Bernie Needs a Better Cost Analysis

Trump is going to have a field day with “We don’t know how much it is going to cost and we don’t know how we’re going to pay for it.”

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. February 15, 2020. (photo: Gage Skidmore)

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When Sen. Bernie Sanders, champion of the progressive left and self-avowed Democratic Socialist, took to 60-Minutes recently to discuss his policies and plans with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Sanders said a number of things that have since mystified his friends and delighted his opponents.

Sanders seemed to still be engaged in a purely theoretical discussion; he allowed the conversation to devolve into his defense of old communist and socialist systems that have since failed, and he failed to offer key details about the costs of his proposed programs.

Why would an otherwise intelligent person, such as Sen. Sanders certainly is, have gone to bat for the former Cuban dictator and strong-man Fidel Castro on national television?

Fidel Castro is, of course, long gone, though his legacy lives on in his native nation. The blood-tarnished legacy of Castro’s Cuba lives on in the U.S., too; emblazoned in the hearts and minds of the many Cuban-Americans who were fortunate enough to flee to America.

The majority of these Cuban expatriates now reside in the state of Florida where the name of Fidel Castro does not provoke good feelings and fond memories of the massive literacy programs Castro’s government brought to the Cuban people.

What Cuban immigrants do recall with perfect clarity is Castro’s legacy of imprisoning dissidents and political opponents. They also remember the brutal police crackdowns on the populace and that Castro’s governance left a Cuba still lagging behind the global community at large by a century.

Why would Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is now ostensibly part of a Democratic Party that depends heavily on the Latino vote, defend Fidel Castro?

While Sanders wouldn’t have been likely to lose a single vote for the Democratic Party for condemning Castro, defending the man’s policies carries a hefty political price-tag for elected Democrats in Florida.

Florida Democrats have been in an uproar since the moment Sanders’ 60-Minutes interview hit the airwaves. Democrats in Florida fear, quite simply, that Sen. Bernie Sanders at the top of their ticket will see them defeated down the ballot in November.

They are certainly right to ask if Sen. Sanders would consider, perhaps, leaving aside his praise for Fidel Castro until after the elections, or at least until after Sanders is able to discuss some of his most effusive praise for the brutal leader with some of their Florida constituents.

Likewise, Bernie Sanders has made many statements over the years praising the U.S.S.R. and some of the old soviet systems, such as universal healthcare. Some of these statements were made 30-years ago.

Yet, in his current race for president, Bernie Sanders seems to feel compelled to defend his decades-old praise of soviet policies and programs rather than denounce them.

Why? Is anyone in the the U.S. going to refuse to vote for Sanders if the Senator condemns soviet-style socialism and communism? Not likely.

The U.S.S.R. is long gone; the Berlin wall has fallen since Sanders made some of his statements that soviet bread-lines weren’t really all that bad; better, according to Sanders, than the alternative of wealthy people getting all the food and poor people without even a bread-line to stand in. In 2020, the Senator must be talking about Venezuela, presumably.

Theoretical discussions Sanders may have had thirty-years ago in an interview do not need to be defended today. Sanders isn’t winning any votes to the Democratic side by touting the efficacy of such systems and governments that have long since gone belly-up and are now defunct.

Sen. Bernie Sanders should instead say that he has spent his entire career thinking, writing, and talking about wealth inequality, the distribution of wealth, and the various methods different systems of government have used to varying degrees of effectiveness to rectify these problems.

Bernie Sanders has pushed the envelope: The envelope is now pushed. Americans are ready to discuss the actual ways in which different models, including aspects of socialist and communist systems, can be integrated into American capitalism to address wealth inequality in the U.S.

In the past, Sanders may indeed have needed to defend rulers like Fidel Castro and Joseph Stalin in order to salvage the few policies that may have been working effectively in their respective governments- apart from all the death and destruction caused by their other, less-effective programs.

That time has now past.

The Nordic countries have a fine track record with regards to integrating socialistic policies into their capitalist systems- with very little bloodshed and no violent purges of dissidents. There is no need, and indeed it is quite counter-productive, for Sanders to defend brutal authoritarians who murdered their own people.

The 60-Minutes interview also gave Donald Trump and his ilk what might prove their best and most effective political campaign ad against Bernie Sanders: “We don’t know how much it will cost and we don’t know how we are going to pay for it.”

This line, and worse “I don’t know how much it will cost and you don’t either; no one does.” will soon be playing for voters in every state, brought to them by the Trump campaign’s massive war chest.

Whatever the left may say about Donald Trump, it should not be said that he doesn’t understand voters in what Democrats pithily call “Fly-over country”. A NASCAR lap in the presidential motorcade, anyone?

The fact that Sanders is proposing massive government take-overs of private industries like healthcare and energy, and that his proposals have enormous price-tags well into the trillions of dollars, will not be lost on as-yet undecided voters.

They might not like Donald Trump; they might not be a fan of his on Twitter, they might not even be on Twitter; but they will fear the candidate who wants to raise their taxes and won’t say by how much.

These are voters who will understand “price available upon request” to mean “you probably can’t afford it. Given this fear, the undecided voters Democrats so desperately need to sway will opt for the known quantity: Donald Trump.

They will choose the devil they know over the devil they don’t.

If Sanders is to have any hope at seizing the mantle from Donald Trump in November, he is going to have to widen his base of support. No one currently supporting Sanders will be dissuaded from voting for him if Sanders fails to say nice things about Fidel Castro or the government of Soviet Russia.

To attract new voters to the Sanders ticket, he might need to shelve his talking points of four-decades ago and keep the focus on wealth inequality in America today and the ways in which it might be ameliorated under his leadership.

Sanders is also going to need a better answer about costs. These discussions of socialist systems like universal health care are no longer purely theoretical.

Which means we need less defense of the ways in which these systems have or haven’t worked in the past and more concrete information about how they may, or may not, work in the future.

If he expects to be president, Bernie Sanders is going to need more than a half-baked defense of soviet healthcare in the U.S.S.R.; more than the surprise endorsement of former presidential candidate and New Age spiritual author Marianne Williamson. Most people impressed by either are already likely Sanders voters.

To attract new voters to the Sanders ticket, especially moderates in both parties, independents and undecideds, it is time for Sen. Bernie Sanders to unveil his pragmatic and practical side.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)

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