Why I’m Voting for Bernie Sanders on Tuesday

By James Kwak

I’ve written various generally supportive things about Bernie Sanders, but I hadn’t actually decided whether I preferred him or Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. I’ve been concerned about the electability thing, as well as the effectiveness thing. (I haven’t given money to either candidate because of a promise I made when neither lifted a finger to help Larry Lessig get into the debates.) But I’m voting for Sanders.

Obviously, I prefer Sanders’s positions on the big issues. Government-funded health care for everyone, universal pre-K education, affordable higher education for everyone, mandatory family and medical leave, a higher minimum wage, higher taxes on people like me—what’s not to like? I have concerns about some things around the edges, like ripping up existing trade agreements (I won’t call them free trade agreements, because they are often far from it), but there has not been a serious candidate in my lifetime with such a bold and progressive vision for America.

Clinton, by contrast, stands for . . . what again? She is running as the pragmatic defender of the Clinton-Obama status quo—which is to say, slightly to the right of the Nelson Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party. Her message is basically this: I’m the only serious person in this race; it’s me, or the sack of Rome by the barbarians and one thousand years of darkness. And so, the Clinton side’s case boils down to saying, sure, we want the same things Sanders wants (lower inequality, higher wages for working people, affordable health care for everyone), but Sanders’s ideas are naïve, or impractical, or arithmetically challenged, or, worst of all, not acceptable to Paul Ryan.

So let me say a few words about that.

Do you remember Ronald Reagan? (OK, many of you don’t, but bear with me.) He ran for president in 1976 and 1980 promising lots of unrealistic-sounding things. In 1980, he said he was going to increase military spending, make government smaller, cut taxes, and balance the budget. I was eleven years old and I knew that didn’t add up. The Republican Establishment, which was still pretty strong in those days (not the punch line it is today), poked fun at him from every direction. George H. W. Bush called Reagan’s proposals “voodoo economics.” And it was nonsense: you can’t increase spending, cut taxes, and reduce deficits.

But Reagan won, and won, and won again. And even though his numbers didn’t add up, and even though he never had a majority in the House, he made huge gains for his cause. He passed one of the largest tax cuts in history and eventually reduced the top tax rate from 70% to 28%. He accelerated the deregulation movement begun under President Carter and began limiting non-defense discretionary spending; ever since then, increasing spending on domestic priorities has been an uphill struggle. He increased the size of the military. He never balanced the budget, but that was a feature, not a bug: the deficits he created only helped conservatives in the long term by creating additional pressure to limit and cut entitlement spending.

Reagan was also good for the Republican Party and for the conservative movement. He gave the party an identity it had been lacking since the Eisenhower years, one that appealed to the broad set of constituencies that has given the GOP a majority in the each house of Congress for most of the past twenty-two years. Since Reagan, every Republican presidential candidate (until Trump, perhaps) has had to pledge to continue the Reagan Revolution. No one did a better job (although many conservatives are mad about it) than George W. Bush, who slashed taxes, invaded the Middle East, and ran up deficits even further, creating the increasingly bipartisan clamor to cut Social Security and Medicare.

Now, I’m not predicting that Bernie Sanders will be as successful as Ronald Reagan. My point is just this: it’s the vision that matters, not the fine details of the campaign proposals. I have no problem with “left-leaning economists” or whoever pointing out flaws in Sanders’s proposals. By all means, let’s try to make them better. But if we want to move our party and our country in a certain direction, we have to start off by aiming in that direction.

Real change will take more than one or two presidential terms. Counting from Reagan’s first run, it’s taken the conservatives more than forty years, and they still have a long way to go. And even if Sanders turns out to be Reagan in 1976 rather than Reagan in 1980, it’s still the long-term direction of change that matters.

Disclaimer that now seems to be required: I have no interest in a job in Washington, in a Sanders or any other administration. I’m happy living in Amherst, too.

Also posted at Medium.

