Friday, February 05, 2016


Jonathan Bernstein has a point about last night's debate:
The first hour of tonight's debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton was full of fireworks.... But it was also, I'm fairly sure, the least policy-specific hour of a Democratic presidential debate ever.

Instead, the candidates debated ideology, party loyalty, the nature of power in a capitalist system, and other generalizations. They spent an inordinate time (egged on by the MSNBC moderators) discussing what counts toward being a "progressive"...

In other words, they sounded a lot like Republicans. I mean, without the sideshow.

... typical of that first half hour, however, was Sanders's blanket statement that " the business model of Wall Street is fraud." It's a great applause line, at least for the target audience, just as railing against "amnesty" is a great applause line in Republican debates....

Trouble is, none of the big talk gets done without someone who can write, pass and implement workable plans.
Okay, that last sentence is where I deviate somewhat from Bernstein. I think Bernie Sanders is entitled to argue that it's realistic to demand the impossible, even without a concrete plan to attain the impossible, because maybe you push the Overton window to the left, and what used to be seen as an unattainable progressive goal becomes at last partly attainable.

What concerns me about reducing even part of a Democratic debate to a purity test is that the time spent talking about purity isn't being used to define the candidates as what they are -- namely, well to the left of the extremely conservative Republicans. We'd see this if we looked at their policy positions, but we're spending a lot of time not looking at their policy positions, and looking instead at the abstract concept of purity. Yes, Sanders is further to the left than Clinton on most issues. But both Democrats are solidly on the left, while the Republicans are far to the right.

Take capital gains taxes. Yes, Bernie Sanders wants to tax capital gains as ordinary income, which would be a big increase in the tax, one that would fall largely on the wealthy; by contrast, Hillary Clinton would raise the capital gains tax only on profits made on assets held from one to two years (there's already a higher rate for gains on assets held for a year or less).

That's a much more modest increase -- but it's still an increase. CNBC's Larry Kudlow calls the plan "inconceivably stupid," which, if you're a liberal, ought to convince you that it's an excellent idea.

By contrast, here's what would happen to the capital gains tax if the guy a lot of people think has the inside track for the Republican nominations gets elected and has his way:
... the once-fringe idea of abolishing a capital-gains tax is going mainstream this year courtesy of Senator Marco Rubio....

His plan would impose no tax at all on interest, dividends or capital gain income from stocks. It would also set a maximum tax rate of 25 percent on business income, both for large corporations and small ones. In many cases, that would mean business owners would pay a lower tax rate on profits than their employees would pay on their wages -- even after counting both taxes paid by the business and those paid by the business owner directly.
This is why it infuriates me to get mired in these purity wars. Obviously Sanders is much more progressive than Clinton. But just as obviously, either of them would be immensely preferable to the radically right-wing Republicans. If the specifics aren't discussed, voters don't see that. They just see a binary debate: progressive or not progressive, with "not progressive" coming to be perceived as indistinguishable from "conservative."

Let's get back to talking about specifics. Otherwise we risk demotivating the Democratic base in the (still likely) event that Hillary Clinton is the nominee.


PDiddie said...

"Otherwise we risk demotivating the Democratic base in the (still likely) event that Hillary Clinton is the nominee."

Too late.

I vote next week in Texas (EV) for Bernie, to whom I have also donated. But in November I will vote for Jill Stein. Because Bernie won't be on my ballot, a write-in vote for him won't count, and because Texas isn't going to be a swing state.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Sanders is further to the left than Clinton on most issues. But both Democrats are solidly on the left, while the Republicans are far to the right.

Bernie Sanders and his campaign were the ones responsible for deforming the discussion and creating purity tests. They spent multiple days harrumphing and tweeting about how Hillary Clinton couldn't possibly be a progressive, instead of saying that they were heartened that their opponent was describing herself this way and how great a development that was for the Democratic Party. It was an obnoxious thing for them to do.

Victor said...


The MSM hates them, because they might actually have to work to (maybe), God forbid, explain things to people.

