Against the Idea of Bernie

Bernie’s on a roll. No, they didn’t name a sandwich after him at Katz’s over on Houston Street – the pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage Jewish democratic socialist is off to Rome to speak at a Vatican conference. No one else running for president was asked to show up and speak about good and evil and all that. Bernie was, and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton must be furious. But the pope called, or sort of called:

Bernie Sanders announced proudly on Friday that the Vatican had invited him to speak at an upcoming conference in Vatican City, and he seemed to imply that the invitation had been issued by Pope Francis himself.

The Vermont senator’s presidential campaign emailed reporters on Friday morning to announce that he had been invited to the event, a conference on “social, economic and environmental issues.” The conference, organized by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, will be held on April 15 – just days before the crucial New York primary, in which Sanders is hoping to upset his rival Hillary Clinton in her home state.

The conference also includes two controversial leftist Latin American presidents, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Evo Morales of Bolivia, as well as Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs.

The conference does not include Donald or Hillary or Ted or that Kasich fellow, and even if the invitation only came from the pope’s people, not the pope himself, Bernie did allow himself to gloat a bit:

Sanders appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” shortly after the announcement, clearly relishing in the reflected glow of one of the most admired men in the world, and someone with whom he shares a good deal of ideological overlap.

“How did this come about?” co-host Mika Brzezinski asked.

“It was an invitation from the Vatican,” Sanders replied.

“That’s kind of impressive,” Brzezinski said.

“It is,” Sanders replied.

“I am a big, big fan of the pope,” he continued. “Obviously, there are areas where we disagree, on like women’s rights or gay rights, but he has played an unbelievable role – an unbelievable role – of injecting the moral consequence into the economy.”

Meanwhile, back in Rome, there was a bit of unpleasantness:

The invitation was actually made by Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, the chancellor of the pontifical academy, an autonomous institution that receives some funding from the Holy See but is not officially part of it.

In a March 30 letter inviting Sanders to the event, Sánchez Sorondo wrote, “On behalf of the President, Professor Margaret Archer, the Organizers, and as Chancellor, I am very happy to invite you to attend the meeting on ‘Centesimus Annus: 25 Years Later.’ The meeting, which is humanitarian in its objects, will be held at the Casina Pio IV, the headquarters of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, from 15 to 16 April 2016.”

But Archer, an English academic, appears not to have known about the invitation. On Friday, she accused Sanders of “monumental discourtesy” for not contacting her, telling Bloomberg [News] that he was the one who had made the first move regarding the meeting – and “for obvious reasons.”

“I think in a sense he may be going for the Catholic vote, but this is not the Catholic vote and he should remember that and act accordingly – not that he will,” Archer said. Sanders’ use of the meeting is “clearly a pretext,” she added. “There are just 20 academics and there will be nothing of policy relevance.”

It was not clear why Archer’s account differed from Sánchez Sorondo’s letter, and requests for comment to her office were not returned.

But Sánchez Sorondo told Bloomberg that he had indeed invited Sanders, explaining, “We are interested in having him because we have two presidents coming from Latin America, I thought it would be good to have an authoritative voice from North America.”

So Bernie Sanders will be the authoritative voice from North America. The pope isn’t going to beatify him – making him a saint – but the pope’s people, other than Margaret Archer, know the sole authoritative voice on economic justice over here. That’s an endorsement, from the Vatican, or close enough.

Who needs sainthood anyway? His supporters have already beatified him, like John Sanbonmatsu, who the Huffington Post identifies as a writer, philosopher, and magician, who offers this:

“We won’t see a presidential candidate like Bernie again in our lifetimes.” As I heard these words, spoken by a woman at a Sanders campaign event recently, I felt a chill go through me. Because I knew she was right. We won’t.

We won’t see another presidential candidate who refuses to take campaign donations from the wealthy and the corporate elite. We won’t see another candidate with the courage to take on Wall Street. We won’t see a candidate with the guts to tell the American people that they have lost their democracy. We won’t see another candidate who mentions the working class and the poor in his speeches. We won’t see another candidate sounding the alarm bells over global warming.

It is no wonder that the wealthy owners of the New York Times and Washington Post and other media organs have reacted to Sanders’ insurgency with such fury, emptying their stables of talent each day in an effort to run him down and exterminate him politically. It’s like watching the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, standing in the window of her castle, arms outstretched, sending her flying monkeys hurtling through the sky on a mission to destroy her would-be destroyers.