21 thoughts on “Why I’m Voting for Bernie Sanders on Tuesday

  1. James, I love Bernie Sanders, and if I thought he could be elected I would go all out for him. But I’ll be 76 years old by the election and I don’t want to see most of my last years ravaged by the yahoos in the other party. So I’ve got to go with Hillary, even though I agree with most of what you say.

  2. It’s come down to SS and Medicare for me. Only Bernie Sanders has spoken about improving those programs. Clinton will continue those programs as is and Republicans will try and cut them.

  3. At this point the system so corrupted that each administration is going to be worse than the ones before it, this one included,nothing can be done about it now. Once the satanical gvt steals your integrity, and the satanical courts steal your money, then layers the corruption so the average citizen never gets to talk to Mr. Big about the injustice, you are finished as a nation and a people.

    This is where we are as a nation today, forget the past, forget the future, clear your mind and live for today, and today only, trust no one, for no one can be trusted, not even the time keeper, he is no friend of ours, or yours.

  4. Reagan won and won and won because there was a Democratic majority in the House that had respect for election outcomes and gave him most of what he wanted. Republicans today are incapable of governing. They’d still control the House if Sanders were elected and block every single thing he tried to do. I can already envision the tweets, “We just stopped the Socialist-in-Chief from raising taxes on middle class Americans!” Nothing about the Reagan analogy applies this time around. The nation won’t be suffering from an Fed-induced recession with interest rates at 20%. There is no Soviet Union that we are “losing” to. This is not 1980. The only people who seem to think it is are Republicans (who always think it’s 1980) and Bernie’s supporters.

  5. Mike, we might not have 20% prime rates, but the cost of everyday living has skyrocketed, people in industry today asking $100 per hour because of the effects of those high interest rates and the fiscal rape of America, they would normally have asked $10-15 for the same work. Credit card rates can be well over 20% today where as before 1980 they could not be over 10%, and that was w/ bad credit.
    Taxes are high today because everything we have built since 1980 has not lasted the test of time except the pension payments and union wages that were part of yesterdays problems, they remain. It was unchecked shotty workmanship in the name of higher pay, legislated of course, from people who really didn’t know any better.
    Candy bars for the kids so they could whisper sweet nastys in each others ears until their teeth fell out policy’s, who’s idea was that? Who made that up?? Never mind, we already know, it was the will of the people spoon fed junk naturally from our superior politicians. What the hell were they thinking anyhoos??? They wern’t.

  6. Professor Kwak,

    Are you currently teaching at UConn? And if so, what classes do you teach professor? I am thinking about applying to UConn and would be honored to be your prospective student.

  7. Thank you sir. I don’t know why this concept is so hard to get across, but you did and I am forwarding it to everyone I know. It is nice not being out in the cold alone.

  8. Well written. I would however argue that just just because Reagan got his tax program passed is not a valid argument that Bernie will or even can get his tax program through. Aside from historical contingencies that keep the two, Bernie & Ronald incomparable, it’s a tax cut that Reagan is championing not as in Bernie’s case a tax hike.

  9. If Trump wins in 2016 what makes you think there will be an election in 2020? This is Mussolini we’re looking at, not Jimmy Carter.

  10. French socialists dealt the National Front Party a setback by voting for the center right in France recently. Meanwhile, there are democrats in the United States who won’t vote for someone who ran to the left of Obama on healthcare to defeat Trump. (Many of these democrats probably supported Obama in 2008.) Why? Because she won’t promise to deliver a single payer system.

    Sanders has had zero influence on US politics for decades. He would be an American Jeremy Corbyn, not a Reagan-like figure.

