Bernie Sanders and the Death of Dreaming

It was really kind of stunning. Over the weekend, Democratic presidential candidate and man most likely to have soup on his tie, Bernie Sanders, released his long-awaited plan for "Medicare for All," a universal, government-run health insurance. Immediately, quite expectedly, the attacks started coming. This time, though, they came from the left, with Ezra Klein at Vox declaring it unfeasible and that Sanders has "raised real concerns about the plausibility of his own ideas." In the New York Times, Paul Krugman declared the plan "a quixotic attempt at a do-over" on health reform. Jonathan Chait pretty much called Sanders's plan dead on arrival, saying, "Sanders's health-care plan uses the kind of magical-realism approach to fiscal policy usually found in Republican budgets."

These are all big-name opinion makers on the left (and, yes, they are all male). And they all have great points to make about the math not adding up, about some projections on budgets and savings seeming too optimistic, and more. But let's be frank: all campaign documents are aspirational. Ask candidate Barack Obama, who went to the mat with Hillary Clinton in 2008 over her belief that any health insurance program would need an individual mandate to force people to buy insurance if they didn't have it through their employer or the government. Clinton was right and Obama had to modify his health care plan,  despite what his campaign documents had said.

Mixed in with the critique of the health care plan is what writers see as a dose of realism. Doesn't Sanders understand that the Congress will never in a million years go for this plan? Doesn't Sanders understand that voters who are angry about Obamacare won't embrace something that gives even more control to the government? Does Bernie not get that the Affordable Care Act was the best that we were ever going to get and we shouldn't even try to go for something bigger and actually universal? Doesn't he know that Republican are hateful jerks and that the greedy medical industrial complex will never allow anything that would break their economic stranglehold on the American economy? Is he even serious about being president?

The Rude Pundit has read all this with a kind of sadness or melancholy or something that's like depression. If you buy this entirely rational and eminently demonstrable line of reasoning, you have pretty much ceded the political landscape to conservatives. You have said that, for the foreseeable future, the primary purposes of a Democratic president will be to nominate decent judges, to have a reasonably sane foreign policy, and to prevent Republicans from screwing over the nation to appease their insane, devolved base. You have given up on dreams, at least in your lifetime, of making the giant leaps forward, the kind of eyes-open optimism that has always driven the left to fight for its causes.

Many of the critiques of Sanders read as throwing in the towel. Instead of offering ways to make what have been traditional Democratic goals workable, to show how a Sanders-like plan could work, the writers are just done with hoping for an equitable and fair future for more Americans. After trying for decades to try to tackle income disparity or poverty or money in politics, it's exhausting to not just continually lose (with an occasional victory), but to see things get worse and worse. If you're feeling particularly cynical, you could call supporting Hillary Clinton "finally growing up." Clinton herself is guilty of pushing this narrative.

So the question the Rude Pundit has for the liberal who wants to dismiss Sanders's ideas: Are you ready to give up that kind of dreaming?

The Rude Pundit doesn't think that he is yet (and neither are a whole lot of people on this side of the track). He is thinking that he'll go for Bernie in the primary because we on the left need to make clear that we believe great changes are still possible, even in this heaving hulk of a nation. He's not an idiot: If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, the Rude Pundit will support her fully. And if you have a problem voting for Clinton in the general, you should probably ask some same-sex married couples or people who are surviving because of the Medicaid expansion what they think of your ideological purity. (Hell, he might even change his mind on Sanders by the time he gets in the voting booth on primary day.)

The point here is not whether you support Hillary or Bernie. Support who you want. O'Malley, even. It's the denigration of those things that we used to want to fight for, that many of us still want to fight for, that's disturbing and, yes, depressing.

(Now, the Rude Pundit thinks that if Sanders is the nominee, he better be good and ready for the GOP attack machine that is coming his way. We used to call "single-payer" health coverage "socialized medicine." We don't because of fear of the word "socialism." It's still got a ton of power all these years after the end of the Soviet Union.)