“Actually, I Haven’t Thought About It A Whole Lot,” Says Bernie

NOTE: The following post is rather long and detailed. It is about policy specifics. It isn’t for everyone. Many other critics of Sanders have used short excerpts to make their points. I chose to go long for context. Reader beware! 

 

Yesterday afternoon, The Washington Post published this headline on its politics blog, which is written by Chris Cillizza:

This New York Daily News interview was pretty close to a disaster for Bernie Sanders

That disastrous editorial board interview is available for all to see in transcript form. But it takes a long time to read, and, as someone said on TV this morning, Bernie is lucky it wasn’t on video.  But today, the day after Bernie’s Wisconsin primary victory, I have seen at least five segments on CNN discussing it, and it came up in an interview with Hillary Clinton on MSNBC this morning.

Before we get into several examples as to why the interview was such a mess, I want to quote something Cillizza wrote about it:

A large part of Sanders’s appeal to the throngs who back him is his insistence that we are in need of a political revolution. And, for those people, the Daily News interview will be much ado about nothing. But what the interview exposes is that once the revolution happens there will be lots of loose ends to tie up. Loose ends that Sanders either hasn’t grappled with — or doesn’t want to.

It is probably true that Sanders’ most ardent supporters will either not read the interview critically or, if they do, make excuses for its shallowness. But as the interview demonstrates, away from his superficial script, without recourse to his stimulating stump speech, Bernie just doesn’t seem to be able to explain in depth how he would, even if he could, do the things he says are vital for rescuing the country from billionaire bogeymen, big banks and big businesses. And he knows next to nothing about what to do about problems around the world.

Let’s start at the beginning of the Daily News interview. He was asked a simple question:

Daily News: You’ve said that the greed of Wall Street and corporate America is destroying the fabric of our nation….is Apple destroying the fabric of America?

Bernie Sanders: No, Apple is not destroying the fabric of America. But I do wish they’d be manufacturing some of their devices, here, in the United States rather than in China. And I do wish that they would not be trying to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

Now, wait a minute, cowboy. If Apple is manufacturing millions of their devices in China, thus depriving Americans of that work, and if Apple is trying to avoid paying taxes here in the United States, then why are they excused from the accusation that “corporate greed” is destroying the fabric of American society? Huh? Makes no sense to me.

Bernie went on, after trying to focus only on banks, to mention General Electric as one of those corporations that was definitely part of destroying the fabric of America. Here’s what he said:

Sanders: General Electric, good example. General Electric was created in this country by American workers and American consumers. What we have seen over the many years is shutting down of many major plants in this country. Sending jobs to low-wage countries. And General Electric, doing a very good job avoiding the taxes. In fact, in a given year, they pay nothing in taxes. That’s greed.

That is greed and that’s selfishness. That is lack of respect for the people of this country.

A reader has to wonder: what’s the moral difference between what Apple does and what General Electric does? And why does Bernie single out one over the other? I don’t get it. Is Apple’s strategy to manufacture its products cheaper overseas, and to avoid domestic taxes, somehow morally superior to General Electric’s? Apparently, in Bernie’s mind, it is. But he doesn’t explain why. I’d like to know why.

On the issue of trade—one of Bernie’s major talking points—his thinking is also a little hard to follow. First, he offers the standard line that all Democrats who criticize trade deals offer: “I’m not anti-trade.” Good for him, since not trading with other countries would cripple our economy. He then explains:

Sanders: We live in a global economy, we need trade. But the trade policies that we have allowed to occur, that were written by corporate America have been disastrous for American workers.

Let’s stop here. It’s not true that our trade policies have been disastrous for all American workers. It is true that some have been harmed by them but it is also true that others have jobs because of them. Among other things, we export industrial products like factory robots, other high-end technology, and agricultural commodities. I’m sure workers in those sectors would very much resent being told that American trade policy has been a disaster. All of this is very complicated, with populists on both ideological sides using the negative aspects of trade policy against all trade deals. But there are good arguments that other factors, besides our trade policies, contribute to trade deficits with other countries and wage stagnation. But I’ll let Bernie continue:

Sanders: So I think we need trade. But I think it should be based on fair trade policies. No, I don’t think it is appropriate for trade policies to say that you can move to a country where wages are abysmal, where there are no environmental regulations, where workers can’t form unions. That’s not the kind of trade agreement that I will support.

Good for him. I wouldn’t support that kind of agreement either. And guess what? Neither would Hillary Clinton. In her book, Hard Choices, she wrote:

The current global trading system is distorted not only by barriers to entry in developing and emerging economies, but by the power of special interests in developed countries, including the US. To make trade fairer as well as freer, developing countries have to do a better job of improving productivity, raising labor conditions, and protecting the environment. In the US, we have to do a better job of providing good jobs to those displaced by trade.

So, as far as stated principles on trade, there is little if any difference between the two candidates. In fact, like Hillary and Obama before him, Bernie says he would stop such bad trade practices by “renegotiating all of the trade agreements that we have.” And here is the way Bernie explains his criteria for renegotiating such deals and here is where I start to get perplexed:

Sanders: …we have some specificity and it isn’t just us going around denouncing bad trade. In other words, I do believe in trade. But it has to be based on principles that are fair. So if you are in Vietnam, where the minimum wage is 65¢ an hour, or you’re in Malaysia, where many of the workers are indentured servants because their passports are taken away when they come into this country and are working in slave-like conditions, no, I’m not going to have American workers “competing” against you under those conditions. So you have to have standards. And what fair trade means to say that it is fair. It is roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the United States.

We should all ask Bernie (or Hillary, for that matter) a question: What would it mean for the United States if you actually followed such “fair trade” principles? I mean, Bernie is essentially saying we wouldn’t have a trade deal involving Vietnam or Malaysia or any number of countries in which the “wages and environmental standards” were not “roughly equivalent” to those of the United States. That leaves out a lot of countries, probably including Mexico. Are we going to stop trading with Mexico? I don’t get it. I confess I don’t.

How can we expect some of the developing countries we trade with to have anywhere close to the standards we insist on? Thus, since they can’t even come close, how do we trade with those countries? And if we don’t trade with them, how do we expect them to ever grow their economies so they can buy the stuff, mostly expensive stuff, we want to sell them? I said the issue of trade is complicated, but someone who makes such a big deal out of it in his campaign should be able to explain it to someone like me. But apparently he can’t.

There is another one of his big issues, this one involving the big banks, that Bernie has trouble explaining in detail. Bernie famously wants to break up the biggest banks. The Daily News simply asked him how that might work. As you can see from the following exchange, Bernie has no real idea:

Sanders: How you go about doing it is having legislation passed, or giving the authority to the secretary of treasury to determine, under Dodd-Frank, that these banks are a danger to the economy over the problem of too-big-to-fail.

Daily News: But do you think that the Fed, now, has that authority?

Sanders: Well, I don’t know if the Fed has it. But I think the administration can have it.

Daily News: How? How does a President turn to JPMorgan Chase, or have the Treasury turn to any of those banks and say, “Now you must do X, Y and Z?”

Sanders: Well, you do have authority under the Dodd-Frank legislation to do that, make that determination.

Daily News: You do, just by Federal Reserve fiat, you do?

Sanders: Yeah. Well, I believe you do.

If that exchange leaves you scratching your head, especially coming from a candidate who has criticized Dodd-Frank and made the issue of breaking up the banks central to his campaign, you have a right to scratch. And scratch. And scratch.

Then there is this related exchange:

Sanders: …if you’re saying that we’re going to break up the banks, will it have a negative consequence on some people? I suspect that it will. Will it have a positive impact on the economy in general? Yes, I think it will.

Daily News: Well, it does depend on how you do it, I believe. And, I’m a little bit confused because just a few minutes ago you said the U.S. President would have authority to order…

Sanders: No, I did not say we would order. I did not say that we would order. The President is not a dictator.

Daily News: Okay. You would then leave it to JPMorgan Chase or the others to figure out how to break it, themselves up. I’m not quite…

Sanders: You would determine is that, if a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. And then you have the secretary of treasury and some people who know a lot about this, making that determination. If the determination is that Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan Chase is too big to fail, yes, they will be broken up.

Daily News: Okay. You saw, I guess, what happened with Metropolitan Life. There was an attempt to bring them under the financial regulatory scheme, and the court said no. And what does that presage for your program?

Sanders: It’s something I have not studied, honestly, the legal implications of that.