  11. I think some of you are missing the larger point which James made in an earlier post, The Future of the Democratic Party. “Seen in the broader sweep of history, conservatives have been relentlessly pushing the nation’s political agenda to the right on most issues (gay rights being almost the only exception), even as public opinion on most social and economic issues remains largely unchanged”. Why have the Republicans succeeded where we haven’t. Because we elect the Hillary Clinton’s of the world to compromise and be practical. Said more succinctly, we don’t stand for anything and it is what keeps Democrats away from the polls. Nothing changes. Bernie has drawn some lines in the sand and said here is what we as a movement are about. If we want energized voters who really will come out and change Congress, that is the only path forward. Four more years of Obama 2.0 under Hillary and most might just give up entirely.

  12. It would have been nice if Bernie could have at least broke even on Tuesday, since when is putting the solution back into the pockets of the same ones who created the problem a solution, it’s not. It only gives a satanical gvt more time to conspire a solution to their problems, a debt ponzi the likes of which have never been seen before in the history of the universe. Proud they must be, of their perceived accomplishments and future plans of world domination.

    I reiterate, this satanical gvt has lost ALL of it’s integrity, respect and honesty of this citizen, it has stepped over the red line of justice for all, and is totally out of control and in need of reform. When you obstruct wisdom and then turn a blind eye to promote your own priorities, you have lost trust and are following your path to others destruction. Even the solution to the problem has seemingly become a part of the problem, which is why, humans are universally DOOMED, it’s been proved.

  13. My worry about Hilary is that she will side with corporations over people. If Sanders hadn’t pushed her, I’m sure she would favor the TPP and Keystone XL pipeline. Unfortunately our system has become a corptocracy where money speaks louder than words

  14. I think people in gvt have literally lost their minds,especially the courts and police state. Monitoring, listening to and surveying it’s citizens, and then reacting according to their pathetic formula is sick at heart to say the least, their brains must be diseased to behave in this manner, it’s not natural.

    In addition the eugenics aspects they secretly practice leads to an utter hypocritical life style where denial is readily acceptable and promoted. Always wrong but never in doubt, and unwilling to discuss or admit their denial, pains me to the point where I just want to give up on gvt except to criticize it with my own formula, one which pains them to even think about.

    So that is my new goal, circle the court house and charge the inhabitants inside who are responsible for this sick calamity. I mean I have nothing else to do, I refuse to contribute to today’s society, it’s a waste of my time and energy, I want to go back in time, pronto, for the longer it takes the worse society gets, that much we know. And that may lead me to repeat the process because their are no other alternatives in taming his abusive behavior and diseased mind, I’ve concluded that. Riding a horse would be better than repeating this scene again.

  15. Back in college, I chose to take a class on middle east culture, it covered 2 birds w/ one stone, the credits to graduate and the variety of the liberals arts requirements, I was a petroleum engineer who had completed all my major requirements and just needed to fulfill a couple further classes to get my degree. I was kind of lost being a complete rookie in this field, but decided to write the way i felt about what I read and was being taught. I recall the teacher having an affinity for a well built female who was dating one of my engineering buddies, though it was kind of strange but it was what it was. We were issued (had to buy) a small paper back book (The Tales of the Thousand and One Nights) which had just been published a year or two earlier. I didn’t do very well in this class, I gave it my best but it was far short of whatever the teacher was looking for, i guess you had to get into his head first and then describe what he wanted to hear about the middle east, I was more of a critic for some reason (being a rookie and all) and this was reflected in my D grade at the end of the semester, I didn’t care, i was close to graduating and this class really didn’t mean that much to me, but I kept the book where as most of my other college books I didn’t, probably the small size had something to do w/ it.

    So a few years later after I had become a very sophisticated numerologist and quickly broke books down intellectually w/ this manner( the phrase was I was never SO happy as when I could count to a hundred, now you figure it out from there) I could sipher the authors intelligence and make a better opinion of the material in the book(I didn’t read a book cover to cover, I went around numerologically and got my information that way.) The best and most angry book became “the complete short stories and famous essays of Mark Twain”, it had all the right words in all the right places and if you were not up to speed, you quickly fell behind my IQ book test. So for a short period there right after graduating I did a lot reading of large books and picked up many significant words leading me to become rather “book smart” on top of my streets smarts, the combination of the two set me apart from just about everyone I knew or would meet in the future. We got a gang up and did some damage but by 1996 they had mostly gone missing probably from being bitched out, their others showed up without a brain trust and I kind of got upset at that; and went off in another direction for the most part.