There’s a lot of that going around, but everyone has seen this video:

Were they hollering for Bernie, or the birdie?

Bernie Sanders was speaking at a Portland rally Friday when a tiny bird landed on his lectern, sending the crowd a-flutter.

“Now this little bird doesn’t know it,” the Vermont senator began as the bird hopped around him before alighting on a sign in front of him that read “A future to believe in.”

Sanders laughed as the crowd jumped to its feet and cheered.

“I think that maybe there may be some symbolism here. I know it doesn’t look like it but that bird is really a dove asking us for world peace,” the Democratic candidate said. “No more wars.”

He smiled at the bird who sat there, looking up at him, for a few moments. The bird cocked its head, as if listening, and here’s the now iconic video of a bald eagle viciously attacking Donald Trump at a photo shoot – so there are divine signs of a sort.

And meanwhile, in Brooklyn, there was this:

His pant legs flapping in the chilly wind coming in off the East River, Bernie Sanders delivered his second pitch of the day to Brooklyn voters in the New York neighborhood of Greenpoint late Friday afternoon.

It was not a hard sell. The independent Vermont senator’s stump speech – in which he vowed to tackle income inequality, college debt and systemic racism and get better health care for more Americans – played well with the mostly young, mostly white crowd. Sanders’s support comes largely from the young and the white, as Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton often notes, so the crowd that showed up to see him speak in north Brooklyn should come as no surprise.

This rather snarky Newsweek item then goes on to place Sanders firmly in the land of insufferable urban hipsters:

Greenpoint, once an enclave of working-class Polish immigrants, has in the past decade seen rapid shifts – much like Flatbush, in central Brooklyn, where Sanders grew up. Rents have soared and young professionals and yoga studios have moved in, sometimes displacing longtime residents.

Transmitter Park, where Sanders delivered his address, is flanked on one side by a warehouse and the other by pinnacles of newly rising condos. The transmitter is gone now, but once it broadcast public radio to New York, before being privatized under New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. For many years, it was an empty lot. But then came the developers.

“Everything on the water north of here for 10 blocks is about to turn into high-rises,” said Nick Rizzo, 30, a bartender and local Democratic Party leader who represents Greenpoint and Williamsburg. Rizzo is one of two members of the Brooklyn Democratic Party leadership who have endorsed Sanders. The other 40 are backing you-know-who.

“I value his authenticity,” Rizzo said. “I like that his message has been the same for 30 years. And it’s an important message. Economic inequality is something that’s a crisis in America. And especially young people recognize this because we’re the ones who will inherit this broken system.”

But that broken system is broken in a special way in now-hip Brooklyn:

Of course, it’s the “broken system” that’s reshaping the neighborhood where Sanders spoke. Notably absent from the crowd were any Polish speakers – they were still at work. There was, however, a man with a beard reading Proust – in French.

Even if they can afford tapas, Greenpoint’s residents are feeling the pain of student debt. When the 74-year-old candidate asked how many of them had any, he was answered with roaring applause. “Welcome to the club. You’re one of millions,” Sanders said.

Not to worry, Bernie’s got this covered:

Sanders did not mention his Democratic rival, but Hillary Clinton was on the minds of those in attendance. Ronald Blaich, 33, who owns a real estate company in Williamsburg, said he had registered several domain names –, and – out of his distaste for the former secretary of state. If Clinton becomes the nominee, Blaich said, he won’t vote. “I am not a big Hillary Clinton fan at all,” the real estate executive said. “I believe she panders to the popular opinion on everything.” Blaich’s Clinton disdain was echoed by many other attendees.

Jen Murphy, 30, a photo-shoot producer, and her Chihuahua-papillon mix, Leo – who was wearing a Bernie 2016 outfit – said they will not vote for Clinton, even if the former secretary of state wins the nomination. “I would go out and write in my vote for Bernie,” she said. Leo offered no comment.

That last dig was unnecessary, but then pretentious young women who carry that yappy little mean Chihuahua everywhere are really irritating. Pretentious young women who dress up that yappy little mean Chihuahua in cute little outfits are even more irritating. That started out here in Hollywood. Sorry, America.

But it’s not just her:

Hillary Clinton may have amassed a nearly insurmountable lead in delegates, but rank-and-file Democrats are now virtually split between her and Bernie Sanders over which candidate should be their party’s presidential nominee, according to a new PRRI / The Atlantic poll.

