Friday, March 18, 2016

A post-mortem on the Democratic contest and the Sanders campaign

For all the attention I (we) have been paying to Trump, one could easily forget that there was another presidential contest going on-- Sanders challenging Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

It's over.  It has always been over.  It was never a real contest, and Sanders never had a chance.

But Sanders was never really running to win.  He was running to push Clinton, and possibly the Democratic Party, to the left.

So let's talk about income inequality.  Or, rather, let's talk about "income inequality."  Why the quotes?  Because it isn't an issue so much as a slogan.  People with higher incomes make more money than people with lower incomes.  That makes incomes unequal.  Wow!  Startling revelation, right?

Those who like the slogan, "income inequality," will assert that they don't have the Marxist goal of equalizing income, but rather seek to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.  There is some optimal level of income inequality, more than in a Marxist system, but less than in a Gilded Age system.  What is this mythical, optimal level?  I don't know.  I have never heard someone attached to the slogan give a direct answer, measured in terms of the GINI coefficient.  Less than we have now, OK?

Fine.  But you know what?  The Democratic Party's platform, since FDR, has been to increase the extent to which the federal government taxes the wealthy in order to give money to the poor, elderly, and those unable to afford healthcare.  The Republican Party's platform has been to reduce the level of wealth redistribution.  Whether we use the slogan, "income inequality," or not, that has been the basic dividing line between the two parties for going on a century.  Democrats seek to use government to reduce, but not eliminate income inequality.  So has it been, so it ever shall be.  (Or, at least until something happens to upend the current partisan divide).

What effect has Sanders had on Clinton?  Has he moved her rhetoric to the left?  Perhaps.  On policy?  Well, she was always predisposed to advocate wealth redistribution, but less than Sanders.  At best, Clinton's proposals are slightly more redistributive as a result of fending off Sanders.

And it doesn't matter.  Even if Hillary becomes President, the chances of a Democratic Congress are somewhere between slim and none.  No fiscal policy advocated by either Clinton or Sanders has any chance of being enacted.  In budgetary terms, all we have done since 2011 is pass "continuing resolutions" that maintain the spending levels set by the Budget Control Act in order to solve the debt ceiling crisis in the summer of 2011.

Whether Clinton or Sanders wields the veto pen, the result will be the same.  A Republican Congress will pass some tax cuts and other "veto bait."  A Democratic President will issue a veto.  We will approach government shutdowns and debt ceiling crises, and probably not breach them.  At the last minute, Congress will pass more continuing resolutions adhering to the 2011 Budget Control Act.  The Democratic President will sign them.  And nothing else will happen.

Without a Democratic Congress, moving Hillary to the left accomplishes nothing, and Republicans have very nearly a lock on the House of Representatives.

So, no, Sanders has not accomplished much, except to repeat slogans like, "income inequality."

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