Ten Reasons Why I Will NOT vote for Bernie Sanders
Part I – The First Three Reasons
Why would I even consider voting for Bernie? After all, he was an excellent athlete – an excellent runner and basketball player – when he was in high school and at university, while I at 6”3” was a dud. On the other hand, Bernie’s father at 17 came from Slopnice in Poland in 1921; my father came with his mother from Minsk in 1919 at age six. Though I am three years older, we grew up with similar experiences of the greater world, opposing the Vietnam War, in support of the crusade for civil and political rights for Black Americans and as admirers of Sweden as the Middle Way. If discount Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, the strongest push I have we . If we discount Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, pushing me towards support of Bernie is that he is by far the strongest environmentalist running to be a candidate for the presidency of the United States, supporting renewable energy to replace the burning of fossil fuels and pushing a carbon tax. His older brother, Larry, was the Green Party candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon in the last parliamentary election. My two youngest children are very strong advocates for sound environmental policies and, more importantly, are strong advocates for Bernie Saunders in discussions with me of American politics.
In fact, that is my main motivation for writing this blog. I want to try to convince them both that they are mistaken. I might even have a tiny influence on my three oldest children who have become American citizens and enjoy the right to vote. Ari Kamen, the political director of the Working Families Party in New York City and one of the leaders in support of Bernie’s crucial campaign in the New York State primary, even managed to convince his father, a Philadelphia history teacher at a Jewish day school, to support Bernie. I want to try to reverse the process. As futile as it may seem to be in addressing idealistic millennials, almost as futile as Bernie’s campaign seemed to be at the beginning, my children need to support another candidate. The debate in Brooklyn last night makes this blog imperative.
So, here goes.
- Trade Policy
Bernie’s most important claim to fame is that he is anti-free trade. He has consistently opposed free trade agreements. He reminds me of the old NDP policy in Canada. When my eldest son returned from Oxford with a graduate degree in tow in economic history, before he went on to become a professor of history at Princeton, he was asked by the NDP to prepare a think-piece on free trade and, in particular, on the prospect of a North American Free Trade Agreement which Canada, Mexico and the United States were negotiating. He studied the prospect of free trade and wrote a paper concluding, as almost all studies do, that this type of trade agreement does cause job and business dislocations, but that the rules proposed governing both investment and trade generally are of net benefit to the partners in such agreements. The NDP just buried his study and went on in the 1993 election to campaign against the prospective free trade agreement.
In that election, the NDP was reduced to a rump with just nine seats, though not as devastating a rump as the Progressive Conservative Party that suffered an overwhelming defeat and emerged with only two seats. Jean Chretien emerged with a significant majority and passed the NAFTA agreement that, in virtually all studies, has proven so beneficial to Canada, even though it was a major cause for the devastation to our furniture and some other industries in which the jobs moved primarily to the southern United States. Tom Mulcair, the current leader of the NDP, now supports free trade. However, that anti-free trade sentiment remains strong in the NDP and has been brought into the forefront of debate by Donald Trump (we signed a bad deal) and the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Bernie argued, “NAFTA may be a good deal for the people who own our corporations, but it is a bad deal for American workers, for our family farmers, and it is bad for the environment.” NAFTA has been bad for some workers. NAFTA has been bad for some businesses – largely ignored by Bernie because of his emphasis on the cause of workers in dislocated industries. In Canada, the free trade agreement may have benefited the multi-nationals, but the initiative was pressed forward by federal civil servants and supporting Conservative and Liberal governments. In the new economy, accelerated by, but not the result of, free trade, labour unions have suffered as have the protections for workers generally. Europe has shown that there is no need for free trade to be associated with the destruction of unions and the protection of workers, especially the diminution of health and safety protection.
Bernie’s most effective moment of last evening perhaps came over this issue near the beginning of the debate. The exchange with Wolf Blitzer went as follows:
BLITZER: Senator, you’ve slammed companies like General Electric and Verizon for moving jobs outside of the United States. Yesterday, the CEO of Verizon called your views contemptible and said in your home state of Vermont Verizon has invested more than $16 million and pays millions of dollars a year to local businesses. He says you are, quote, “uninformed on this issue” and disconnected from reality. Given your obvious contempt for large American corporations, how would you as president of the United States be able to effectively promote American businesses around the world?
SANDERS: Well, for a start, I would tell the gentleman who’s the CEO at Verizon to start negotiating with the Communication Workers of America. And this is — this is a perfect example, Wolf, of the kind of corporate greed which is destroying the middle class of this country. This gentleman makes $18 million a year in salary. That’s his — that’s his compensation. This gentleman is now negotiating to take away health care benefits of Verizon workers, outsource call center jobs to the Philippines, and — and trying to create a situation where workers will lose their jobs. He is not investing in the way he should in inner cities in America.
