The Art of Selling the Impossible: The Candidacy of Bernie Sanders

Editor's Note: It's my pleasure to introduce Phil Devlin to the TPV family as our newest guest blogger. Phil is a retired secondary school teacher who lives in Haddam, CT. He taught English, Latin, and history for 34 years and coached swimming, diving, and baseball as well. [I know, what is it with us bringing well rounded, multilingual educators to the forefront?] He also taught journalism and was advisor to the school newspaper for many years. He has been married to his wife, Elizabeth, for 38 years. They have three children and two grandsons.

"We are tired of playing the big game," said an 18-year old supporter of Bernie Sanders the other day in New Hampshire, "We just want things to happen!"
And just how do "things happen" in Washington, D.C.? Upon being elected, will Bernie Sanders wave a magic wand and break up the big banks, institute single payer health care, create tuition free college for all, and impose other policies from his fantasy playbook? Hardly. Though civics is rarely found in schools these days, a basic lesson in civics is in order here. Sanders will have to convince a majority in both houses of Congress of the wisdom of spending tens of trillions more in a nation that is already saddled with a national debt surpassing 19 trillion dollars. How will this happen? Even the most optimistic Democratic handicappers of next fall's elections recognize that the gerrymandered House will remain in Republican control. The House, keep in mind, is where all spending bills must begin.
Since only 1/3rd of the Senate is ever up for re-election at a time, the realistic chances of Democrats taking control there are minimal and clearly would not be enough to thwart Republican filibusters. Furthermore, who is to say that all Democrats would embrace the Sanders agenda? Many conservative and moderate Democrats would not.
Let's see then. What else might Saint Bernie do? Well, since one of the skills of a president has always been an ability to shepherd his legislative proposals through Congress, let us examine "The Bern’s" skill as a legislator. Bernie has been in Congress for over 25 years. During that time period he has proposed nearly 400 bills. Three of them have become laws: (1) Bernie successfully passed a bill to rename a post office in Vermont. (2) Inspired by that success, Bernie passed another bill to rename another post office in Vermont. (3) Bernie passed a bill to increase medical benefits to vets.
Perhaps if Bernie were present for more roll call votes, his ability to legislate might improve. He has missed 118 of 2,852 roll call votes. Maybe missing 4.1% of votes may not seem like much to you, but consider that the median lifetime average for missing roll call votes among the current senators is 1.7%, and you might wonder why his record is nearly 3x worse than his colleagues.
Speaking of absenteeism, it is also well known that Bernie rarely attended Congressional briefings on foreign policy, saying "It is not my thing." Not your thing? Hard to imagine an aspect of being president in the modern world that is not centered on foreign policy.
Sure, Sanders has proposed lots of amendments to bills that became laws, but that is not what presidents do! Presidents propose and shape legislation and get their policies implemented into law, as LBJ did with scores of bills. Want to talk about senators with legislative achievement? How about Ted Kennedy? 300 of his bills became law; plus, he co-sponsored 550 more that became law. At his current rate of legislative success, Bernie Sanders would have to serve 2,500 more years in the Senate to match Kennedy! Hardly encouraging. In his entire 25 year legislative career, Sanders has done nothing of real consequence in either the House or the Senate. Yelling and pounding on a podium might be good theater, but it is a losing legislative strategy.
Let us now consider Bernie's ideological purity as a possible strategy for using his superior moral authority to leverage passage of his legislative proposals. Surely, he would be more effective at this than Hillary Clinton, often referred to by rabid Sanders supporters as that "corporate whore." Or can Bernie claim the high moral ground here? Bernie released his net worth breakdown statement on 8/15/15. His CREF stock account shows his top ten holdings. Number 4 on that list is the Wells Fargo Bank. Do any of you remember the "Wells Fargo Ghetto Scam" of 2009? The U.S. Department of Justice called that incident the 2nd largest housing discrimination event in history. The case is famous for Wells Fargo officers referring to Blacks as "mud people" and to subprime loans as "Ghetto loans." And I thought Bernie didn't like big banks...Why does he invest in a bank with a racist history?
Holding #6 on Bernie's statement happens to be J.P Morgan Chase Bank. Last I heard they still have quite a Wall Street presence. Oh, and company #1 in the Sanders portfolio is Apple; company #9 is Facebook. Both of these companies are known to use Ireland as a means of avoiding American taxes. Legal, but you might think of questionable ethical standards for a purist like Bernie. Heh, but doesn't everyone like money?
