Dear Democrats, don’t make the mistake we made in Britain, by choosing Bernie Sanders
I like Bernie Sanders. I agree with much of what he stands for: that the influx of big money has corrupted American democracy, the deregulation of Wall St. has only increased inequality, and the rich have only gotten richer while middle class incomes have stagnated. The working class are now even worse off. This isn’t just the case in the United States but also in Great Britain.
But I also think Democrats will be making a huge mistake if they choose him over Hillary Clinton. We already made a similar mistake in Britain and are now paying for it.
Now… you probably think the situation in the United Kingdom and the United States are completely different so this is irrelevant. Well, I’m a keen follower of US politics (I came over in both 2008 and 2012 to volunteer for Obama), and I think there are strong parallels. At least, let me at least explain.
What happened in the UK
In 2010, the UK Labour Party (like the Democrats, but more left-wing) picked as its leader Ed Miliband, who wanted to move away from the centrist platform of Tony Blair and talk about an economy that had stopped working for middle-class Britons. Ed Miliband wasn’t as radical as Bernie Sanders is, but his view that our economic system was broken was the centrepiece of his campaign. He even endorsed Occupy London and criticised the government’s spending cuts.
But Ed Miliband lost the General Election in May 2015. Fairly badly, I should add. For the first time in 30 years the Conservatives managed to increase their share of the vote and seats despite being incumbents. The result was a shock to every political pundit since the polls had predicted a much more positive outcome for Labour.
Now, Miliband wasn’t as radical as Sanders is, and he was a worse communicator without much of the fanatical enthusiasm Sanders has inspired. I accept there are clear differences between the two.
But how the British electorate reacted to Miliband’s pitch could very easily happen to Sanders.
The voter pitch that failed
The Conservatives won the 2015 election because they emphasised competence and steadiness over everything else. Voters may like the idea of a nicer world in the future, but in the short term they want security and stability. They want to be reassured that the person they are voting for has experience, can do the job, and is competent, regardless of where they want to take the country.
Without the assurance of competence they worry their own lives will become more unstable. This is the first area where Miliband failed miserably, and where Sanders will have problems convincing Americans. He has been a fairly fringe Senator for decades, with no major legislative accomplishments he can point to.
The second area is taxes. The Conservatives consistently repeated that Labour would raise their taxes and reduce their standard of living. Of course, it was a lie but it worked because it fed into the sterotype of left-wing types who wanted to raise taxes.
Sanders has the same problem, on a much bigger scale, in case you haven’t noticed. Bernie Sanders is proposing tax increases that are even larger than the Republican tax cuts: a massive $15.3 trillion. Even the progressives at Vox came up with similar numbers.
Now, you can disagree about the details but that misses the point: Republicans will find the biggest possible number they can and repeat it endlessly until Americans get scared. That’s how the politics will play out.
You haven’t heard much about these tax increases because Hillary Clinton doesn’t want to alienate his supporters and the Republicans want to wait to see if he is nominee. If he is, they won’t stop until every American has heard about them.
The Sanders Achilles Heel
And this is the problem. Republicans will relentlessly attack him as an inexperienced radical who would threaten American jobs. Worse, he will raise your taxes sky high, they’ll say. They’ll keep saying that socialism threatens the American economy — forcing Sanders into a defensive mode and reinforcing the narrative he will raise taxes.
The GOP will be aided by corporate America, who may dislike Donald Trump, but will hate Sanders’s plans more. Americans may not care much for corporate America, but they care for their jobs. And it doesn’t matter how facile or self-serving these accusations will be: it will spook people. And his supportwill tumble quickly.
Trump, on the other hand will promise jobs, lower taxes and a desire to get things done. Americans may personally dislike him, but those short- promises will sound enticing. They may even agree with Sanders’s claim that corporate America has become corrupt and it needs fundamental reform, but they will care for their own wallets and jobs more.
This is the lesson from the left in Britain: people care less about utopia than their immediate financial well-being. They like soaring rhetoric and inspiring promises, but the vast majority of voters want competence, above all.
The Labour party failed in 2015 failed in its basic electoral duty: to convince voters it would be competent, in addition to the other promises. Voters wanted to vote for us, but at the last minute, they stuck with a choice that made them feel safer.
When people are scared, they look for someone to protect them and keep them safe. They want someone competent with a proven track record. Sanders is not running on that platform, but Hillary Clinton is.
You may be angry at the system, but its incapable of going through a revolution, if the Democrats lose. Take it from this disillusioned Briton, it’s not worth gambling on your future. Listen to your head, not your heart, because middle America is going to do exactly that.