Why Bernie is Not the Candidate for Millennials
My first memory as a child is witnessing my parents’ reaction to the news on September 11th, 2001. Growing up, I saw headlines of newspapers detailing massive surges in the numbers of troops in Iraq and unemployed workers in America. My generation and I watched as time and time again, from Hurricane Katrina to the Great Recession, government failed to effectively serve the people.
This is how Millennials grew up. It’s not a coincidence that our generation is so attracted to the apocalyptic stories of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Walking Dead- we have inherited a crumbling planet. We have been constantly, painfully reminded that in many ways, our world is damaged beyond repair. As a collective, we have embraced the narrative that our society is broken and that the fundamentally corrupt, unjust behavior of the government can only be stopped by an insurgence.
It is therefore no surprise that our generation has overwhelmingly rejected Hillary Clinton’s candidacy in support of the democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, a populist promising political revolution. After all, during the period of Millennial maturation, whenever the media, specifically conservative news outlets, was not focused on the grim state of the globe, it was focused on portraying Hillary Clinton as a President Snow- deceptive, unscrupulous, criminal- rather than a Katniss Everdeen. While largely based in myth and usually initiated by Republican Congressional leadership, this unfair narrative has become the truth about Hillary Clinton for young people.
Bernie, in sharp contrast, seems to embody the ideal traits of our generation’s beloved crusader archetype, the defiant revolutionary focused on ending the oppressive, capitalist abuses of society. In many ways, this romantic attraction to Bernie Sanders highlights some of the greatest qualities of our generation. As a candidate who ceaselessly preaches about equality, our support for Sanders reveals our sensitive vigilance to both racial and economic injustice. Additionally, we have successfully demonstrated our incredible capacity to influence the political landscape in America; however, Sanders’ popularity has also revealed a truly disturbing weakness within our generation: our tremendous susceptibility to demagoguery and populism.
The fact of the matter is that Bernie is not the hero that Millennials believe him to be. In truth, in many ways Bernie is exactly the kind of deceptive politician that our generation so vehemently detests. Sanders has effectively inserted himself into the role of the revolutionary in a narrative that our generation embraced long before he rose to national prominence- the problem is, he just doesn’t fit.
As a legislator, the senator from Vermont proved to be astonishingly ineffective, and as a presidential candidate Bernie has consistently demonstrated that he is more focused on the idealism of his rhetoric than practical economic policy details and that he neither knows nor cares about the President’s role as Commander-in-Chief. He is also disturbingly dishonest when speaking of his Democratic opponent, a practice which I believe he has not been sufficiently criticized for due to the deeply rooted sexism in American politics.
To fill the role of the hero of our generation, logic dictates that Bernie should have some kind of a record to show that he has made tangible progressive change in America- real legislation that has changed American lives. Bernie Sanders, however, in his 16 years as a member of the House of Representatives did not sponsor a single bill that was signed into law. As a senator, Sanders sponsored 3 bills that passed, two of which renamed post offices, the other a cost of living adjustment of veterans. Thus, excluding commemorative bills, over his 9 years as a senator Bernie sponsored one bill that was signed into law, averaging 0.11 bills per year, while the mean senator passes 1.4 bills a year. Disturbingly, even when Democrats passed historic liberal legislation when they controlled both houses of Congress and the White House from 2008–2010, Sanders did not sponsor a single bill that became a law.
I understand that many Sanders supporters are not backing the senator because they believe him to be a policy wonk; however, this ineffectiveness is worth serious consideration. If you truly want to promote change, is Bernie Sanders the best leader for the job?
Bernie Sanders’ status as a resolute ideologue has had a major presence in his presidential campaign as well, even when there is almost no credible evidence to support his ideological assertions. Most notably, Bernie has embraced an analysis issued by economist Gerald Friedman which asserted that Sanders’ plan would lead to 3.8 percent unemployment and boost median incomes by $22,000. Shockingly, Friedman also stated that Sanders’ plan, assuming it could even be passed in one of the most gridlocked legislatures of all time, would lead to a sustained GDP growth rate of 5.3%.
To put the ridiculousness of these assertions into perspective, there is no precedent for such growth in modern American history. In fact, no president in almost 50 years has averaged above a 4% GDP growth rate per quarter. In over 60 years there has been no instance in which the unemployment rate has fallen below 4% for any sustained period of time.