Isn’t it fair to expect that someone who is so adamant about breaking up the banks would have studied the “legal implications” of doing so? Huh?

Then there is the issue of prosecuting and jailing the creepy Wall Street banksters responsible for the economic crisis that almost brought the country to its knees in 2008. Bernie and his supporters discuss this a lot, and they fault the Obama administration for not doing much about it. Here’s how that exchange went:

Daily News: Okay. Staying with Wall Street, you’ve pointed out, that “not one major Wall Street executive has been prosecuted for causing the near collapse of our entire economy.” Why was that? Why did that happen? Why was there no prosecution?

Sanders: I would suspect that the answer that some would give you is that while what they did was horrific, and greedy and had a huge impact on our economy, that some suggest that…that those activities were not illegal. I disagree. And I think an aggressive attorney general would have found illegal activity.

Daily News: So do you think that President Obama’s Justice Department essentially was either in the tank or not as…

Sanders: No, I wouldn’t say they were in the tank. I’m saying, a Sanders administration would have a much more aggressive attorney general looking at all of the legal implications. All I can tell you is that if you have Goldman Sachs paying a settlement fee of $5 billion, other banks paying a larger fee, I think most Americans think, “Well, why do they pay $5 billion?” Not because they’re heck of a nice guys who want to pay $5 billion. Something was wrong there. And if something was wrong, I think they were illegal activities.

Daily News: Okay. But do you have a sense that there is a particular statute or statutes that a prosecutor could have or should have invoked to bring indictments?

Sanders: I suspect that there are. Yes.

Daily News: You believe that? But do you know?

Sanders: I believe that that is the case. Do I have them in front of me, now, legal statutes? No, I don’t. But if I would…yeah, that’s what I believe, yes. When a company pays a $5 billion fine for doing something that’s illegal, yeah, I think we can bring charges against the executives.

Daily News: I’m only pressing because you’ve made it such a central part of your campaign. And I wanted to know what the mechanism would be to accomplish it.

One would think that Bernie, who talks about this all the time, would be able to offer something, something that the Obama administration has not offered, that would lead us to believe there was a “mechanism” to prosecute and send to prison people he thinks should have been prosecuted and sent to prison. But nope. He’s got nothing. Just talk.

Let’s move on to foreign policy, which most Bernie supporters will admit is not his specialty. It’s easy to see why. He was asked about the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly Israel’s expansion of settlements in Palestinian territory, and how a Sanders administration would make its attempt at peace:

Daily News: Okay. You’ve called not just for a halting construction of so-called settlements on the West Bank, but you’ve also called for pulling back settlements, just as Israel did in Gaza. Describe the pullback that you have in mind.

Sanders: Well, that’s the Israeli government’s plan, but I think that right now…I’m not going to run the Israeli government. I’ve got enough problems trying to be a United States senator or maybe President of the United States.

Hmm. Well. Okay. Apparently he isn’t planning on doing much about those settlements, which are at the heart of any potential peace agreement. In any case, Bernie was asked to weigh in on the level of responsibility Israel has for what some folks think is overkill in retaliation for attacks from an organization the United States and other countries consider to be terrorists:

Daily News: Okay. Now, you have obviously condemned Hamas for indiscriminate rocket attacks and the construction of the military tunnels. But you’ve also criticized Israel for what you described as a disproportionate response.

Sanders: Yep.

Daily News: And I’m going to look at 2014, which was the latest conflict. What should Israel have done instead?

Sanders: You’re asking me now to make not only decisions for the Israeli government but for the Israeli military, and I don’t quite think I’m qualified to make decisions. But I think it is fair to say that the level of attacks against civilian areas…and I do know that the Palestinians, some of them, were using civilian areas to launch missiles. Makes it very difficult. But I think most international observers would say that the attacks against Gaza were indiscriminate and that a lot of innocent people were killed who should not have been killed. Look, we are living, for better or worse, in a world of high technology, whether it’s drones out there that could, you know, take your nose off, and Israel has that technology. And I think there is a general belief that, with that technology, they could have been more discriminate in terms of taking out weapons that were threatening them.

Daily News: Do you support the Palestinian leadership’s attempt to use the International Criminal Court to litigate some of these issues to establish that, in their view, Israel had committed essentially war crimes?

