americans, you got a first hand look at the communist system in action. Many years later, the Soviet Union crumbled. Why did that happen?
  • Today, many socialist countries around the world are in trouble. Some, such as Venezuela, are close to complete failure with shortages, food lines, crime, and corruption causing social upheaval. Others, such as Greece are in dire financial straights with a populace demanding benefits and rights that the government can no longer pay for. A few European countries continue to do relatively well, but even they are financially stressed and have economies that are not strong. Do you want to bring the socialist model to the United States? And if you do, why should we expect a different result than the one we see in other socialist countries worldwide?
  • As a socialist, you have said that government can provide effective solutions to many of the problems facing our country. However, we have seen government fail repeated to implement programs that work cost-effectively and provide true benefit to citizens. For example, the VA scandal of the past decade indicates that the federal government struggles to provide quality healthcare without incurred huge costs, waste, inefficiency, and fraud. Yet, you advocate replacing Obamacare with a single payer medical system. Please explain how such a system would avoid the huge costs, waste, inefficiency, and fraud that have plagued the much simpler VA medical care system.
  • Do you believe that there is substantial waste, fraud and abuse throughout the federal government? If not, how do you account for the many anecdotal reports delineated by government watchdogs outlining massive waste, fraud, and abuse? If you agree, how will growing the size of government reduce the amount of waste, fraud, and abuse?
  • Is the private sector responsible for job growth in the United States? If not, what entity drives job growth in this country? If the private sector is responsible for job growth, what incentives would you put in place to help the private sector generate more jobs? How will increased taxes on those who own businesses help to improve job growth?
  • The national debt is currently well-over $18 trillion. Within the next few years, interest on the debt will be the third largest expenditure made by the federal government. Yet, you advocate programs that will increase the debt substantially without massive tax increases. A few simple questions: How much debt is acceptable? Do you honestly believe that we can tax our way out of debt? If you do, who will be taxed? At what rate? Finally, what happens if the taxes on those who are taxed do not provide enough government income?
  • You have repeatedly stated that taxes on "millionaires and billionaires" should be raised substantially to pay for the programs you'd like to implement. Are you willing to acknowledge that many of the so-called "millionaires" are owners of small businesses that employ millions of middle class workers? Are you also willing to acknowledge that many of those small business are structured as Chapter S or LLCs—meaning that any profits generated flow directly to the owner as personal income that would be taxed heavily under your policies? If taxes on "millionaires and billionaires" approach confiscatory levels, do you believe that small business owners would continue to have the incentive to grow their businesses, add employees, and provide better wages, or would those core activities be dampened by heavy taxation?
  • You're a strong advocate on income equality. Yet under the Obama administration, income inequality has grown substantially. Why is that? As an aside, are you a proponent of equal opportunity or equal outcomes?
  • You have suggested the public college education should be "free" for all. Do you believe that everyone should attend college, regardless of their academic performance or career goals?
  • You have suggested that government guaranteed college debt be "forgiven," meaning that the tax payers would foot the bill. Do you believe that a person has a responsibility to repay the loans he or she has taken out? If not, why? If yes, how does this conform with your recommendation to forgive debt?
  • Do you believe that the United States of America is a racist country? If not, how do you address the arguments made by the Black Lives Matter advocates? If yes, how do you explain the demonstrable strides and broad opportunities that have opened for people of color over the past three decades?
  • Do you believe that there is a "war on women?" Can you provide data that indicate that equal pay has not been not achieved for equal work? 
  • Are you in favor of full amnesty for people who have entered this country illegally? Would you grant those people citizenship? Are you in favor of restricting further illegal immigration? If you are, how would you do that? If you are not, how do you justify your position within the rule of law?
  • You are a strong advocate of a higher minimum wage, please explain why a $30.00/hour minimum wage would not be a better, more socially just idea than a $15.00 per hour minimum wage? Are you concerned about recent published data indicating the loss of entry level jobs to automation would be accelerated if entry level wages rose substantially over a relatively short period of time? Do you believe that small businesses could afford a $12.00 or $15.00 or $20.00 per hour minimum wage without consequences to the health of the business?
  • You have argued that climate change is the biggest threat facing our country. Without an appeal to authority (e.g., the tenuous and unsubstantiated claim that 97 percent of all scientists agree), can you provide any data that supports that position? Can you tell the public what percentage of climate change can be attributed to human activity? Can you articulate the arguments against your position and explain why they should be dismissed?
  • You have on numerous occasions lambasted the obstructionist GOP, but don't you agree that it's the job of the new president to work with an opposition that has been elected by about half the people? Can you provide a few instances where you've worked successfully with the GOP to move legislation through the Congress?
  • You characterize yourself as the candidate "for the rest of us." As president is there a constituency—e.g., big banks, or wall street firms—that you feel you will not represent or that are antithetical to your values?
  • We'd like you to discuss the terrorist threat we face. First, can you describe it in a simple terms, essentially name it for us? Second, can you assess the threat level—low, moderate, or severe? Third, can you help us understand the underlying causes? Fourth, do you believe that the terrorists can be negotiated with or otherwise mollified? Last, explain your criteria for ordering the use of significant force to defeat and/or destroy the terrorists.
  • Are you a supporter of Obama's Iran "deal"? If yes, why do you think that Iran will be honest and adhere to the tenets of the deal? Do you think it's a good idea to give Iran $150 billion in sanctions relief that cannot possibly be recalled even if the deal disintegrated?
  • Are you a strong supporter of Israel? Do you believe that a two state solution is possible, given the rocket attacks, stabbings, bombings, and other violence regularly perpetrated by the palestinians? Do you believe that Israel has a right to exist, and if so, how can you countenance a people who think otherwise?
  • Will you commit to destroy ISIS and other violent extremists in the Middle East? If not, why not? If yes, how?
I can almost guarantee that not a single one of those questions will be asked of Sanders, and that makes 2016—2008 all over again.