The offending editorial is here. It says many dumb and stupid things about Bernie Sanders, because Fred Hiatt is offended by Bernie Sanders bringing up issues with which Fred Hiatt does not agree. Its rousing conclusion states that Sanders’ success in the polls so far “merely proves that many progressives like being told everything they want to hear.” Apparently, conservatives are all rationally and calmly coming en masse to the conclusion that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are clear-eyed realists. Shut up, Fred.
Since this is the Washington Post we’re talking about, I’m going to offshore the rest of my analysis to my journalistic hero, Charles Pierce, to finish up the skewering of Mr. Hiatt. Take it away, Brother Pierce. Preach!
It seems that, over at The Washington Post, a once-great newspaper now doing business as an adjunct to the home delivery industry, Fred Hiatt’s Workshop For Ghastly Writing is getting a little run for this editorial in which Bernie Sanders is posed as the Lord Mayor Of Munchkinland. There’s nothing like the scorn of the Church Of The Savvy. To borrow a comparison from the late Molly Ivins, it’s like being gummed by a newt. Folks, leave the snark to the professionals, OK? Anyway, it seems that Fred and his minions find Sanders’ proposals to be unrealistic, an insight now shared by almost every putatively liberal pundit, as well as every gas station attendant between Des Moines and Ottumwa. Let’s look at the argument, shall we?
Mr. Sanders’s tale starts with the bad guys: Wall Street and corporate money. The existence of large banks and lax campaign finance laws explains why working Americans are not thriving, he says, and why the progressive agenda has not advanced. Here is a reality check: Wall Street has already undergone a round of reform, significantly reducing the risks big banks pose to the financial system. The evolution and structure of the world economy, not mere corporate deck-stacking, explained many of the big economic challenges the country still faces. And even with radical campaign finance reform, many Americans and their representatives would still oppose the Sanders agenda.
“The evolution and structure of the world economy” is a nice touch, especially coming from folks with sinecures in places like the editorial boards of once-great newspapers. (Talk to a steelworker.) There’s no human agency involved. Let us say that the idea that the risk of another collapse due to plutocratic shenanigans has been “significantly reduced” is, at the very least, premature. And, because of the nature of our corrupt campaign finance system, the idea that “many Americans” and “their representatives” are on the same page is downright hilarious. The problem with both the international economic forces and the corrupt campaign system is not that “many Americans” are in favor of them. It’s that “many Americans” don’t know what they can do about either one. Which, basically, is the reason that Sanders–and He, Trump–are prospering in the first place.
We move along through some completely predictable deficit hawkery and some Euro-bashing. (The Post loves the austerity imposed on European nations, but is uncomfortable with all that icky national education policy and universal health care.) But then we get to the basic creed of the Church of the Savvy.
Mr. Sanders tops off his narrative with a deus ex machina: He assures Democrats concerned about the political obstacles in the way of his agenda that he will lead a “political revolution” that will help him clear the capital of corruption and influence-peddling. This self-regarding analysis implies 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.
How this makes Sanders different from every other candidate in the field is beyond me. Assuming that the makeup of the Congress remains the same, or even assuming that the Democrats manage to win a razor-thin majority in the Senate, there is no indication from recent history that President Hillary Rodham Clinton will be treated any differently than either President Bernie Sanders or the guy who has the job at the moment. She claims that her financial-reform package is tougher than both the existing Dodd-Frank regime and the proposals put forth by Sanders. If we assume that to be the case, then her proposal is as dead as Kelsey’s nuts in the House of Representatives. So, by the way, would be any attempt to use the Affordable Care Act as a stepping-stone to true universal health-care.
Why only Sanders is held to this Procrustean standard of aspirational politics is an interesting question. His proposals may seem a bit blue-sky, but are they really as improbable as Ted Cruz’s promises to roll us back to the Counter-Reformation, or Marco Rubio’s threats to go to war in Iran, or Jeb (!) Bush’s sudden lust for a second Constitutional Convention? Every single Republican candidate is pledged to the death to defend the complete fiction that is supply-side economics. (Even this editorial grudgingly concedes this point, albeit for the purposes of yet another cheap shot at Sanders.) Does this cult-like devotion assume a “national consensus favoring” that agenda? Of course, it does. Because of the way our politics is conducted these days, and because of the unprecedented use of the institutional choke-points in Washington, every presidential campaign is necessarily aspirational. The idea that this is a phenomenon unique to the Sanders campaign is an indication of a very large thumb on the scale.
It merely proves that many progressives like being told everything they want to hear.
Well, that certainly makes “progressives” unique in our politics, unless you count every election ever. I went to a Ted Cruz rally on Wednesday night that had more in common with a tent revival than I was comfortable with. But “progressives” get under Fred’s hide. They keep reminding him that his pet war in Iraq went horribly wrong. They keep reminding him that his beloved crusade to rejigger Social Security and Medicare will impoverish the old and kill the sick. They keep reminding him of the blog’s First Law Of Economics–Fck the deficit. People Got No Jobs.
People Got No Money. And they keep reminding him that he does the Republic no favors when he gives platforms to the likes of Michael Gerson, a pious fraud, and torture-porn enthusiast Marc Thiessen. What Bernie Sanders proposes may be blue-sky stuff, but at least it’s looking at the sky. It’s not the shoe-gazing trudge toward oligarchy with which The Washington Post is comfortable.
I feel like I’ve been through a cathartic release, and I’ve already read the thing like ten times. Man, I love Charles Pierce. I still wanna be him when I grow up. I guess I have to clean up all the entrails on the floor now, don’t I? Well worth it to watch a skilled surgeon butcher the Post editorial wankers.
Somebody find me a bucket and a mop, OK?