Sanders: No.

Daily News: Why not?

Sanders: Why not?

Daily News: Why not, why it…

Sanders: Look, why don’t I support a million things in the world? I’m just telling you that I happen to believe…anybody help me out here, because I don’t remember the figures, but my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza. Does that sound right?

Daily News: I think it’s probably high, but we can look at that.

Sanders: I don’t have it in my number…but I think it’s over 10,000. My understanding is that a whole lot of apartment houses were leveled. Hospitals, I think, were bombed. So yeah, I do believe and I don’t think I’m alone in believing that Israel’s force was more indiscriminate than it should have been.

This breathtaking exchange is rather strange. First, Bernie thinks that the Israeli’s killed “over 10,000 innocent people” in Gaza. Wow. That’s a lot of people. (Bernie was later corrected; apparently it was “10,000 wounded” and 2,300 killed.) But Bernie doesn’t think that killing that many people in apartment houses and hospitals warrants Palestinians even bringing a case before the International Criminal Court. That may or may not be a defensible position, but Bernie’s lack of support for Palestinians seeking justice should require more of a response than, “Look, why don’t I support a million things in the world?” At least fake it, Bernie. This stuff you should have thought through a long time ago.

Bernie was asked this question about Obama’s drone policy:

Daily News: President Obama has taken the authority for drone attacks away from the CIA and given it to the US military. Some say that that has caused difficulties in zeroing in on terrorists, their ISIS leaders. Do you believe that he’s got the right policy there?

Sanders: I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is that drones are a modern weapon. When used effectively, when taking out ISIS or terrorist leaders, that’s pretty impressive. When bombing wedding parties of innocent people and killing dozens of them, that is, needless to say, not effective and enormously counterproductive. So whatever the mechanism, whoever is in control of that policy, it has to be refined so that we are killing the people we want to kill and not innocent collateral damage.

Maybe it’s just me. But shouldn’t a U.S. Senator have a position on Obama’s drone policy, not to mention a senator running for commander-in-chief?

And Bernie was asked a question related to the fight against terrorism:

Daily News: Okay. American Special Forces recently killed a top ISIS commander, after they’d hoped to capture him. They felt, from what the news reports were, that they had no choice at that. What would you do with a captured ISIS commander?

Sanders: Imprison him.

Daily News: Where?

Sanders: And try to get as much information out of him. If the question leads us to Guantanamo…

Daily News: Well, no, separate and apart from Guantanamo, it could be there, it could be anywhere. Where would a President Sanders imprison, interrogate? What would you do?

Sanders: Actually I haven’t thought about it a whole lot. I suppose, somewhere near the locale where that person was captured. The best location where that individual would be safely secured in a way that we can get information out of him.

Daily News: Would it be in the United States?

Sanders: Would it be in the United States? It could be, yeah.

Some people find the admission, “Actually I haven’t thought about it a whole lot,” somewhat endearing for its honesty. But I find it a little bit scary. This man has been in Congress since 1991. He has been a U.S. Senator since 2007. He’s now a candidate for the most powerful position on the planet. Maybe its honest to say he hasn’t thought about this stuff a lot, but it is quite appropriate to fearfully wonder why he hasn’t thought about it a lot.

Or a lot of other things he talks about on the campaign trail.

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8 Comments

  1. King Beauregard

     /  April 6, 2016

    Bernie’s supporters have been demanding more media coverage for months, well they got their wish.

    About this …

    “In other words, I do believe in trade. But it has to be based on principles that are fair. So if you are in Vietnam, where the minimum wage is 65¢ an hour, or you’re in Malaysia, where many of the workers are indentured servants because their passports are taken away when they come into this country and are working in slave-like conditions, no, I’m not going to have American workers “competing” against you under those conditions. So you have to have standards.”

    … if Bernie were sincere about this, he’d be a supporter of the TPP, which does crack down on slavery, require minimum wages, and impose the right to labor unions. It’s doubtless an imperfect solution but by God at least it’s a step in the right direction, compared to Bernie’s noises, which amount to nothing.