    Now back to the 1001 nights, I was amazed at this book, after having read it a second time with my new skills, I read a much different story(s) from the first time around. Sometimes I would read a chapter and sometimes I would read a page, smaller books don’t have the wide range of opinions that the larger 1000 page books do, yet just about every time I came to the end of the story, or end of the intellectual page, the ending was the same, it was a gloomy, hopeless end with no other positive thoughts able to revive the inner spirit. I kept thinking to myself, how could these authors know of such ends while describing very old tales, I simply didn’t understand or feel the same way about it,…………. then.

    Now I ironically do, perhaps for different reasons, or maybe not, I don’t know where the authors came from, or what became of them, I understand their feelings now having studied the insanity of it all, yet this is today, and that was yesterday, it just seems so UNREAL. Almost like the creators of the alphabet, they are unknown, unpublished, out of sight and forgotten about for some reason, but does that mean they are not heard from in this day and age? I certainly don’t hear from them, and I know the general public can’t hear their message of the doom of a civilization, it goes right over their heads. I try to get the word out but it gets drowned out from all the insane static created by today’s chaos, disguised as technological improvements, but it’s anything but that in real life. We can’t fathom living 1000 years so it’s written off as unpublished goboldy goog never to be heard from again. It’s too bad for those critics, they close their minds and live the wild life for 50 or 100 years and call it day hoping to freeze their brains, pass down their fortune, and come back in the future when so many more new discoveries are around to make them live forever, or find that fountain of youth, not realizing that that day has already arrived and hiding in plain site, (much to their demise I might add). It’s a strange world we occupy, living for the day, hoping for the future, when in reality, hope always ends in failure but the denial is strong enough to keep the dream alive, or is it??

    So if you find yourself being charged with something, it’s not for what you are NOT going to do tomorrow, it’s for what you didn’t DO yesterday!

    Have a good day all.

  16. I reiterate, this predator police state has lost its mind and can NOT be reasoned with. I wonder how they shall feel once they become the prey?

  17. This is Sanders’ problem and why he is not winning in votes and to some extent, delegates:

    Sanders first mistake: he boxed himself into a corner at the early months of his candidacy saying he never ran a negative ad nor would he engage in personal attacks on his Democratic opponent (may be in part because what goes around, will come back around to bit you). There are plenty issue-oriented observations and criticism that can be and should be, leveled at Hillary that would NOT be “personal” nor bashing the party’s label.

    Sanders could have and should have defined Hillary in ways that would have impress upon voters’ earlier in the contest, that she would be less electable/desirable/competent as commander in chief; while obviously promoting himself by arguing that he would make for a better president (and not her); why he would make for a better leader (and not her); why he has proven to possess better judgment (and not her); why deciding on military action as the last choice rather than the first choice is more practical and common sense (than her claiming that she would be more pragmatic); why his economic plan is realistically doable and not “pie in sky” theories. Since Sanders has done little of the latter, and more so of the former by not attacking, by not criticizing Hillary more directly (rather than criticizing everyone else around her instead), by not tooting his own horn, it’s a wonder that he is still taking on the nomination process in a serious manner.

    One of the areas in his stump speeches where it would be correct in continuing, is his comment of wanting the electorate to be continually engaged in the process AFTER the election and not just BEFORE the election.

    Hillary has had no qualms nor hesitate to lie about Sanders’ record and positions but apparently Sanders thought people would see through her style of (establishment) politics and somehow that would also translate into Sanders votes. It should be obvious to that, his theory of voters rising above the fray and focusing on what really matters to the American electorate in his opinion, hasn’t apparently been enough nor as persuasive as he may have theorized.

