Can Bernie Sanders sell his politics in the South? Don’t bet on it.
New Hampshire’s liberal Democrats had their fun Tuesday, giving Bernie Sanders a resounding victory and something for the political media pack to talk about ahead of the South Carolina primary. But the disconnect between Sanders’ rhetoric and what’s happening in the real economy is remarkable. Best example: Sanders proposes significant income tax increases, while the lawmakers who run North Carolina government started pushing for lower rates on Tuesday. Talkers versus doers?
A savvy friend and keen student of U.S. economics noted some of the key inconsistencies of Sanders’ stump speech that proved so appealing in New England:
- The Vermont senator emphasizes that “nothing has changed since the financial crisis.” In fact, we had the biggest overhaul in financial regulation in many decades, led by liberal Democrats Chris Dodd and Barney Frank. It included establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, extending regulatory reach into many different facets of the financial industry. The bureau employs nearly 1,000 people who are supposed to protect the public from nefarious bankers.
- Sanders complains that “no one has gone to jail” for contributing to the financial crisis. Of course, some financiers have gone to jail. Perhaps, others have not because President Obama’s Department of Justice believes they didn’t have probable cause to prosecute Angelo Mozilo, Ken Lewis, Jamie Dimon and other banking industry kingpins. Does the senator really believe Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder are Wall Street stooges?
- Sanders says the economy doesn’t work for the average Joe or Janie because it is fixed to favor the wealthiest Americans. Lots of evidence suggests that is true; just read the annual Forbes 400 list of richest Americans. The widening income inequality and the explosion in CEO pay are deplorable. (Even some of the most conservative businessmen I know think it is wrong that the CEO of a nonprofit Charlotte-based hospital system was paid more than $6 million in 2015.) Short of storming the gates, the issue is how to balance the scales. Sanders wants to provide free higher education, a step up from Obama’s proposal for free community college tuition, which could improve worker productivity and, eventually, incomes. But one hasn’t seen any groundswell of bipartisan support for Obama’s idea, and one doubts the ruling party in most U.S. states and Congress have any desire to favor Sanders’ much more expensive proposal. Fortunately, in the real word, the most recent jobs report showed that incomes are finally accelerating. Talkers versus doers?
Maybe Sanders can muster the electorate to storm those gates, demanding his flavor of reform. Like the New Hampshire folks favoring the local guy, I remember the euphoria I felt in 1972 when Sen. George McGovern, who lived in an adjoining state to my Minnesota, rallied liberals. And I remember President Nixon’s 49-state victory, including McGovern’s South Dakota.
From the vantage point in the South, a much more politically polarized, diverse and economically vital region than New Hampshire, one suspects his Granite State victory won’t be repeated elsewhere as the public chooses someone offering a more honest, realistic outlook.