Friday, January 22, 2016

The Real Bernie Sanders

Opponents of Bernie Sanders on both the left and the right seek to paint him as a wild-eyed idealist.  One of the latest to take that stance is the economist, Paul Krugman.  He has posted several opinion pieces on his blog and in the NY Times editorial page recently which take their inspiration from the Clinton playbook.  In the latest NY Times piece Krugman asserts that Bernie resembles candidate Obama, while Clinton looks more like President Obama.  The point seems to be that Obama had to learn how to deal with political realities after he took office, and scale back his aspirations for his progressive agenda.  The implication is that Clinton knows the lay of the land already and is more prepared to move a progressive agenda forward in small, achievable increments.

There are quite a few problems with Krugman's interpretation of the careers and positions of those three politicians.  The biggest and most questionable is the assertion that Sanders does not know how to negotiate political realities.  Bernie has enjoyed a long career as an elected official at the local and national levels, and he has shown himself very adept at getting results while working with Dems and Republicans alike.  Most significantly he has crafted those legislative compromises and successes without abandoning his principles.

A lot of progressives can easily sympathize with Obama's dilemma of trying to govern  in the era of big money politics -- up to a point.  While many will applaud his leadership toward better health care, a lot of those who initially supported him see him coming up short in regard to environmental concerns, immigration, financial reform, trade negotiations and resistance to waging endless war.

Clinton in the last Dem debate sought to connect herself at the hip to Obama, while promising that she would advance the progressive agenda at an increasing rate.  The issue she failed to address in any meaningful way at the debate or elsewhere was the contradiction between the her populist agenda and the compromising acceptance of campaign money from the bankers and financiers that agenda purports to regulate.  Her changing positions on many issues throughout her political career also raise red flags about her credibility (and her electability) with people throughout the entire political spectrum.

So, Krugman's political campaign narrative seems to me and other Bernie supporters to be distorted by inattention to facts, very unlike his masterfully presented economic analyses.  It is interesting to read the comments left in response to his recent attacks on Sanders.  Normally, the commenters include a very large number of right-wing trolls who have nothing substantive to offer in rebuttal to Krugman's expertise.  The last column, by contrast, is followed by many well-reasoned, polite arguments against Krugman's postion, and supporting Bernie's candidacy.  I think that says a lot about Sander's and his supporters.  It also seems likely to diminish a lot of people's confidence in Krugman's judgment.

No comments: