The Pros and Cons of Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders Gage Skidmore/Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Here’s why you should vote for Bernie Sanders.

            Following an unsuccessful bid for the democratic nomination in 2016, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has thrown his hat in the ring once more for the presidency of the United States. At this stage in his political career, Bernie Sanders remains a self-described democratic socialist. His theory of change involves creating a popular grassroots movement that might coalesce the current political establishment (and by extension, Trumpian politics as we know it). The Sanders strategy is like a two-pronged attack:

  1. Engage with the youth on the environment, social issues to mobilize a diverse and energetic ground game.
  2. Provide compromises to older conservatives on healthcare, drugs, progressive taxes, etc. which are now center lane issues.

I attended the Tacoma rally for Bernie Sanders, which featured WA Rep. Pramila Jayapal. The crowd was maybe 20,000 strong, and I felt it was very representative of middle-class workers. Bernie spoke loud and clear about the current White House’s struggles in carrying out effective policies. He flips upside down the Trumpian worldview and replaces it with an argument that appeals to some of the same motivators. The rising cost of living in urban centers, inflated drug prices and hefty insurance expenses, student loan debt, medical debt, stagnation of wages and other general insecurities. To top it off, the U.S. is facing an opioid epidemic- yet it penalizes those caught with marijuana on the federal level. Consider the challenges faced by families of color, or those who wish to immigrate here, those who are dehumanized by political processes which exploit and denigrate them.

            At the rally, Sanders played the hits. Medicare-for-all, an expansion of LBJ’s Great Society legislation. A Green New Deal, to tackle climate change and spur innovation in the environmental sector. There are concerns about the costs of these plans, namely Sanders’ healthcare plan. Sanders has promoted a single-payer universal healthcare system. An overhaul of the current Medicare/Medicaid system, Sanders’ plan has been described by others as the “gold standard” plan. Currently, 55 million Americans are without health insurance or are underinsured. In a universal plan, none would be exempt from coverage. Estimates on the cost of this keynote program range from $20 trillion to $30 trillion over the course of ten years. One Yale study showed Bernie’s plan saving taxpayers billions in the long term. On the other hand, Bernie presents a progressive tax plan which includes an approximately 50 percent marginal tax rate on annual incomes over $2 million

What’s more is his vision to reallocate tax revenue burdens from workers onto private elites with taxes and a $15 federal minimum wage. While the increase would be better suited for big businesses e.g. Amazon, and yes small businesses will have to adjust their operations. Fortunately, a strong minimum wage would institute an end to illegal alien employment and increase the minimum wages of workers on the whole. Regarding Puerto Rico, how can their local sugar economy withstand hurricane after hurricane? Bernie’s vigilant emphasis on climate change would make an 80-year-old President Sanders the most progressive advocate for environmentalism in American history.

            Last December, The Federal Reserve released their Distributional Financial Accounts Overview. In this wealth report, it was discovered that the top one percent gained $21 trillion, while the bottom half lost $900 billion. With unprecedented super-tycoons like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, how much power is left for average folks? CEO compensation has risen 940 percent since 1978, while average worker compensation has only risen 12 percent (Economic Policy Institute). Roughly 90 percent of federal elections are won by the candidate with more money, the one who can outlast.

Big money in politics won’t lose its grasp on the system so easily, and Bernie maintains a hardline stance against laissez-faire capitalism. His approach to politics does harken back to that populist campaign which is known to dominate. The socialist ideology on the other hand is genuinely rooted in a labor value-theory understanding of the economy. Not to mean “redistribution of the means of production,” but a redistribution of wealth and political muscle by democratic means. A good segue to the “democratic” half of Bernie Sanders. The realistic, pragmatic and egalitarian. As voters, we ought to ask ourselves if one person equals one vote in this democracy.

Here’s why you shouldn’t vote for Bernie Sanders

            I attended the Bernie Sanders rally in Tacoma a couple of weeks ago and came away impressed with Sanders’ conviction and ability to impassion voters from all walks of life. However, there are a lot of fundamental problems with his campaign and policies that could potentially cost him the election if nominated.

            His big-ticket issue is Medicare for All, a single-payer public healthcare system that covers all U.S. residents, including undocumented immigrants. He has argued that the program would actually save billions of dollars in the long run, along with tens of thousands of lives. This assumption is based on a recent study by Yale researchers published in the Lancet, which found that his plan would reduce national health spending from $52 trillion over a decade to $47 trillion. While the actual price tag of the program has been a point of contention for many, the Lancet paper offers the lowest possible cost estimate. Sanders’ $30 trillion in projected federal spending also includes funding for the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and more. This money can’t be spent on Medicare for All unless the budgets for these essential public-health agencies are cut to zero.

            However, nitpicking the financial details of his Medicare for All plan is almost pointless. His proposal only has 14 co-sponsors in the Senate, which isn’t even a majority of Democrats. It’s less than a third of the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster and pass major legislation.

            Another problematic proposal from Sanders is a $15 federal minimum wage. While the $7.25 minimum is demonstrably lacking and hasn’t been properly adjusted for inflation, a $15 minimum would end up costing jobs for people in poorer areas. For example, the median hourly wage in Puerto Rico is about $10. Raising the minimum wage by 50 percent of the median wage would decimate the local economy, resulting in inflated prices and lost jobs. This would drastically impact states like Mississippi, where the median hourly wage is also below $15.

            Lastly: Bernie has an enormous hurdle to cross as a self-described Democratic socialist. A quick look into Sanders’ political history provides plenty of material for Trump’s characteristic ad hominem attacks: he was once the chair of the Liberty Union Party of Vermont, which describes itself as a nonviolent socialist party, and advocated a marginal tax of 100 percent on income over $1 million.

            While Sanders boasts a strong electoral track record as a senator and sources a lot of his politics from Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal, his self-branding as a socialist overshadows his more marketable campaign features. This could be disastrous if he’s pitted against Trump, whose insults tend to stick to his opponents.

            After observing the polarization within the Democratic party and establishment, another four years with Trump doesn’t seem out of the question. I prefer Bernie to the other Democratic candidates, but I don’t have high hopes for a Sanders presidency in the near future.