Bernie Sanders’ embrace of this analysis isn’t optimistic, it’s downright Panglossian, and it’s been harshly criticized as such. Interestingly, some of the most outspoken critics of Sanders’ plan aren’t right wing news reporters- they’re among the most respected liberal economists and political wonks in America. In an open letter to the senator, four past Democratic Chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers, an agency that provides objective empirical economic research to the President, succinctly stated:
“As much as we wish it were so, no credible economic research supports economic impacts of these magnitudes. Making such promises runs against our party’s best traditions of evidence-based policy making and undermines our reputation as the party of responsible arithmetic. These claims undermine the credibility of the progressive economic agenda and make it that much more difficult to challenge the unrealistic claims made by Republican candidates.”
Sanders’ demonstrated lack of understanding of these policies should additionally alarm anyone who deems the formation of policy, and not just the spirit behind it, important. In his damaging interview with the New York Daily News, when asked if the Federal Reserve has the authority to “break up the banks,” a topic absolutely central to his campaign, Sanders replied:
“Well, I don’t know if the Fed has it. But I think the administration can have it.”
When asked about the legal implications of the recent break up of Metropolitan Life, a major financial institution, on his own program, Sanders replied:
“It’s something I have not studied, honestly, the legal implications of that.”
But at very least, Bernie must have been able to respond to a question about the prosecution of Wall Street executives for the 2008 recession, right? It’s an idea that the senator brings up in almost every speech he has delivered on the campaign trail. When asked, however, “if there is a particular statute or statutes that a prosecutor could have or should have invoked to bring indictments,” Bernie shakily replied:
“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.”
This interview additionally revealed notably perturbing information about Sanders’ complete lack of foreign policy knowledge, not only with regard to the military, but with regard to basic diplomacy. When asked about his diplomatic and military strategies to handle conflicts between Israel and Palestine and with ISIS, Bernie either equivocated or admitted that he flat out did not know the answer to the interviewer’s question. In general, the senator almost never even discusses any other nation besides the United States- almost none of his speeches include the words, “India,” “England,” “Russia,” “China,” or even “Mexico.”
That’s not a mistake- it’s because Bernie does not have any foreign policy experience to talk about. When MSNBC’s Chris Matthew’s asked if he had the necessary experience to handle President Putin, a proven, cunning tactician and diplomat who recently invaded a sovereign nation, Sanders responded, “I took on a lot of people as mayor of Burlington, I think I can stand up to Putin and all the others.”
He actually stated that his experience as mayor of Burlington — a city with about 42,000 residents in the second least populous state in America — qualifies him to take on Vladimir Putin, a man with two decades of foreign policy experience and was named the most powerful man in the world in 2015 by Forbes magazine.
Even the most ardent Bernie supporters must be somewhat alarmed by this. Such a claim so clearly implies a fundamental ignorance to the challenges of serving as Commander-in-Chief to the preeminent military force on the planet and the chief negotiator to the most influential Western nation. He has fiercely criticized Secretary of State Clinton for her vote for the Iraq War, but he has entirely avoided discussing his own weaknesses.
It’s imperative to note that this is not the only area in which Bernie misleads the public with regard to Secretary Clinton. Sanders has frequently criticized Clinton for a speech she gave in which she used the phrase “super-predators” to describe drug dealers while advocating for the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Interestingly, the senator almost never mentions the fact that he not only voted for that crime bill, but that he proudly advocated for it in a speech in Congress in which he said that “there are some people in our society who are horribly violent, who are deeply sick and sociopathic” — rhetoric that sounds eerily similar to the speech Clinton delivered. Defending the vote, Sanders claimed that he voted for the bill because it included an assault weapons ban- a statement that ended up being a lie. An assault weapons ban was included in a Senate version of the bill, not a House version that Bernie voted for.
He also constantly berates Ms. Clinton for her campaign’s acceptance of contributions from Wall Street and her paid speeches delivered to corporate America; however, Sanders has never actually pointed to an instance in which Clinton acted upon those contributions. And if you’re assuming that it’s only logical that a politician would have to act in the interests of Wall Street if he or she is taking money from Wall Street, then you would be very mistaken. During his 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama received millions of dollars from corporations like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Time Warner, and IBM Corp, and then went on to spearhead the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act in 2010. The severe criticism Clinton has received from Sanders and the media in comparison to the almost nonexistent commentary regarding President Obama’s campaign contributors demand that we not only examine our society’s treatment of women in power, but our view of Senator Sanders.
It is perfectly plausible that a voter could know all of this information and still decide that Bernie is the best option for the United States presidency; nonetheless, it is time for the end of the narrative that Bernie is America’s honest politician. Senator Sanders is unequivocally a man of his convictions, but he is also a tactical manipulator that has successfully sold himself as the crusader of the millennial like a Wall Street stock broker sells securities. Millennials are honorable in their search for heroism in politics- but unfortunately, they have to keep looking.