They prefer dealing with elections like horse races, and the candidates as GOP and Democratic versions of Mr. Ed.

And the Democratic candidates don't always give 'the answer(s) that they (and their bosses) endorse.'

The two greatest myths of our time, are "Trickle-down Economics," and 'The Liberal Media.'
Yeah, we "Libtards" wish...

Feud Turgidson said...

flipywhig, Sanders invent notions "the Democratic wing of the Democratic party" (nor did Dean; he just picked up on what was already there), or the group that never comprises even a fifth of the most reliable voters for the Democratic party who admit to liberal progressive, who also tend to make up most readers who comment here & at Daily Kos & Eschaton & MJ & TPM & a tiny few others.

When Sanders announced, it should have been obvious that what Steve M.'s calls the "purity" issue would arise. This isn't nearly unforeseen, but the opposite: inevitable. If this was 2008 and Bernie were up there with fellow senators Edwards, HRC and Obama, even if you add in Dean and Kerry from 2004, the same gap between HRC and Sanders, or more, would be there: Sanders the most liberal, HRC the most moderate; it just wouldn't be as stark. It only gets such attention now because there's just two of them there.

Sanders' campaign will only be open to fair judgment once this contest is done, and we see how far his presence has moved HRC's policy commitments, how he acts in defeat, & whether the voters propping him up stay active for the general. I expect it'll work out fine.

Ten Bears said...

She looked pretty damned Republican to me.

"... well to the left of the extremely conservative Republicans" is a dandy caveat, all the more so when talking about pushing the Overton Window to the left. That's a lot of territory to cover.

Looked pretty damned Republican to me.

Lit3Bolt said...

@ Ten

HRC is well to the left of every current Republican candidate. I don't see why that's objectionable.

HRC is captured by Wall Street? Guess what, so was Obama, right out of the gate. Obama played softball with the big boys and ended up dancing to their tune. That was the last opportunity for reform, and he let it slip through his fingers.

If you don't get how big a difference there is between extending long term capital gains to 2 years between zero capital gain taxes at all, I don't know what will persuade you.

Never Ben Better said...

I don't give a damn which of the two candidates (each with pluses and minuses for me) takes the nomination, I'm pulling the lever in November for the Democrat because a GOP win, with Congress in hand, is just too horrifying to contemplate.

That said, the vicious vituperation toward Clinton emanating from far too many members of the Sanders fan club is souring me mightily toward him. Do I really want to be associated with the kinds of ad feminem crap and feces they're flinging?

No. If he's the candidate he'll get my vote but I want nothing to do with his more unhinged adherents. Who perhaps should pause in their jeremiads and consider just how many other voters they are turning off with their behavior. There's more than one way to suppress turnout.

Philo Vaihinger said...

Some notable Bernie supporters do their best to convince people Hillary is not significantly different from the GOP candidates, and you are right to reject that line.

They sound like Naderites, and some are already saying that if Hill gets the Dem nod they will vote for the Green Party candidate.

All the same, the aspirational and moral/ideological differences between progressives on the one side and socialists on the other, fundamentally the difference between those who favor capitalism and those who don't, is far from insignificant.

Hill is a progressive, which means she is pro-capitalist and does not much mind inequality per se.

Bernie the self-identified socialist running on a watery social democratic agenda loathes capitalism and inequality, both, and does not try hard to hide it.

And that difference underpins other differences inside and even outside our domestic politics.

To this day, for example, Bernie looks back in anger at Nixon and Kissinger's nod to the Chilean coup against Allende.

Though no one can ever guess what she might say, I think we can guess that Hillary's retrospective view of those events might be quite different from Bernie's.

See this.

Luigi said...

Gotta be honest, Steve. I've been in the tank for Hillary since '08 and I'm tired of all the Sanders idiots. I didn't care for the hopey changey thing from Barack (and I still didn't get my pony) because I never expected him to transform the political landscape or get the Repugs to even meet him half way. I'll still vote, like I always do, EVEN in mid term elections, but the Sanders Mafia is really turning me off. And if it's bugging me, I would think it would turn others not as vested in politics completely off.