    About Wall Street prosecutions, one of the subtler issues is that the Bush administration left the DoJ in shambles, by appointing pliant toadies and firing anyone with intelligence and experience. When Obama came into office he had to reprofessionalize the DoJ, and that includes having to rebuild institutional experience from nothing. You know how, at many jobs, there are a few greybeards who have seen it all and know how to approach any given troublesome situation? Prior to Bush, the DoJ had some of them, but Bush got rid of them. The DoJ is in a state right now where a few people are starting to sprout facial hair, and President H Clinton may well have a functioning DoJ thanks to Obama. But Obama was not fortunate enough to have one.

    http://nymag.com/news/politics/obama-history-project/thomas-sugrue/

    Like

    • cbdoodle

       /  April 7, 2016

      The TPP? Seriously? Smells a lot like the PFTA.

      Like

      • King Beauregard

         /  April 7, 2016

        I know everyone decided years ago that the TPP is the worst thing ever, but how many people have actually tried to study it and see what it does? The friendly folks at vox.com tried to pick it apart and try to figure out who it helps and who it hurts … and they couldn’t come up with any overall themes. The TPP seems to address a hundred individual trade concerns between various countries, but there do not seem to be any unifying trends.

        Not that you would know that from Bernie, though. Before the TPP was even complete, he declared it was “NAFTA on steroids”, and after it was released he declared it was even worse than he thought it would be. (Make up your mind, Bernie: either you knew what the TPP contained or you did not.) As for Bernie’s criticisms of the TPP, at least some of them have proven to be the rantings of a man who doesn’t understand the subject matter:

        http://www.vox.com/2015/11/6/9683852/bernie-sanders-tpp

        At some level, I find myself asking whom I trust more: Obama or Sanders. Is the TPP the product of negotiations with an overall eye towards fairness and better relations between Pacific nations (as Obama would maintain), or is it a blackhearted attempt to disenfranchise the people of the world even further (as Sanders would maintain)? I trust Obama to have good intentions and the intelligence and information to act on them. Sanders, not so much.

        Like

  2. Duane, I like this post and found the level of detail about right.

    What is clear in the Sanders interview is that, as Admiral Rickover usually said, the devil’s in the details (he had a very competent and well-informed staff to understand the details). Our political system practically forces candidates to deal with issues in a broad-brush fashion, but actually solving the problems requires a welter of details.

    The candidate who can bring in a staff already having some command of those details will have a leg up on getting important things accomplished. We saw the lack of that with President Carter, some with President Obama, and will see it with the next President (if it is not Ms. Clinton). One thing “W'” was able to do because his father had been president was to install staff already in command of the details that were important to “W” (well, at least to his neo-con staff) and they hit the ground running. Hillary would, I think, be able to do the same. It is interesting to note that Drumpf would not have any staff of that sort, and Cruz would have minimal staff of that sort, as, I think, does Bernie.

    It seems to me that people who pursue power should try hard to prepare themselves for the eventuality of achieving it and not get lost in the pursuit.

    Like

    • I agree with you. Bernie has been around a long time and has held the same ideas for many, many years. One would think he would be prepared to at least explain how he would go about doing what he has talked about for so long. I understand that candidates can’t be expected to know everything about everything. But, dang, Bernie showed a lot of ignorance about things he should not be ignorant about, especially after he’s been running for almost a year.

      Like

  3. King Beauregard

     /  April 7, 2016

    On slate.com, a guy calling himself “The Zygon” had this to say about Bernie, and goddamn if he doesn’t hit the nail on the head:

    This is what a doctrinaire, old Socialist looks like. He knows what he hates and what he loves. But not much else. He is also does not trust experts. Why on earth does someone running on a platform of radical financial reform not have an economic advisory team? Because he does not trust experts – because they do not give him the answers he wants to hear.

    When I was a younger man, I briefly joined an organization of Socialists like Sanders. Good people, with deep feeling for the less fortunate in society. But also in love with simplistic explanations. It is all about evil men doing bad things to good people. The alternative of complex systems run by fallible men, some venal and corrupt, some not, yielding sub-optimal outcomes is unsatisfying to them. It lacks a villain.

    Like

    • I can’t think of a better way to summarize Sanders and his most ardent supporters. Mostly good folks with the idea that the good things they want to do for others are relatively simple to accomplish. They just lack a good understanding of our political system and underestimate the opposition to their good ideas. Thanks for sharing that.

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