When Bernie Sanders vowed on Monday night to spend lavishly for universal governmental health care — his precise words, televised nationally: “We will raise taxes, yes we will” — I had an immediate acid flashback to Walter Mondale, speaking at the 1984 Democratic Convention.
Mondale, the annointed presidential nominee, said: “Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.” And right there, at that moment, his candidacy was DOA. Because the first rule of American politics is that you never ever tell voters that you will dip into their pockets. This week, Sanders said it anyway — in fact, he has said so repeatedly — and rest assured that if he somehow wins the nomination, the Republican attack machine will market those statements and grind him to dust.
I’ve already argued here that the “socialist” label makes him unelectable. I’m arguing today that the tax hike vow makes him unelectable. If Democrats want to risk another Walter Mondale — or, even worse, another George McGovern — then, by all means, Sanders is their man.
Granted, Mondale and McGovern were slaughtered by incumbents (Presidents Reagan and Nixon), and that the GOP enjoys no such advantage in 2016. Indeed, the GOP is a mess, and its front-running candidates (Trump and Cruz) are loathed and feared by great swaths of the American public. But if there’s any message that would make the Republicans competitive next autumn, any message that would resonate with swing voters, it’s this:
Bernie Sanders wants to tax and spend and put government in charge of your health care, at a cost that would exceed a trillion dollars a year.
That would be a great message if Sanders were running for office in Scandinavia, but if his liberal Democratic fans actually think it will work in America, they’re deluding themselves.
Here’s an analysis of Sanders’ health plan, from last Friday’s New York Times:
“He is proposing a health care plan that would require more than a trillion dollars a year in new, broad-based taxes applying to nearly all Americans who work …. [It] will add $1.38 trillion a year to government spending. There are reasons to think that estimate is optimistically low, but even if it’s correct, it’s still a lot of money. Paying for it would require increasing federal tax receipts by about a third.”
Yup, all Republicans would need to do, in their attack ads, is quote The New York Times.
Sanders said Monday night, and in a recent debate, that we should read the fine print of his “single-payer” government plan; he says that, yeah, taxes will go up, but that people will ultimately save money because health care costs will drop. There are two problems with his assertion:
Voters, who are tax-centric, don’t read the fine print.
He’s vague on how his plan would lower health costs.
Ezra Klein, the left-leaning health care analyst, persuasively argues that Sanders is playing with political dynamite: “Behind Sanders’s calculations, for both how much his plan will cost and how much Americans will benefit, lurk extremely optimistic promises about how much money single-payer will save. And those promises can only come true if the government starts saying no quite a lot — in ways that will make people very, very angry.”
Remember the “death panels” smear? If Sanders is the nominee, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Because, if the aim is to lower health costs, the government would have to decide which treatments are cost-effective … and which are not.
Here’s Klein again:
“Who decides when the government says no? Will there be a cost-effectiveness council, like Britain’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence? …. Sanders implies everything will be covered because he knows how important that question is to people. But everything won’t be covered. So who decides, how do they decide, what gets covered and what doesn’t? Without knowing that, it’s impossible to say whether [his] single-payer system is a good idea or a really, really bad one.”
How easy it would be for the GOP to McGovernize Bernie, simply by quoting liberal analysts. As Paul Starr, co-founder of the left-leaning American Prospect magazine, wrote the other day, “For a change, the right-wing media would not have to make anything up.”
But since we were talking about the cost-containment issue, here’s more from The Times analysis, sheer grist for an attack ad: “If Mr. Sanders’ plan failed to contain costs as much as he projected, it would be significantly more expensive and require significantly more in tax increases than he has proposed.”
It’s nuts to think you can win a presidential election by challenging voters to accept higher taxes and trust in the efficiency of government. That may work with a slice of the Democratic base, but beyond that, it’s political suicide. As Gallup recently reported, 55 percent of Americans think government is “doing too much,” and only 40 percent want it to “do more.”
Hillary Clinton’s incremental approach is far more in sync with the national ‘tude. That’s not an endorsement; that’s just me recognizing reality. But hey, if liberal voters still prefer to pine for purity, go for it. Go ahead and repeat the mistakes of 1968 and 2000.
In the fall of ’68, liberals stayed home in droves on election day because they viewed Democrat Hubert Humphrey as insufficiently antiwar; as a result, Nixon won narrowly and gave us a criminal regime. And in the fall of ’00, liberals who were cool to Al Gore flocked to Ralph Nader; the latter’s 93,000 Florida votes tilted that pivotal state to Bush-Cheney, whose disastrous Middle East policies plague us still.
So the key question, on Iowa and New Hampshire eve, is whether liberals have finally learned their lesson.
Meanwhile, owing to his apparent fear of Megyn Kelly, our tinpot Mussolini says he does not intend to participate in tomorrow night’s GOP debate.
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