Also related to Wall Street in a very strong way is Tad Devine. A high-powered media consultant, Devine is currently serving as a top adviser to the Sanders campaign. Some of you may remember Jon Corzine of New Jersey. Corzine was the CEO of the dreaded Goldman Sachs Company throughout much of the 1990s before he launched his political career both as a senator and a governor of the Garden State. Tad Devine ran Corzine's bid for re-election as governor in 2008 but lost to presidential candidate Chris Christie. Devine's buddy, Corzine, then became CEO of the infamous MF Global in 2011-- one of the prime traders of derivatives. Eventually, MF Global went belly up, having lost hundreds of millions of dollars for its investors. Corzine is still facing significant legal problems from that incident. Devine, however, has moved on to help Sanders. Bottom line? Bernie Sanders apparently has no qualms about hiring high-powered media consultants who have a history of helping Wall Street corporate creeps. Makes you wonder about the hypocrisy of his rants against Wall Street. His initials “BS” somehow seem most appropriate.
Speaking of derivative and credit default swaps, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 1992 deregulated the trading of those risky investments. Historians will tell you that the deregulation of trading derivatives and credit default swaps played a huge role in bringing about the Great Recession of 2008, much more than the repeal of Glass Steagel. By the way, Congressman Bernie "Purer Than the Driven Snow" Sanders voted in favor of the "Commodities Futures Modernization Act."
Just sayin'...
Have you noticed that so far Bernie Sanders has pretty much gotten a pass from the multitude of Republican candidates? This point cannot be overemphasized! Clearly, the strategy is to pillory Hillary. Both she and Obama are the bad guys. Ever wonder why? A strong case can be made that Republicans would absolutely love to have Sanders knock off Clinton and to be the Democratic nominee. Ever hear of "America Rising"? How about "American Crossroads" headed by Karl Rove? Or "Targeted Victory"? All of these are right-leaning PACs who operate on social media. As quoted in a May 15, 2015, NYT article entitled "The Right Baits the Left ToTurn Against Hillary Clinton," Colin Reed, executive director of America Rising, said this: "The idea is to make her life difficult in the primary and challenge her from the left. We don't want her to enter the general election not having been pushed to the left, so if we have opportunities-- creative ways, especially online--to push her to the left, we will do it." Young, internet savvy Republican operatives are feeding lines of attack against Hillary Clinton to rabid Bernie backers under the anonymity of the internet, unwittingly making some of those backers Republican shills. The Times article notes that they actually delight in wearing bracelets emblazoned with "WWEWD"--"What would Elizabeth Warren do"? So far they have been wildly successful in sowing seeds of discord among the Democrats.
Nothing would please Republican strategists more than to have Bernie Sanders served up to them as the Democratic nominee-- an avowed Socialist who wants to raise taxes and whose ability to pass bills can only be described as pathetic. His personal life would come under scrutiny like never before. Left-leaning Vermonters may not care much that Bernie's only biological offspring-- a son born in 1969--was done so out of wedlock, but people in the Bible Belt will. People in Vermont may not care much about Sanders and his current wife honeymooning in the Soviet Union in 1988, but Republican advocates will distort that to no end. How excited will those associated with the military be to know that their potential Commander-in-Chief never served; in fact, he was a conscientious objector. Ever read Bernie's 1972 published essay entitled "Man and a Woman"? Here is how it starts:  "A man goes home and masturbates his typical fantasy. A woman on her knees, a woman tied up, a woman abused. A woman enjoys intercourse with her man — as she fantasizes being raped by 3 men simultaneously. The man and woman get dressed up on Sunday — and go to Church, or maybe to their “revolutionary” political meeting." (If you doubt this, google the title and his last name—you can read the whole thing.) How will that play in Peoria? And there's lots more to that narrative. Can you see Karl Rove high fiveing his internet trolls when they found that one? Uh-huh.
The rabid, shout 'em down element of the Bernie backers are the liberal analogue of the Tea Party: name calling chest thumpers and ranters with simplistic views of the world that strike them as so commonsensical that they cannot understand why everyone else doesn't follow their lead and "make things happen." Like the 18 year old in New Hampshire, you may also be "tired of the big game," but the "big game" is the only game in town "to make things happen" and the Pied Piper of Burlington has yet to show that he knows how to legislate-- that is unless you want your post office renamed. Sanders has more connections to big money than he would like you to believe, more than a few skeletons in his closet that Republicans will pounce upon like red meat, and a Congressional election scenario that will bring the "revolution" to a screeching halt in the very unlikely event that he would even be elected. The bigger issue is that the loss of the White House to Republicans in the 2016 election will complete the circle: They will control the executive and legislative branches and probably get to appoint 3-4 Supreme Court justices to lifetime terms by the time the 2020 elections roll around. Is that what Democrats really want? The traditional definition of “politics” in countless civics books for generations used to be ‘the art of the possible.” The Pied Piper of Burlington is trying to sell Democrats that it ought to be “the art of the impossible.” I’m not buying.

Sourcing: One may verify numbers above by going to LegiStorm, registering for free, and looking up legislators, or in other sources of legislative records.

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The Election

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