I watched the Democratic debate last night. In almost every way, it was the same as the last Democratic debate, which was pretty similar to the Democratic debate that came before that. I find that sort of comforting. It means the candidates are mostly consistent.
The only real difference last night? Bernie’s poll numbers. He’s clearly gaining momentum. Which is mostly a good thing. Why mostly? I’m glad you asked.
Buddhists have a saying — they have a lot of sayings. So do the Irish, for that matter, they’re a grand folk for the sayings, and the Irish Buddhists, those people, you just can’t get them to shut the fuck up at all, at all. But this is the saying I’m talking about:
If you meet the Buddha along the road, kill him.
Obviously, that’s not meant to be taken literally. You don’t want to be killing the Buddha. You don’t want to be killing anybody, for that matter, along the road or off it. No, that saying is a metaphor, is what it is. Basically, what it means is this: the Buddha isn’t going to enlighten you. You have to do that on your own. It means the Buddha — any Buddha — is really just another bozo on the bus. Killing the Buddha means killing the idea that somebody — anybody — has all the answers. It means it’s okay to have heroes, but it’s necessary to remember that heroes are just as capable of fucking up as you are.
Why am I nattering on about this stuff? Because I’m feeling the need to say this:
If you meet Bernie Sanders along the road, kill him.
See, you can get by with saying ‘Kill the Buddha’ because folks understand it’s a metaphor. You say ‘Kill Bernie’ and folks get pissed off. I’m saying this, though, because two weeks before the Iowa caucus I’m seeing a lot of this: ‘Only Bernie Sanders is telling the truth.’ And ‘Only Bernie Sanders can make meaningful change in America.’ And ‘Only Bernie Sanders can beat the Republicans.’ And ‘Only Bernie Sanders understands what Americans really need.’ And ‘Only Bernie Sanders is running a clean campaign.’
Now I need to say something else. I’m almost certainly going to support Bernie Sanders in the Iowa Democratic caucus (I say ‘almost certainly’ because the caucus is still a couple of weeks away and it’s theoretically possible that Bernie might say or do something in those two weeks that will change my mind). I’m going to support him because I’ve been a liberal my entire life and his views more closely resemble my own.
But Bernie is not the Buddha. I’m a pragmatic liberal. As a liberal I love Bernie’s views and ideas, but as a pragmatist I’m aware that some of his ideas just aren’t feasible. They just aren’t going to happen. For example, his healthcare plan.
In concept, it’s brilliant. Health care as a right, and bugger the insurance companies.Who could be against that? I mean, aside from insurance companies, and I’m of the opinion they can go fuck themselves in the neck. But how’s he going to actually do that? How’s he going to fund it?
Bernie’s plan requires the individual states to end their current ACA exchanges AND all private health insurance. It then requires the federal government to contribute the funding it would have paid to that state under the ACA into what he calls an American Health Security Trust Fund. That fund would then be combined with a new payroll tax on every taxpayer, AND a healthcare tax on folks making a lot of money, AND a surcharge tax on folks making even more money, AND a transaction fee on Wall Street trading.
I’m also troubled by the fact Bernie suggests his plan will end all the wrangling about care and treatment. That just ain’t so. Instead of private insurance companies making decisions about which treatments and procedures are acceptable, you’d have the government making those decisions. There’s still going to be somebody there “Dude, no way we’re going to pay for your acupuncture.” The difference — and yes, it’s a big, meaningful difference — is the decisions won’t be made on the basis of profit. Instead they’ll be made on keeping costs down. But it’ll still means some folks will be denied treatment they want or need.
Again, I love the fundamental idea. A single payer system would improve life for a LOT of U.S. citizens. But I want to know how Bernie’s going to get Congress to go along with all those taxes and fees and surcharges? Obama’s plan was modest in comparison, and we’ve seen how much resistance it’s still getting. I just don’t see any way Bernie can implement his plan unless there’s a radical shift in Congress — which is highly improbable.
Hillary’s health care plan, on the other hand, is basically just a series of incremental improvements and expansions on the existing ACA. That’s a good thing, to be sure, but it’s not the sweeping change that Bernie promises. I’d much rather see Bernie’s plan put into place, but I think her plan has a better chance of actually being implemented.
I think there’s a decent chance Bernie can win the nomination, and if he does I think there’s a very good chance he’d be elected. But as a pragmatic liberal it’s important for me to acknowledge that President Sanders won’t be able to do all the things he wants to do. He won’t be able to create a single payer health care system. He won’t be able to break up the big banks (and, in fact, his ‘plan’ to do so isn’t really a plan at all — it’s the concept of a plan).
So if I think Hillary’s plan is more feasible, and if I don’t think there’s any way Bernie can actually do the things he wants to do, why am I supporting Bernie instead of Hillary?
Because he’s arguing in favor of values rather than policies. I support him because he wants to do those things. I’m supporting Bernie despite the fact that I’m a pragmatic liberal. Electing somebody who wants to make those changes might be a step in the direction of creating an electorate more willing to elect a Congress that would make those chances possible.
As a pragmatic liberal, I believe Hillary has a better chance to implement her plans and incrementally improve life for most Americans. As a pragmatic liberal, I think she’s likely to do better in the general election.
But I support Bernie because it’s really hard to kill the Buddha.
Editorial Note: If Bernie doesn’t get the nomination, I’ll happily support Hillary. I like her. Her incrementalist approach to policy won’t create any sweeping change, but even small improvements are worthwhile. And she consistently addresses local issues that get ignored in a national campaign. Perhaps the very best part of the debate last night was when Hillary, in her closing statement, brought up the appalling situation of Flint, Michigan.