Krugman and Palley signal establishment shift on Sanders

Wall Street Journal / YouTube Bernie Sanders Defines Democratic Socialism 1574180233.jpg...
Wall Street Journal / YouTube

I’m guessing that by now, most people know that the success of the Sanders 2020 campaign so far has provoked a — strong, shall we say — reaction from some media pundits and Democratic Party “leaders.”

What I think is interesting is that some thought leaders are beginning to push back against the anti-Bernie hand wringing. Most notable is Paul Krugman, who wrote on Feb. 13, 2020, Bernie Sanders Isn’t a Socialist.

Republicans have a long, disreputable history of conflating any attempt to improve American lives with the evils of “socialism.”

Krugman posted Bernie Sanders Isn’t the Left’s Trump. Krugman’s warning at the end seems to be directed to Sanders and his supporters, and probably reflects some reactions to last week’s post from Krugman’s colleagues and friends.

Hopefully, more anti-Berners will follow Krugman’s lead. After all, it’s been almost a full year since former deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury for economic policy in the Clinton administration Brad DeLong, now at the University of California-Berkeley, tweeted “the baton rightly passes to our colleagues on our left.“ DeLong explained to Zack Beauchamp of Vox that

“Barack Obama rolls into office with Mitt Romney’s health care policy, with John McCain’s climate policy, with Bill Clinton’s tax policy, and George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy,” DeLong notes. “And did George H.W. Bush, did Mitt Romney, did John McCain say a single good word about anything Barack Obama ever did over the course of eight solid years? No, they fucking did not.”

The result, he argues, is the nature of the Democratic Party needs to shift. Rather than being a center-left coalition dominated by market-friendly ideas designed to attract conservative support, the energy of the coalition should come from the left and its broad, sweeping ideas. Market-friendly neoliberals, rather than pushing their own ideology, should work to improve ideas on the left.

Last week, former Assistant Director of Public Policy at the AFL-CIO Dr. Thomas Palley posted Bernie Sanders: Nothing to Fear Except Fear Itself. Unlike DeLong, Palley has always been a critic of neoliberalism’s economic dogma. As a result, Palley was not blinded to the gathering signs of economic crises in the mid-2000s, and accurately forecast the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008 in a March 2006 report, “The Fallacy of the Revised Bretton Woods Hypothesis: Why Today’s System is Unsustainable and Suggestions for a Replacement.”

Palley began his post last week by quoting the famous phrase from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural speech, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Today, Palley argued, that memorable phrase can be applied to the “barrage of attack aimed at frightening away voters” from supporting Sanders’ presidential campaign.

Fear is the enemy of change and the friend of hate. That is why both sides of the political establishment are now running a full-blown campaign of fear-mongering against Sanders.

The Democratic Party establishment likes the economy the way it is and wants to prevent change. Donald Trump and the Republicans have made themselves the party of hate. Both therefore have an interest in promoting fear, which explains the strange overlap in their attacks on Sanders.

Sanders’ economic policies aim to tackle the deep causes of economic and political discontent. That threatens the establishment, which is why he is being red-baited by both Republicans and Democrats.

Palley rejects the characterization of Sanders’ policies as “red.” Especially targeted by the fear-mongers is the “Medicare for All” proposal, which critics are trying to portray as dangerous socialism that will lead USA down the path to becoming Cuba or Venezuela.

Palley argues,

Sanders’ economic program is straight out of the American mainstream. It echoes FDR’s New Deal which saved American capitalism in the 1930s.

A higher minimum wage, stronger unions, green infrastructure investment, free public education, higher taxes on the wealthy, and reining in corporate power are programs which would have been supported by Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. They are the type of programs the Democratic Party used to advocate before its inside take over by Wall Street.

Noting that the economy is largely structured by political decisions enacted into law, Palley argues that

Our rotten politics have contributed to making the economy we have, and our rotten politics obstructs us from changing it. Without political reform change will be near impossible, which explains Sanders’ call for a political revolution. The influence of money in politics must be reduced, which is why it is critical the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United be reversed.

Though Sanders reacts to how economic power has corrupted our political process by calling for a political revolution, Palley points out that “Sanders is no revolutionary.” In fact, Sanders’ “political program harks back to the framing of the US constitution.”

A fundamental concern of the founding fathers was excessive political power, be it via monarchy or plutocracy. Two hundred and fifty years ago the problem was monarchy. Today, the problem is plutocracy.

Here, I want to amplify and expand on Palley’s argument by including a reference to the 2017 book, The Crisis of the Middle-class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic. It was written by an adviser to Senator Elizabeth Warren, Vanderbilt Law professor Ganesh Sitaraman, who recounts the history of early republics and democracies that the Founders examined as they carefully structured the new national government. (I included a fuller review of Sitaraman’s book, and a link to a YouTube video of Sitaraman, in the bottom half of my New Years day post.) Sitaraman has a powerful insight into how World War Two and the Cold War shifted Americans’ conception of who their enemies were, which I think goes a long way in explaining why we today do not fully appreciate the threat posed by plutocrats such as Donald Trump and Mike Bloomberg, even when they brazenly engage in buying control of the political process.

It should not be surprising that it was only after World War II that American’s fear of aristocracy waned. The founding generation had revolted against a feudal aristocracy… Their grandchildren… lived in a time when feudal aristocrats still governed much of the Western world.  The immigrants of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century fled those very states for a new republic defined by equality and opportunity rather than class hierarchy. By the middle of the twentieth century, the alternative to republican government was no longer aristocracy but authoritarianism. Fascism and then communism, not aristocracy or oligarchy, became the central fear.

Palley concludes that

Both Democrats and Republicans are now engaged in a campaign against Bernie Sanders aimed at frightening voters and preventing change. Ironically, the fear-mongering of the Democratic establishment is even more dangerous than that of Trump and the Republican Party.

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Bloomberg has already lost, he would be better off attacking Trump over Sanders.