Candidate Bernie Is Candidate Obama

Popular Economics Weekly

What I learned from last Sunday’s Charleston, South Carolina Democratic debate, the last debate before the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, is that Bernie Sanders the idealist, is almost a reincarnation of candidate Barack Obama in 2008 when he was the fiery progressive on the campaign trail.

Hillary Clinton actually, maybe inadvertently, pointed this out during the debate, when she said candidate Obama the idealist became President Obama the pragmatist who had to compromise to accomplish as much as he did during his Presidency. Dodd-Frank was passed that put in place orderly procedures to downsize banks and Wall Street entities in danger of failure, as well as the Affordable Care Act, in spite of almost universal Republican opposition.

Candidate Obama also campaigned on single-payer, universal health care, raising taxes on the wealthiest, as well as cleaning up Wall Street and the too-big-to-fail banking system, just as candidate Sanders has promised. Only Bernie promises to work to break up these same banks from Day One of his Presidency that helped to cause the Great Recession with their “criminal behavior”.

What happened when Obama became the pragmatist in order to accomplish what he did with Republican majorities or near majorities in the House and Senate? Those Progressives that became disillusioned with Obama now support Bernie, even calling Obama a weak leader for not fulfilling his promises made on the campaign trail.

I maintain candidate Sanders will confront the same problems if he succeeds in becoming President. Why? Because there is little or no chance that both the House and Senate will have Democratic majorities after 2016. And he will have to work with the Congress to get anything passed, whether he likes it or not.

We have learned that much from the Obama Presidency. Nobelist Paul Krugman criticized Sanders on his naiveté re the costs of a universal, single payer health plan such as was tried in Bernie’s home state of Vermont, as described by Vox Reporter Sarah Kliff.

“Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin announced in late 2014 that he would give up on single-payer after budget analysts realized Vermont would need an additional $2.5 billion in tax revenue to pay for the system,” said Kliff. “That would have required raising the payroll tax by 11.5 percent and income tax by 9 percent.”

To which Krugman added, “The point is not that single-payer is a bad idea. It is that given where the U.S. is now, achieving the kind of low costs we see in other countries would involve imposing large losses on many stakeholders, including people with generous policies, health care providers, and more — which is the point I’ve been making. The gains would almost surely be bigger than the losses, but that’s not going to make the very hard politics go away.”

So candidate Hillary Clinton has a problem, maybe the same problem she had in 2008. If she remains the seasoned, political pragmatist, claiming to carry on President Obama’s legacy, can she ignite the same passions in her followers that caused Obama to defeat her in 2008, and seems to be igniting Bernie’s supporters?

The real question is whether a seasoned 20-year Senator such as Bernie can work with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as has Obama, and that candidate Hillary promises to do. Bernie so far is acting like the Bernie of old, the Vermont, lone-wolf Independent he was before joining the Democratic Party.

Harlan Green © 2016

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About populareconomicsblog

Harlan Green is editor/publisher of, and content provider of 3 weekly columns to various blogs--Popular Economics Weekly and The Huffington Post
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