BLITZER: All right. Senator, but the question was, the question was, given your contempt for large American corporations, as president, how would you be able to promote American business around the world?
SANDERS: First of all, the word contempt is not right. There are some great businesses who treat their workers and the environment with respect. Verizon happens not to be one of them. And what we need to do is to tell this guy Immelt, who’s the head of General Electric, he doesn’t like me, well, that’s fine. He has outsourced hundreds of thousands of decent-paying jobs throughout the world… cut his workforce here substantially and in a given year, by the way, it turns out that both Verizon and General Electric, in a given year, pay nothing in federal income tax despite making billions in profits.
BLITZER: But Senator, experts say that no matter the means to bring back these jobs to the United States, prices of goods for consumers in the United States would go up, which would disproportionately impact the poor and middle class. So how do you bring back these jobs to the United States without affecting the cost of goods to America’s middle class and poor?
SANDERS: Well, for a start, we’re going to raise the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour. And number two, while it is true we may end up paying a few cents more for a hamburger in McDonald’s, at the end of the day, what this economy desperately needs is to rebuild our manufacturing sector with good-paying jobs. We cannot continue to sustain the loss of millions of decent-paying jobs that we have seen over the last 20, 30 years, based on trade agreements of which Secretary Clinton has voted for almost every one of those. That has got to change.
Bernie is correct. Certain types of workers suffer as a result of free trade agreements. But so too do certain types of businesses, particularly small businesses, so why is this not a major consideration in Bernie’s platform if he is true to his word and does respect some businesses, including very large ones? Bernie is also correct that multinational corporations have benefited. But the partners to trade agreements also suffered job losses. The furniture manufacturing jobs moved from the Kitchener area and Quebec to Georgia. The problem is not the dislocation – which is inevitable in an agreement. The real issue is not only the net benefit, but whether economic assistance is available for protecting workers, for job retraining and for the small businesses negatively affected.
The issue should not be free trade, which helps raise the impoverished world to become wealthier, but how the dislocations are managed. Bernie Saunders is simply a Luddite when it comes to trade policy. He is not an internationalist, but an economic nationalist focused almost exclusively on the harm done to American workers. Bernie opposed NAFTA in 1993. He opposed the free trade agreement with China that resulted directly in literally hundreds of millions of Chinese workers rising out of poverty. Bernie is also dishonest about the studies. He will emphasize that the Congressional Research Service documents the loss of 700,000 jobs as a result of NAFTA while ignoring, or, at best, underplaying, how many jobs the U.S. gained. In a worst case scenario, the U.S. suffered only a tiny net loss while the three economies of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. all benefited from the rising tide of trade and investment.
Opposing free trade is an integral part of reactionary rather than progressive politics if your primary one trick pony show is to raise the minimum wage to $15, however laudable in itself, while opposing free trade agreements.
- Dismantling the Large Banks
Next to targeting free trade, dismantling the American mega-banks has been an integral and core part of the Bernie Sanders’ crusade. For Bernie, unlike too many of his supporters, the banks, along with Wall Street, are not seen as under the control of the Jews. (In a campaign stop at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem in New York, one of his supporters shouted out that the Jews ran Wall Street.) But Bernie has held the big banks to blame for the 2008 economic collapse.
Bernie is correct that the top six American banks – JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley – do control 58% (approximately 9.7 trillion in assets) of America’s GDP (18.2 trillion). But there is no evidence that they were collectively the prime causes of the 2007-08 collapse. Hillary Clinton was accurate in arguing in the debate that, in the whole picture, the key culprits were AIG, a giant insurance company, the investment bank, Lehman Brothers, and mortgage companies like Countrywide.
In my own published studies of the bursting of that bubble in 2007, the big banks in Canada could not be held to be at fault because we did not have a bubble to burst and because the rules governing the banks and their liquidity requirements are much stricter. But it was Bernie, not Hillary, who supported the deregulation of swaps and derivatives that allowed the rogue operations of near-banks as well as a ream of boiler shops promoting the sale of mortgage assets using the new technology developed initially by a Canadian graduate of the University of Waterloo at the beginning of this century. Has anyone not seen the terrific 2015 movie, The Big Short, which offers bios of four different financial management firms which both profited from and warned against what was happening?
The progressive economist, Paul Krugman, who writes for The New York Times, is a far better source than I am. In an op-ed column a week ago entitled, “Sanders Over the Edge,” he joined the chorus of those who accused Sanders of going “for easy slogans over hard thinking.” “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?”