Sanders had the support of 47 percent of Democratic or Democratic-leaning voters while Clinton had 46 percent – a narrow gap that fell within the poll’s 2.5 percent margin of error. The national survey was conducted in the days before the Vermont senator handily defeated the former secretary of state in the Wisconsin primary, and it tracks other polls in the last week that found Sanders erasing Clinton’s edge across the country. In a poll that PRRI conducted in January, Clinton had a 20-point lead.

Bernie has caught up to Hillary in everything but delegates and all she has are old party stalwarts:

Democrats are sharply divided by age and by party loyalty. Sanders is strongly preferred by younger voters, both women and men, while Clinton does better with older voters and those who closely identify with the Democratic Party. Sanders, by contrast, runs strong among weaker partisans and independents – a finding that has also been reflected in exit polls taken after people have already cast their votes.

That’s an interesting dynamic, but Paul Krugman, an actual economist with an actual Nobel Prize, has had just about enough of this nonsense:

From the beginning, many and probably most liberal policy wonks were skeptical about Bernie Sanders. On many major issues – including the signature issues of his campaign, especially financial reform – he seemed to go for easy slogans over hard thinking. And his political theory of change, his waving away of limits, seemed utterly unrealistic.

Some Sanders supporters responded angrily when these concerns were raised, immediately accusing anyone expressing doubts about their hero of being corrupt if not actually criminal. But intolerance and cultishness from some of a candidate’s supporters are one thing; what about the candidate himself?

Unfortunately, in the past few days the answer has become all too clear: Mr. Sanders is starting to sound like his worst followers. Bernie is becoming a Bernie Bro.

For Krugman the issue is bank reform:

The easy slogan here is “Break up the big banks.” It’s obvious why this slogan is appealing from a political point of view: Wall Street supplies an excellent cast of villains. But were big banks really at the heart of the financial crisis, and would breaking them up protect us from future crises?

Many analysts concluded years ago that the answers to both questions were no. Predatory lending was largely carried out by smaller, non-Wall Street institutions like Countrywide Financial; the crisis itself was centered not on big banks but on “shadow banks” like Lehman Brothers that weren’t necessarily that big. And the financial reform that President Obama signed in 2010 made a real effort to address these problems. It could and should be made stronger, but pounding the table about big banks misses the point.

Yet going on about big banks is pretty much all Mr. Sanders has done. On the rare occasions on which he was asked for more detail, he didn’t seem to have anything more to offer. And this absence of substance beyond the slogans seems to be true of his positions across the board.

And there’s no excuse for that:

You could argue that policy details are unimportant as long as a politician has the right values and character. As it happens, I don’t agree. For one thing, a politician’s policy specifics are often a very important clue to his or her true character – I warned about George W. Bush’s mendacity back when most journalists were still portraying him as a bluff, honest fellow, because I actually looked at his tax proposals. For another, I consider a commitment to facing hard choices as opposed to taking the easy way out an important value in itself.

And then it got worse:

There was Wednesday’s rant about how Mrs. Clinton is not “qualified” to be president. What probably set that off was a recent interview of Mr. Sanders by The Daily News, in which he repeatedly seemed unable to respond when pressed to go beyond his usual slogans. Mrs. Clinton, asked about that interview, was careful in her choice of words, suggesting that “he hadn’t done his homework.”

But Mr. Sanders wasn’t careful at all, declaring that what he considers Mrs. Clinton’s past sins, including her support for trade agreements and her vote to authorize the Iraq war – for which she has apologized – make her totally unfit for office.

This is really bad, on two levels. Holding people accountable for their past is okay, but imposing a standard of purity, in which any compromise or misstep makes you the moral equivalent of the bad guys, isn’t. Abraham Lincoln didn’t meet that standard; neither did FDR.

This simply won’t do:

The Sanders campaign has brought out a lot of idealism and energy that the progressive movement needs. It has also, however, brought out a streak of petulant self-righteousness among some supporters. Has it brought out that streak in the candidate, too?

Damon Linker sees that same thing, which he calls hollow aspirational politics:

It should be obvious that, for all their substantive and stylistic differences, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are both devoted practitioners of the politics of aspiration.

Trump’s ultimate aspiration is to Make America Great Again. Yet he has remarkably little to say about exactly when we were great and what defined our greatness. Neither does he explain when the decline began, what caused it, and how he would enact a reversal of the downward trend.

Things are no better when it comes to specific policy proposals.

Trump wants to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and build a wall along the southern border. But how will a Trump administration find these illegal immigrants? Will federal agents sweep neighborhoods with high Latino populations, knocking on (or breaking down) doors, demanding that people show papers? Will families by broken up? How would any of this comport with the Bill of Rights? Trump doesn’t say.

