The Washington Post’s Curious Swipe at Bernie Sanders

Robert Borosage

The Washington Post editorial board sniped at Senator Bernie Sanders Thursday morning for pretending to be “an uncorrupted anti-establishment crusader.”

But no shocking revelations followed. The editors didn’t unveil previously hidden Sanders ties to the establishment. They exploded no bombshells about him pocketing millions in backroom deals, or greasing his political races with big contributions from corporate or billionaire donors.

None of that. In fact, the Post editors essentially affirmed, without admission, that Sanders is an “uncorrupted anti-establishment crusader.” Pretty hard not to. A political independent, self-described Democratic socialist who has soared in the polls with a presidential campaign funded completely by millions of small donations while railing against our rigged economy and corrupted political system doesn’t fit comfortably in upholstered suites of establishment Washington. A political leader who has not used his office to amass a personal fortune and won’t leave office to cash in as a high-priced lobbyist is about as “uncorrupted” as you can get.

The Post editors’ complaint isn’t that Sanders is a faux crusader; they just don’t like the crusade. They are unhappy that Sanders has the gall to challenge the revered shibboleths of an establishment that has failed this country.

The Post editors object vehemently to Sanders’ charge that Wall Street and big money – a rigged economy and a corrupted political system – explain “why working Americans are not thriving.” Wall Street, they sniff as a “reality check,” has already “undergone reform,” reducing the risks big banks pose to our economy. The editors apparently accept – again without admission – that Wall Street’s excesses blew up the economy (something they never warned about before the Great Recession) and required reform. They don’t bother to explain why banks that were bailed out and are now bigger, more concentrated and still dangerously interlinked and overleveraged are no longer a threat. They are apparently unimpressed by the ability of big money and corporate lobbies to rig the rules in Washington in everything from taxes to trade to subsidies and more. If they don’t believe their own reporters, they could consult the academic studies that show that money rules in Washington, not majority opinion.

Sanders has it wrong, the Post editors argue; the reason working Americans have gotten shafted is “the evolution and structure of the world economy, not mere corporate deck-stacking.” America’s extreme inequality, the stagnation of wages and decline of the middle class, they suggest, is due to anonymous, remorseless forces – globalization, technology. Acts of nature, really, with unavoidable losers and winners. It just happened.

Nonsense. Globalization is shaped by policy, not by nature. Technological change is always with us. The question of who benefits and who suffers isn’t about the weather. It is a question of power. That is the thrust and strength of the Sanders’ argument. It is also his “reality check”: the old, tired excuses won’t work anymore.

Well, the Post editors sputter, even if there were “radical” campaign finance reform, “many Americans and their representatives would still oppose the Sanders agenda.” No kidding. Sanders is a crusader, but he doesn’t suggest he’ll convert every soul. On issue after issue, however, a growing number are moving his way – only to find the big money and entrenched lobbies stand in the way.

The Post editors criticize Sanders for advocating a Medicare-for-all health care plan that “he admits” requires raising taxes on the middle class. They don’t offer a policy argument, but simply scorn his suggestion of massive savings from moving to a single-payer system, saying cutting out “corporate advertising and overhead” would “only yield so much.”

This, too, is silly. An estimated quarter to a third of health care costs are insurance company overhead, profits and imbedded administrative costs. Saving half of that would yield massive savings. In addition, the prices we pay for products like drugs and services are about twice that of other countries, simply because governments can cut a better deal. Every advanced country that has moved to universal health care pays far less per capita for its health care with better results. Americans aren’t so stupid that we couldn’t figure out how to do the same.

The Post grouses that Sanders doesn’t detail how he would ration health care, without noting that we now ration it by price. Those with the dough get premium care; those without go without, are underinsured, forgo treatment, many hoping to hold on until they get old enough to be eligible for Medicare, America’s single-payer system for the elderly.

The Post editors’ real complaint is that Sanders would raise taxes to provide health care and education and rebuild the country, not to pay down the deficits that are a monomaniacal fixation of the Post editorial board. The Post editors dismiss his argument – and that of virtually every Keynesian economist in the country – that public investment would help generate jobs, economic growth and decrease deficits as a result. This argument isn’t unique to the Sanders campaign. It also happens to reflect the experience of the last years, as the Obama stimulus helped rescue the economy, generate growth and cut the deficits by more than half. With the global economy reeling, the dollar rising and the U.S. economy faltering, the Post editors may well find themselves joining that argument before too long.

The Post editors are aghast that Sanders has the nerve to call for a “political revolution” to help him “clear the capital of corruption and influence peddling.” He’s suggesting, they declaim, “a national consensus favoring his agenda when there is none and ignores the many legitimate checks and balances in the political system that he cannot wish away.”

No, he’s arguing that it is time to forge a political movement that can mobilize a broad majority for fundamental change. He wants to create a new majority and a mandate, not assume it. Whether he can achieve that remains to be seen, but the Post editors wouldn’t be attacking him if they weren’t impressed with the progress he has already made. And without a broad movement demanding change and a political leader backed by a popular mandate, how else will we be able to address the widening Gilded-Age inequality and deadening pressures on America’s working people? The Post editors didn’t say.

The Post editors conclude by dismissing Sanders as “a lot like other politicians.” He has “ideological prejudices.” He commits “politics.” Sanders’ isn’t a minister or a saint. He also isn’t a weather vane, shifting with the currents of opinion. He is a leader who is campaigning for political office. He’s running a campaign independent of big money that frees him to tell harsh truths about the corruptions of our politics and our economy. We can only wish that there were a lot of “other politicians” that were just like him. If we are lucky, his campaign will stimulate a lot of others to follow his path.

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