    Had Sanders taken a sharper approach; had been better able to connect the issues with everyday struggles of ordinary Americans; more quick-witted in response to Hillary; calling out in speeches and through media interviews the obvious advantages Hillary had coming into the race with large advantages in name recognition/party label; perhaps the contours of race would indicate differently at this point in the race.

    Had Sanders been able to better articulate and explained what the issues of campaign reform such as climate change, breaking up the banks; Koch Brothers, etc have to do with the average person, Sanders may be looking at smaller difference in the vote count between him and Hillary; or at least, tied in more than one caucus state. But what has evolved instead, has been Hillary’s effort and willingness to attack Sanders through innuendos and out right accusations; her attempts to take away and dismiss his popularity, enthusiasm, his large crowds, attack his voting record; and best of all without much effort on Hillary’s part, Sanders may be his worse handicap by his failing and inability to respond effectively and timely, to her criticism.

    As recent as yesterday evening, 3/5/2016, https://goo.gl/20kPSG, Sanders is apparently taking a more robust approach in his speeches when contrasting himself with Hillary. But yet again, Sanders continues to also display passivity – there ways to take charge and command of the narrative without coming across as a bully or shrill.

    Besides the name recognition of Clinton; Bill Clinton being a former president; being an establishment Democrat for 30+ years as Hillary describes that to be her “years of experience,” voters seem to be deciding more so on their perception of the candidates and party factor of “electability,” while to a lesser degree, where Clinton and Sanders say they stand on the issues.

    Bottom line, Sanders needs a sharper and wider approach to his candidacy bysaying, ‘As POTUS, I will bring people together, work across the aisle, have “everyone” at the negotiating table and not just the One Percent!’ rather than spending almost a year now, harping on Wall Street/Goldman Sachs/Citizens United/$15 minimum wage, etc. ‘I’m a do’er and not just a say’er’ – ‘I’m not just giving lip service’ to the Democratic base of the party until I clinch the nomination and the presidency. ‘I have a track record that has been consistent on the issues; sure there are areas of disagreement on some of my votes over the years but overall, I stand on my record as history has proven many of my positions to be right, being correct on both domestic and foreign policy (by giving examples)’. ‘I can and do explain how the issues directly and indirectly impact the lives of everyday Americans; that it’s not some esoteric campaign discussion.’

    Sanders should have won Nevada, then came Super Tuesday and he should have also won Massachusetts; but he did not: “The Associated Press called the race in Clinton’s favor nearly four hours after polls closed Tuesday. With more than 97 percent of precincts reporting Wednesday morning, Clinton held onto a margin of victory just under three points, taking 50.3 percent of the Democratic vote to Sanders’ 48.5 percent.”

  18. 2016, There is no political solution, you are wasting your breath and asking Bernie to have done the same. He refuses to do so, holding on to his integrity instead.

  19. “She is running as the pragmatic defender of the Clinton-Obama status quo—which is to say, slightly to the right of the Nelson Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party.” A “B-” in rhetoric and an F for conveying any content that can be assessed for accuracy. Which of her policies are to the right of any wing of the current Republican party; And, which issues of Rockefeller days are now pertinent? Which issues are you talking about when comparing to the Rockefeller wing: Minimum wage? Abortion or women’s rights? Civil rights? Environmental regulation? Bank regulation (–yes, one up your alley)?

    I also think it is cavalier to ignore the political consequences and join the righteous indignants who articulate policy positions that may sound great but have no realistic chance of being implemented when one considers the probabilities that Sanders would win the election or that his policies would be enacted by the Congress. The political consequences include, in my judgment, a substantially lower chance of the Democrats winning the Presidency or the Senate and a continuing loss in the number of democratic and progressive elected officials in the states. In recent years, the latter has had enormous consequences in numerous areas including access to health care, reproduction rights and voting rights. These are risks that cannot prudently be ignored.

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