Our generation loves Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). In most polls, Senator Sanders wins close to 85 percent of democratic voters aged 18 to 29, and around 60 percent of those aged 33 to 44. Sanders has drawn, with striking regularity, crowds of over 100,000 people. I personally felt the energy he and his campaign have capitalized on and fostered when the senator came to speak at Georgetown last semester — I do not think I have ever heard a roar so loud for any speaker before, let alone a 74-year-old, white-haired and balding one.
Through one lens, Sanders’ popularity with our generation makes sense: He preaches a policy-based equality — through single-payer health care, free college education, Wall Street reform and aloof foreign policy — for which our generation cares deeply. He promises to lift the most deeply affected people and communities from the depths of economic strife and a system that is rigged to perpetuate cycles of economic prosperity for the very few at the very top.
But through another, perhaps clearer, lens, Sanders’ popularity with our generation makes very little sense. In fact, it runs completely counter to our generation’s obsession with data, technology and objective answers founded in science and research. Never before have young voters in the United States had more and faster access to information, and we cannot seem to get enough of it; I would point to the dwindling of the liberal arts education as indicative of a trend away from emotional rhetoric and toward purely objective, fact-based rhetoric. And what surprises me is that, for the most part, Sanders’ policies and campaign are unfounded in the data, facts, research and expertise our generation craves; what surprises me is that our generation continually misses the realities of Sanders’ proposals.
Let’s take this step by step.
The political reality of Washington at the moment dampens the chances Sanders’ policies successfully pass; it is hard to imagine a Republican-led Congress, the same one that has tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act more than 60 times, championing single-payer health care. And Sanders’ Congressional legislative record does not give one too much more hope for future legislative successes: Of the 353 bills he has proposed in the past 16 years, only three have become law (two of the three renamed Postal Service offices in Vermont)—that’s a success rate of less than 1 percent. His proposals failed even in 2009 and 2010 when Democrats controlled both Congress and the White House.
Even in the almost alternate universe in which Sanders’ policies make it through Congress, leading economists have stated that the policies wholly lack realistic basis in any form of economics. In a letter written by four former chief economic advisors, and echoed later by Christina Romer and David Romer, the authors state unequivocally, “As much as we wish it were so, no credible economic research supports economic impacts [of Sanders’ policy].”
And while Sanders claims that funding for his many programs will come from higher taxes on the wealthiest individuals, more corporate regulation and a tightening of tax loopholes, there has been almost economic consensus that these policies would require significantly increased taxes for middle- and lower-class America; the tax rate for income less than $250,000 would increase by 8 percent, the marginal tax rate would rise to 58 percent, and after-tax income would fall by 10.56 percent.
When it comes to Wall Street Reform, Sanders’ message has been simple: Break up the big banks and reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act. However, it lacks nuance: He does not address risk fees, a loophole in the Volcker Rule, high-frequency trading, excessive order cancellations, shadow banking, and the carried interest loophole — all addressed in former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s plan.
Finally, Sanders has led the charge against free trade, most materially through the Trans Pacific Partnership. A letter from 13 economists who have led the President’s Council of Economic Advisors — under presidents from Ford to Obama — indicates the overwhelming and resounding disagreement from most economists toward this position.
I think you get the point. On policy after policy, Sanders lacks either nuance, depth or factual basis. Though these shortcomings may not be lies — as his recent criticism of Clinton for taking exorbitant donations from the fossil fuel industry have been — I am blown away by the fact that many voters, particularly research-based, app-centered, and data-driven millennials, have ignored Senator Sanders’ serious factual — shall we say — ambiguities.
In the wake of what is happening in the Republican race, it makes sense that we have not collectively realized the precarious nature of Sanders’ proposals. But as the open letter I referred to before states: “Making such promises runs against [the Democratic 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.”
Isaiah Fleming-Klink is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. Vanguard voices appears every other Friday.