What about Hillary giving speeches to big banks and Wall Street at $225,000 a shot? Was she compromising herself as a political candidate? Had she sold out to the banks as a result of speaking for money as Bernie charged? When Bernie was directly asked in the debate for one instance that showed Hillary had compromised in her political positions towards the banks, and, more seriously, connected that to the money she collected for speeches, Bernie was silent. All his accusations boiled down to suspicion and perception. There was no evidence produced that Hillary, when she was a Senator or when she was Secretary of State, either took money or was influenced by Wall Street. Or even that her policies had been influenced by the large banks since she has been a candidate for president even if $15 or $150 million of her campaign funds came from Wall Street. President Obama, who had a super PAC that took Wall Street donations, signed and passed Dodd-Frank, the significant effort (more could be done) to close the barn door after the rogues from Countrywide Financial and Lehman Brothers had escaped regulation, bringing enormous disaster to themselves, their shareholders and their clients.
As Paul Krugman wrote, “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.”
The issue of guns in America has occupied a significant part of President Obama’s presidency and of the campaign to become the next democratic candidate for president. In the U.S., “90 people on average a day are killed or commit suicide or die in accidents from guns, 33,000 people a year,” quite aside from the large number of mass killings of innocent civilians. Hillary Clinton in the debate last night said that, “Senator Sanders voted against the Brady Bill five times. He voted for the most important NRA priority, namely giving immunity from liability to gun-makers and dealers, something that is at the root of a lot of the problems that we are facing. Then he doubled down on that in the New York Daily News interview, when asked whether he would support the Sandy Hook parents suing to try to do something to rein in the advertising of the AR-15, which is advertised to young people as being a combat weapon, killing on the battlefield. He said they didn’t deserve their day in court.” In fact, his statements in the debate contradict that last interpretation.
What was and has repeatedly been Bernie’s answer? “Back in 1988, I ran for the United States Congress one seat in the state of Vermont. I probably lost that election, which I lost by three points, because I was the only candidate running who said, you know what? We should ban assault weapons, not seen them sold or distributed in the United States of America. I’ve got a D-minus voting record from the NRA. And, in fact, because I come from a state which has virtually no gun control, I believe that I am the best qualified candidate to bring back together that consensus that is desperately needed in this country.”
I cannot follow the latter reasoning at all. If you come from a state that makes it virtually impossible to get an abortion, are you the best person to mediate between the pro-life and the pro-choice camps? And when you lose an election opposing guns and subsequently compromise on that issue and win, does this mean your position should be respected? Or does that just mean you are a typical politician that sees the need to compromise to win elections? Did it mean he had to vote against the Brady Bill requiring a waiting period and comprehensive background checks?
However, I think that the central question was asked by Wolf Blitzer. The exchange went as follows:
BLITZER: You recently said you do not think crime victims should be able to sue gun makers for damages. The daughter of the Sandy Hook Elementary School who was killed back in the 2012 mass shooting, says you owe her and families an apology. Do you?
SANDERS: What we need to do is to do everything that we can to make certain that guns do not fall into the hands of people who do not have them. [He must have misspoken while evading the question asked. Criminals that do have guns should be entitled to purchase more, but not aspiring criminals???] Now, I voted against this gun liability law because I was concerned that in rural areas all over this country, if a gun shop owner sells a weapon legally to somebody, and that person then goes out and kills somebody, I don’t believe it is appropriate that that gun shop owner who just sold a legal weapon to (sic!) be held accountable and be sued. But, what I do believe is when gun shop owners and others knowingly are selling weapons to people who should not have them — somebody walks in. They want thousands of rounds of ammunition, or they want a whole lot of guns, yes, that gun shop owner or that gun manufacturer should be held liable.
BLITZER: So, Senator, do you owe the Sandy Hook families an apology?
SANDERS: No, I don’t think I owe them an apology. They are in court today, and actually they won a preliminary decision today. They have the right to sue, and I support them and anyone else who wants the right to sue.
CLINTON: Well, I believe that the law that Senator Sanders voted for that I voted against, giving this special protection to gun manufacturers and to dealers, is an absolute abdication of responsibility on the part of those who voted for it.
Car manufactures can be sued for making cars that maim or kill when safety is compromised, but not manufacturers of lethal weapons, as long as they are sold to the “right people” and not in large quantities. Does that make sense to you? Manufacturers can make and sell lethal automatic machine guns without safety protection but, in Bernie’s policies, be generally immune from any suit as long as they are sold to the “right people” and not in large quantities. And what about the retailers? Granting the right to sue but not the grounds for a successful suit is no defence of the Sandy Hook mothers. There must be a law that at least makes it part of the responsibility of manufacturers and sellers to ensure that weapons that are produced are as safe as possible when used and, as much as feasible, are not available to those who would use weapons threatening human lives.
Part II: to be continued
With the help of Alex Zisman