As for the wall, Trump claims he’ll make the Mexican government foot the bill. How will he accomplish this? Will he just charm its elected officials? Make them an offer they can’t refuse? Would that deal involve threats and the possibility of armed conflict with our neighbors to the south? Trump doesn’t say.

On foreign policy, Trump wants to end both our participation in the “obsolete” North Atlantic Treaty Organization and our support for the international nuclear non-proliferation regime. What are the possible negative geopolitical consequences of these changes? How will he avoid them? Has he even looked into the question? Trump doesn’t say.

Over and over again Trump lays out an aspirational vision of the country’s future – and displays zero interest in explaining precisely how he will bring it about or what the practical consequences of the changes is likely to be.

But Sanders is no better:

In the Daily News interview, Sanders repeatedly offers his familiar talking points about the dangers of income stratification, the need to break up banks that are “too big to fail,” and the importance of punishing those responsible for the financial collapse of 2008. In response, the members of the Daily News editorial board press him for details. And over and over again, he punts.

Sanders wants to break up the banks. Does he think the president or any regulatory arm of the executive branch (the Treasury Department, for instance) has the authority to do that? Under what authority or statute? Could the Federal Reserve do it? How? Should the banks be broken apart into smaller entities? Or will they simply be dissolved? And what about the hundreds of thousands of people employed by these banks? Will they simply be put out of work? Sanders doesn’t say.

Sanders also wants to punish those bankers, investors, and others in the financial sector whose actions contributed to the economic meltdown eight years ago. No doubt plenty of Americans share his indignation about wealthy individuals wrecking economic havoc and getting off scot free. But how should they be prosecuted? What laws did they break? Sanders doesn’t say.

And so it goes, from Sanders’ proposal to make tuition free at public colleges and universities to his comments about the Islamic State and the Israel-Palestinian conflict. In each case, he delivers aspirational rhetoric adapted from his stump speech and dodges requests for specifics, often admitting that he simply doesn’t know the answer.

So, Sanders is as bad as Trump, and then Paul Waldman piles on:

Over the course of the campaign, Sanders has been criticized many times for the details of his plans, and not always just because they’re too far left for some people. His lack of deep engagement with policy was evident in that Daily News interview, when he admitted multiple times that he didn’t know something he was being asked about (“It’s something that I have not studied, honestly,” “I don’t know the answer to that,” “You’re asking me a very fair question, and if I had some paper in front of me, I would give you a better answer”).

He seemed to say he’d restrict trade with any country that doesn’t have “roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the United States,” which would mean we wouldn’t trade with most of the world (and that would be devastating to many poor countries); he was vague about exactly how he’d break up large banks and prosecute bank executives for fraud; he said he wanted to “do away with the straw man provision, where you can buy a gun legally and then sell it to somebody who’s a criminal” (straw purchases are already illegal); and when asked about riding the New York subway, he mentioned getting a token; tokens went out of use 13 years ago.

Waldman, however, makes a distinction, even if it doesn’t make much of a difference:

No one thinks Sanders is a Trump-level ignoramus, but it’s plain that as president he wouldn’t be obsessed with the details of policy. But that might not be a bad thing. Jimmy Carter was notoriously consumed with minutia, down to personally approving all requests to use the White House tennis court. Whether he would have been a better president had he been more interested in the big picture is hard to say, but success in the Oval Office is not dependent on a grasp of every policy detail; there are thousands of staffers for that.

On the other hand, a president who doesn’t know enough is also a danger. We saw how George W. Bush’s inexperience in Washington allowed him to be manipulated by his vice president, and how his lack of curiosity about even basic policy questions led him to see inherently complicated problems (like invading a Middle Eastern country) as fundamentally simple, where unintended consequences were nothing to worry about.

That leaves this:

The truth is that a president needs both a broad vision and a grasp of the particulars, to put that vision into practice. It’s a tall order for any one politician. There are probably Democrats who wish they could take some of each from Sanders and Clinton, but they’ll have to choose one or the other.

It might be wise to choose the plodding pragmatist, to get done what actually can get done. That’s the case against Bernie Sanders, no matter what that pope thinks, if he even invited Sanders to speak. And Paul Krugman is not the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, standing in the window of her castle, arms outstretched, sending her flying monkeys hurtling through the sky on a mission to destroy her would-be destroyers. He just has a few questions. And there are no answers. That’s the problem here.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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