Thursday, May 19, 2016

Is Bernie Sanders more Tea Party than the Tea Party?

Four years ago, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein published It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How The American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics Of Extremism.  What was missing from that title was who they blame:  the Republicans.  The key quote that has been circulating around for years is this:

"The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier-- ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."

Despite their past reputations as nonpartisan scholars, the book branded Mann & Ornstein as shills for the Democratic Party.  One can understand Republicans' reaction.  While the book is rather more cautious (it is easier to be cautious when you have space to elaborate on the cautions), the quote paints in pretty broad strokes.

As my students know, I am one of the few people who has a very high opinion of both Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner.  I think that Boehner was a statesman, trying his best to steer policy in a direction that he thought was good for the country, but that he was constrained by a group of people in his caucus whom he called "knuckleheads."  Who were the "knuckleheads?"  Basically, the Tea Party, or as they rebranded themselves in the House of Representatives, the "House Freedom Caucus."  These are the people who wanted to force a default on federal obligations by not raising the debt ceiling, and forced the 2013 government shutdown that Boehner never wanted.  I always compare Boehner to Burgess Meredith's character in the Twilight Zone episode, "Time Enough At Last."  Meredith's character is a bookish man who just wants to be left alone to read.  He climbs into a bank vault for his lunch break to read, and emerges to find that he is the only survivor of a neutron bomb.  He collects his books and plans for the quiet life he always wanted.  Then he breaks his glasses.  Boehner always wanted to be Speaker.  When he finally got there, he was saddled with the Freedom Caucus, forcing a shutdown and preventing him from doing much of anything.

Throughout all of this, Boehner did a remarkable job for which he hasn't received credit.  Mann & Ornstein's criticism is a legitimate criticism of people like Ted Cruz, but not of John Boehner.  Boehner was a statesman.  He watched Newt Gingrich burn things down in 1995, and found his way to a more honorable path.  Yes, I like John Boehner.

Now, let's talk about Bernie Sanders.  He has less of a chance of becoming the Democratic nominee now than Ted Cruz did when he withdrew from the Republican race.  And yet, he's still there, whining about how the game is rigged, and either deluding himself or lying to his followers about whether or not he still has a chance.  Is Bernie Sanders more Tea Party than Ted Cruz?  Let's take the Mann & Ornstein synopsis, point-by-point.

1)  Ideologically extreme.  Yup. I've written before (here) about why Sanders' followers bristle at calling him "extreme," but facts are facts.  The standard political science measure of ideology in Congress is the "NOMINATE" score, available at VoteView, and Sanders is at -.7170 on a -1 to +1 scale.  That's pretty far to the left.  Now, Cruz is more extreme, with a score of .8780, but Sanders is, by any reasonable definition, ideologically extreme.  No, it doesn't matter how mainstream his views would be in Denmark because he isn't running in Denmark.  What matters is where he fits here.

2)  Contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime.  Duh!  He calls himself a "democratic socialist."  He is calling for a political revolution.  His words.  He wants to convert the healthcare sector, which is about 1/6 of the economy, from private to public, break up the large banks and bring about a fundamental transformation of the American political and economic system.  If you agree with Sanders, then you think the system sucks anyway, but there really isn't any arguing on this point.  Sanders wouldn't argue with it.

3)  Scornful of compromise.  Duh!  His central criticism of Hillary is that she is too flexible.  His appeal is to idealism and the premise that you fight hard for what you believe.  He has criticized ObamaCare as insignificant because it retains the private system rather than shifting to single-payer.  Of course, he voted for the ACA, so he isn't as rigid as his current rhetoric suggests, but the basis of his campaign is the idea that the Democrats should stop compromising within the system and change the system so that they no longer need to compromise.  You can have it all, according to Sanders.

4)  Unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science.  Sanders isn't a climate denier, and I've never heard him claim that the earth is six thousand years old, or anything like that.  He's no Jim Inhofe.  But on budgetary policy, I have compared him to Paul Ryan (here), and I stand by that comparison.  His budgetary numbers never add up because he doesn't care about making them add up.  He cares about expanding the "social safety net" for its own sake.  Everything else is of secondary importance at best, so he doesn't care whether or not his numbers work.  Is Sanders as hostile to science as Inhofe?  Obviously not.  But, he is hostile to math.

5)  Dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.  And here we come to the crux of the matter.  Sanders has lost the Democratic race.  He lost long ago.  It's over.  And he is currently whining about how the process is rigged, and the election is being stolen.  According to Sanders, the concept of a closed primary is intrinsically illegitimate, so if Hillary wins by bigger numbers in the closed primary states, then the election was stolen.  He regularly bashes the DNC for its not-so-tacit backing of Hillary.  He whines about the overblown influence of money.  Any time he loses, the process is illegitimate.  Do you want to argue that open primaries are better?  Go for it.  My point is merely that Sanders is claiming that Hillary's victory is illegitimate.  It seems to me that I've read such criticisms somewhere before, but about Republicans.

The basic issue here is that Sanders is unwilling to accept loss.  But accepting loss is the key to "democracy," if such a thing can exist.  As I have written before (here), elections necessarily impose one group's will on another.  If you aren't willing to be imposed upon, then you reject the idea of an election.  Goo-goos, like Sanders, never really understand that point.  A loss means the system was rigged.

So I come back to the observation that Ted Cruz accepted reality and withdrew from the Republican race when he was in a slightly less weak position than Sanders is now.  The Republican Party could have thrown out the rules and screwed Trump out of the nomination at the convention, and since the muckety-mucks hate him, they even had a motivation.  Sanders has no such chance because the superdelegates don't hate Hillary.  And yet, Cruz accepted the reality of his loss before Sanders.  Is Bernie Sanders more Tea Party than the Tea Party.



Flame on!  (Gee, it's too bad nobody ever tried to make a movie about the Fantastic Four...)

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