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Bernie Sanders’s Last Gasp: Tie Revolution to Defeating Coronavirus (Washington Examiner) March 16, 2020

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

Bernie Sanders has now enrolled in the Rahm Emanuel school of public policy: Never let a good crisis go to waste — it’s an opportunity to do things you could not do before. That’s the life preserver Sanders has grabbed onto as his campaign sinks into the depths, seeking to tie his goal of “political revolution” to the coronavirus crisis.

Repeatedly in the Sunday night Democratic debate, Sanders tried to build a link between the coronavirus and our “failed” healthcare system. If we had “Medicare for all,” he claimed, people could be tested and treated. In his next breath, Sanders pointed to the need for an income inequality revolution, which mandates taxing the wealthy much more, so that people could afford to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

The last politician who successfully launched a major political revolution from the crisis of the day was President Franklin Roosevelt, who rolled out his New Deal in the wake of the Great Depression. However, Sanders isn’t Franklin Roosevelt, and this is not the Great Depression.

Actually, Sanders’s and FDR’s revolutionary goals are cut from similar cloths, even if the natures of the crises are quite different. Above all, Roosevelt’s revolutionary New Deal sought security, especially economic security, for the “forgotten man.” Roosevelt not only established Social Security but spoke of the need for the government to take over the economy and guarantee jobs, income, education, and health. He attacked the “economic royalists” on Wall Street who, like Sanders’s big pharmaceutical and oil companies, were making money at the expense of ordinary people. In all this, Sanders’s rhetoric and revolutionary aims are quite similar to Roosevelt’s.

But that’s where the similarities between Roosevelt and Sanders end, in part because this crisis is quite different and also because Sanders’s political gifts come nowhere near those of the masterful Roosevelt.

A viral health crisis that sprang from a province in China is not caused by an American systemic problem. Roosevelt argued that America’s economic and financial systems, which he said needed to transition from an agrarian economy to an industrial one, were part of the cause of the Depression. It was an economic emergency that Roosevelt managed to tie to fundamental problems in the economic system.

Sanders’s only tie between the coronavirus emergency and his call to revolutionize the healthcare system is in the later cure stage, not in the disease’s initial cause. Joe Biden rightly pointed out that a revolution to change the payment and delivery system in healthcare that could not take effect for years doesn’t even address the emergency of the moment. This present crisis must be tackled by national and state emergency powers, as Biden argued, not by a later debate on a healthcare revolution.

Sanders is not Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s leadership wisely called for a comforting and rallying of the public before he turned to revolution. He initiated fireside radio chats to come into people’s living rooms. The most memorable line from his first inaugural address was, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Unfortunately, Sanders looks and sounds like a revolutionary, waving his arms and calling for major change in the heat of a crisis.

A recent CNN poll underscored that what people seek in a crisis is a steady hand, not a revolutionary. The poll showed that 65% of Democratic voters would prefer Biden to handle a major crisis compared to 23% for Sanders. Somehow, Roosevelt had the ability to both reassure people while also, ultimately, leading a political revolution. Unfortunately for Sanders, he appears to drive only in one gear, the hot drive of a revolutionary.

“You say you want a revolution,” the Beatles said in the 1960s. “No, thank you,” say Americans in 2020.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


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