More Magic From Bernie Sanders-- An Economic Agenda
This morning, just before Bernie Sanders' official declaration of candidacy, John Harwood got to ask him 10 questions for CNBC. Here are a few of the most relevant to American voters looking for a better opportunity for the future:
HARWOOD: After the revolution, what does it look like? What do you see happening to the 1 percent?Also this morning, as the clock ticked down to Bernie's 5pm rally in Burlington, MSNBC's Steve Kornacki made the case for his candidacy on the network's website, acknowledging that the challenge against Hillary-- "the most overwhelming non-incumbent front-runner either party has seen since the dawn of the modern nominating process"-- is Herculean. "[W]hile the odds that he’ll actually defeat her are vanishingly slim, he may nonetheless be better-positioned than any other Clinton challenger to at least make her break a sweat."
SANDERS: What is my dream? My dream is, do we live in a country where 70 percent, 80 percent, 90 percent of the people vote? Where we have serious discourse on media rather than political gossip, by the way? Where we're debating trade policy, we're debating foreign policy, we're debating economic policy, where the American people actually know what's going on in Congress? Ninety-nine percent of all new income generated today goes to the top 1 percent. Top one-tenth of 1 percent owns as much as wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Does anybody think that that is the kind of economy this country should have? Do we think it's moral? So to my mind, if you have seen a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1 percent, you know what, we've got to transfer that back if we're going to have a vibrant middle class. And you do that in a lot of ways. Certainly one way is tax policy.
HARWOOD: Have you seen some of the quotations from people on Wall Street, people in business? Some have even likened the progressive Democratic crusade to Hitler's Germany hunting down the Jews.
SANDERS: It's sick. And I think these people are so greedy, they're so out of touch with reality, that they can come up and say that. They think they own the world.
What a disgusting remark. I'm sorry to have to tell them, they live in the United States, they benefit from the United States, we have kids who are hungry in this country. We have people who are working two, three, four jobs, who can't send their kids to college. You know what? Sorry, you're all going to have to pay your fair share of taxes. If my memory is correct, when radical socialist Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the highest marginal tax rate was something like 90 percent.
HARWOOD: When you think about 90 percent, you don't think that's obviously too high?
SANDERS: No. That's not 90 percent of your income, you know? That's the marginal. I'm sure you have some really right-wing nut types, but I'm not sure that every very wealthy person feels that it's the worst thing in the world for them to pay more in taxes, to be honest with you. I think you've got a lot of millionaires saying, "You know what? I've made a whole lot of money. I don't want to see kids go hungry in America. Yeah, I'll pay my fair share."
HARWOOD: If the changes that you envision in tax policy, in finance, breaking up the banks, were to result in a more equitable distribution of income, but less economic growth, is that trade-off worth making?
SANDERS: Yes. If 99 percent of all the new income goes to the top 1 percent, you could triple it, it wouldn't matter much to the average middle class person. The whole size of the economy and the GDP doesn't matter if people continue to work longer hours for low wages and you have 45 million people living in poverty. You can't just continue growth for the sake of growth in a world in which we are struggling with climate change and all kinds of environmental problems. All right? You don't necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country. I don't think the media appreciates the kind of stress that ordinary Americans are working on. People scared to death about what happens tomorrow. Half the people in America have less than $10,000 in savings. How do you like that? That means you have an automobile accident, you have an illness, you're broke. How do you retire if you have less than $10,000, and you don't have much in the way of Social Security?
It’s easy to dismiss Sanders as nothing more than a niche candidate, an avowed “democratic socialist” with a diehard following on the far-left. Raising money will be a challenge and Sanders will rely heavily on modest contributions from grassroots donors. His outsider posture and distance from the Democratic establishment also means he won’t be reeling in many high-profile endorsements. (Just last week, Vermont’s Democratic governor, Peter Shumlin, snubbed Sanders and threw his support to Clinton.) Nor does Sanders have much of a campaign infrastructure in place right now.Earlier today, we sort of asked if you believe in magic. Music and magic could help, but contributions from ordinary working people are what's going to give Bernie a chance to compete. Can you help?
But write him off completely at your own peril, because Sanders actually has a few things working in his favor. There’s his message, for one thing, a frontal assault on the political system and a pledge to directly combat the “billionaire class.” This is hardly new talk from Sanders, who has been on Capitol Hill for 24 years now, but the climate has shifted since the 2008 economic meltdown and income inequality, wealth concentration and corporate power are unusually prominent in the national debate. And with economic anxiety still high and rampant frustration with Washington’s paralysis, there’s a potentially wide opening for a damn-the-system crusade like Sanders is leading.
It’s more than that, though. There’s also his personality and his image – grumpy demeanor, disheveled appearance, disinterest in discussing anything not related to policy, contempt for personal questions. He is the antithesis of a packaged political candidate and his authenticity is a powerful tool. Look at it this way: Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is poised to join Sanders in the Democratic race later this week, is planning to stress many of the same economic themes as Sanders. But which one of them sounds like he means it more? Sanders’ team can’t afford polling yet, but they are quick to point to his strong favorable/unfavorable scores in public surveys as proof of his potential appeal.
In this sense, Clinton’s seeming invincibility makes her the ideal opponent for Sanders. All of the attributes that contribute to her strength-- her bottomless bankroll, her legion of high-powered endorsers, her extensive connections to the country’s financial elite, her marriage to a former president-- mark her as the embodiment of the political establishment against which Sanders defines himself. Plus, her strength has kept the Democratic Party’s brightest non-Hillary White House prospects-- like, say, Elizabeth Warren-- on the sidelines, making it easier for Sanders and his message to stand out.
His appeal is broader-- or potentially broader-- than most assume. In Vermont, Sanders has built a formidable coalition not only of Democrats and liberals but also of economically downscale conservative white voters. Here it’s worth noting that Sanders routinely votes against gun control measures and ventures into culture war politics rarely and grudgingly.
The good news for Sanders is that he’s gained more early polling traction than any of the other Clinton challengers-- O’Malley, former Virginia Senator James Webb, and former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee. He’s also shown himself to be a star on social media, where his policy ruminations regularly go viral, and his team bragged of bringing in $1.5 million in the 24 hours after his announcement of candidacy last month. His team hopes to raise $50 million this year-- not nearly enough to rival Clinton, of course, but plenty to build out full-fledged operations in all of the early primary and caucus states.
At a minimum, the Sanders team believes he’ll be able to emerge as the de facto non-Clinton candidate. Already, there are encouraging signs for them on this front. A recent Iowa poll put Sanders at 14%, more than O’Malley, Webb and Chafee combined; and a New Hampshire poll gave him 18%, more than doubling up the other three. (That said, he still trails Clinton by around 50 points.)
The venues for the lead-off contests are favorable for Sanders: Iowa and New Hampshire, two states with small, rural populations that aren’t too different from Vermont, where Sanders has now won ten statewide elections. The leftward, activist-oriented bent of Iowa’s Democratic caucus electorate is well established; it’s the state where Clinton finished in third place in 2008 the beginning of the end of her first presidential campaign. And right on Iowa’s heels will come New Hampshire, where Democrats already know Sanders as their next-door neighbor.
Realistically, Sanders could fare surprisingly well in these two states, knock the other non-Hillary candidates out of the race, then gobble up 20-to-30% in primaries and caucuses throughout the spring and arrive at the convention with hundreds of delegates-- enough to command attention and shape the platform.