Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Questions for Bernie Sanders

The Facebook sidebar produces lots of odd fluff.  As example, there was a bit on Bernie Sanders getting irritated with a reporter for asking about Hillary Clinton's hair.  (This exchange is reproduced here.)  I wouldn't have known about this otherwise.  Maybe ignorance is bliss.  In this case, the little bit of knowledge prodded me to write this post.  It gives a bunch of questions I'd like to see reporters ask Sanders.

Part of this is on whether the various constituencies who make up the coalition that votes for a Democratic candidate can get to a unified view of what the goals should be.  Another part of this is on the issue of running for office versus actual governing and whether one says much about the other.  What follows was informed by this recent essay written by John Cassidy and this piece by Nate Cohn, each of which says Sanders is likely to do quite well in Iowa and New Hampshire, but then struggle thereafter unless conditions on the ground change rather dramatically.

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Question: Senator Sanders, to date in talking about raising taxes you have focused on the very rich, the upper one tenth of one percent of the population.  What about those who are quite well off but not uber rich?  Are they taxed enough already or might you consider also raising taxes on this segment of the population, which will be defined here as those in the top 10% of the income distribution?

Background:  With the Bush Tax Cuts, both on capital gains and marginal income tax rates, the top 10% are now paying less in taxes than they were when Bill Clinton was President.  There is also the matter of making Social Security sustainable, which Paul Krugman has said will require some adjustment on the revenue side.  That adjustment might happen by a substantial raise on the cap of earned income subject to FICA.  Does the Senator endorse raising this cap and if so to what level?

Question:  Senator Sanders, recently some of your events have been blocked by protesters from Black Lives Matter.  You have announced that you will address racism in the near future.  Do you favor the argument put forward by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his essay The Case for Reparations?  If so, might that become a centerpiece of your campaign?

Background:  On the politics, it seems that Bernie Sanders is not well known by Black voters and at present very few of them who do know him are apt to vote for him.  If he is to get beyond Iowa and New Hampshire he has to do something dramatic to change that.  Were he to do so, would he be able to hold onto the Liberal Whites, who until now have been his core source of support?  On the merits, many Holocaust survivors received reparations from Germany and Senator Sanders is surely aware of this precedent.  Thus it would be a profound ethical statement for Senator Sanders to talk about the tragedy of slavery in America in the same terms as one talks of the Holocaust.  And it would be a very strong argument to claim that healing in race relations necessitates that Whites make amends financially.

Question:  Senator Sanders, in your campaign you've laid out a strong Progressive agenda focused on helping ordinary citizens do better economically.  If elected, can you accomplish this agenda via Executive Orders only?  Or must there be legislation approved by Congress to get your agenda done?   If so, won't much of your agenda be DOA when you assume office?

Background:  The Congress elected in 2008, where the Democrats controlled both branches, accomplished quite a bit.  Much legislation was passed then.  Since then, Congress has been gridlocked.  Current forecasts have the Democrats possibly retaking the Senate but the House remaining majority Republican.  Given that, what actually can be accomplished? If the answer to that is not much, what does rhetoric that suggests otherwise actually achieve?

Question:  Senator Sanders, there has been much discussion about America's leadership in the world militarily and diplomatically.  Can America show leadership globally on the economic policy front?  If so, what would that look like?

Background:  Much of Senator Sanders appeal to date comes from his focus on income redistribution and his advocacy of a Robin Hood like approach.  There may be some stimulus to the overall economy that would emerge from such an approach, as the marginal propensity to consume among ordinary citizens is greater than the MPC for the rich.  But more direct efforts at economic stimulus have not gotten as much attention in Sanders' policy proposals.  Yet Europe has been in the economic doldrums since 2008 and now China seems headed there as well.  In Europe, in particular, the politics of austerity has been a winning formula.  (Prime Minister Cameron's recent reelection offers a case in point.)  Might an American embrace of Keynesian stimulus under a Sanders Presidency shake up this policy consensus and thereby get the global economic system back on track?

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There seems some similarity to me between the Bernie Sanders candidacy now and the Barack Obama candidacy eight year ago.  Each tied into the idealistic passions of the voters.  But the Obama candidacy was vague on many points (such as whether the Government Option was crucial to Obamacare or not).  And given that we were in full crisis when President Obama took office, perhaps that lack of specific policy proposals was a good thing then, so he could get done what the situation demanded and practice the art of the possible.  Now, where things certainly aren't rosy but we are not in immediate crisis, getting more novel ideas on the table would be a good thing.  Bernie Sanders is in a unique position to do this and it might be his single biggest contribution, whether he becomes the candidate or not. 

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