Politico is Wrong: Bernie Sanders Can Win (Part 1)

This is the first in a three-part series rebutting an op-ed that appeared on Politico magazine’s website on Tuesday, December 8, 2015.

On Tuesday, William M. Daley, Jonathan Cowan and Lanae Erickson Hatalsky published an op-ed piece for Politico magazine entitled “Why Bernie Sanders Can’t Win.” In this piece, they presented arguments explaining their reasoning for why they believe Bernie Sanders can’t win in 2016. Their arguments, to quote rival Democratic candidate, Martin O’Malley, are “weak tea” at best. At worst, their facts and figures are convoluted and twisted to fit their own agenda.

To understand Daley, Cowan, and Hatalsky and their argument, one must know their own political ideologies. Daley is a former Obama Chief of Staff and currently a member of the Board of Trustees of Third Way, a centrist think tank. Cowan is president of Third Way, and Hatalsky is its Vice President for Social Policy and Politics. All three have vested interests in promoting a centrist candidate. And Bernie Sanders, in their collective opinion, is much too populist for their taste.

Voter Anger is Not Misdirected

In the op-ed, they acknowledge that the voting populace is angry. However, they gloss it over and blame only Washington, D.C., claiming voters aren’t really mad at the very wealthy. Bernie Sanders frequently names the top one percent as those who are inhibiting economic growth and advancement. The Politico piece alleges the very wealthy really have little to do with a crooked government. However, billionaires like the Koch brothers and the Walton family are powerful lobbies in D.C., and they use their deep pockets to influence legislation. This is, as Bernie Sanders claims, how the wealthy rig the economy in their favor.

An example of how the rich use their money to influence policy is the National Right to Work Committee, which is actually a front for wealthy business leaders to keep workers from forming unions. A 2014 article in PRWatch outlines just how powerful they are when it comes to controlling the workforce. In researching the NRTWC, journalists Jay Riestenberg and Mary Bottari discovered that it has deep ties to the Koch brothers and the John Birch Society. In 2012, the Koch brothers collectively funneled more than $1 million to the NRTWC and its defense fund.

The Koch brothers have used their money to successfully finance political puppets, such as embattled Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who has made it his mission to dismantle unions and strip workers of their rights.

And yet, Daley, et. al claim Bernie Sanders is mistaking voter anger.

“But it wasn’t a rigged economy they were frothing over. It was politicians, government, campaigns, and Congress that they viewed with contempt.”

This statement is glaringly distorted to direct attention away from the billionaire donors and lobbyists who pay lawmakers to pass laws that favor them and their businesses. Thus, the argument that Bernie Sanders is mistaking or misdirecting voter anger doesn’t hold water.

Bernie Sanders’s $15 Minimum Wage is On Target

The Daley piece claims that Bernie Sanders’s populist ideas are “missing the economic mark” when it comes to policies to create a more stable outcome for people. They claim that expanding Social Security, single payer health care and bumping the minimum wage across the board to $15 per hour would have negative consequences rather than positive.

They present the argument against a $15 minimum wage in such a way as to make it appear to be a sudden increase, not incremental over the course of several years, as Bernie Sanders has suggested.

The op-ed also references a single NYTimes opinion piece against a $15 wage, arguing that it would cost too many jobs. Alan B. Kreuger’s assertion that an earned income credit for low-wage workers can combine with a higher minimum wage to the benefit of low-wage workers is simply out of touch with the reality of poverty. Low-wage workers live hand-to-mouth on a daily basis already. Waiting for a tax refund once a year does not improve that situation in the long term. Like Daley, Kreuger served on President Obama’s staff in different capacities from 2009 until 2013.

In contrast to Kreuger’s belief that a $15 minimum wage will wreak havoc on businesses, more than 200 of the nation’s top economists signed an open letter to the Senate Budget Committee, of which Bernie Sanders is currently the ranking member.

“Opponents of minimum wage increases frequently argue that such measures will mean fewer employment opportunities for low-wage workers because businesses will be less willing to hire workers at increase wage level. But the weight of evidence from the extensive professional literature has, for decades, consistently found that no significant effects on employment opportunities result when the minimum wage rises in reasonable increments.”

These economists believe that raising the minimum wage between now and 2020 in incremental steps will not have as drastic effect on businesses as Kreuger claims. In fact, increasing the minimum wage would also increase the buying power of low-wage workers while costs would increase very little. For example, McDonald’s would only have to raise the price of a Big Mac by seven cents to cover the increased wages, while a $15 minimum wage would mean much more buying power than the small price increase it would generate.

Additionally, the 210 economists cite unemployment rates correspondent with high and low minimum wages. In 1968, when minimum wage reached the equivalent of $10.85 (in today’s dollars), unemployment was at only 3.6 percent, whereas in 1982, the unemployment rate reached 10.8 percent with a minimum wage of only $8.22 (in 2015 dollars).

Daley, Cowan and Hatalsky claim that Bernie Sanders’s populist platform is actually a hindrance for the Democratic party. However, one only has to look at one of the greatest presidents in history to see this assertion doesn’t hold water. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was perhaps one of the most populist, socialist presidents our nation has ever had. He was so popular among voters that he was elected four times. Under Roosevelt, our country rose up from the dust of the Great Depression with socialist programs. He proposed and got Social Security, heavier taxes on the wealthy, new controls over banks and public utilities, and an enormous work relief program for the unemployed. All of these things turned the United States economy from one that was foundering into one that was prosperous.

Part Two of this series examines Bernie Sanders’s Social Security proposals, the job market and single payer health care.

[Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty]