Holy Mackerel

The New York Daily News just published the complete transcript of its Editorial Board's meeting with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and it is honestly stunning. There is a lot to talk about in this interview, but I'll just hit three of the things that really stuck out to me.

1. When he's pressed for details on his oft-mentioned proposal to break up the banks, his lack of knowledge about how this would actually be accomplished is stunning.
Daily News: Okay. Well, let's assume that you're correct on that point [that the banks have too much power and need to be disempowered]. How do you go about doing it?

Sanders: How you go about doing it is having legislation passed, or giving the authority to the secretary of treasury to determine, under Dodd-Frank, that these banks are a danger to the economy over the problem of too-big-to-fail.

Daily News: But do you think that the Fed, now, has that authority?

Sanders: Well, I don't know if the Fed has it. But I think the administration can have it.

Daily News: How? How does a President turn to JPMorgan Chase, or have the Treasury turn to any of those banks and say, "Now you must do X, Y, and Z?"

Sanders: Well, you do have authority under the Dodd-Frank legislation to do that, make that determination.

Daily News: You do, just by Federal Reserve fiat, you do?

Sanders: Yeah. Well, I believe you do.

Daily News: So if you look forward, a year, maybe two years, right now you have... JPMorgan has 241,000 employees. About 20,000 of them in New York. $192 billion in net assets. What happens? What do you foresee? What is JPMorgan in year two of...

Sanders: What I foresee is a stronger national economy. And, in fact, a stronger economy in New York State, as well. What I foresee is a financial system which actually makes affordable loans to small and medium-size businesses. Does not live as an island onto themselves concerned about their own profits. And, in fact, creating incredibly complicated financial tools, which have led us into the worst economic recession in the modern history of the United States.

Daily News: I get that point. I'm just looking at the method because, actions have reactions, right? There are pluses and minuses. So, if you push here, you may get an unintended consequence that you don't understand. So, what I'm asking is, how can we understand? If you look at JPMorgan just as an example, or you can do Citibank, or Bank of America. What would it be? What would that institution be? Would there be a consumer bank? Where would the investing go?

Sanders: I'm not running JPMorgan Chase or Citibank.

Daily News: No. But you'd be breaking it up.

Sanders: That's right. And that is their decision as to what they want to do and how they want to reconfigure themselves. That's not my decision.


Daily News: Okay. You saw, I guess, what happened with Metropolitan Life. There was an attempt to bring them under the financial regulatory scheme, and the court said no. And what does that presage for your program?

Sanders: It's something I have not studied, honestly, the legal implications of that.
For much of Sanders' campaign, his critics (myself included) have been asking for details about how, exactly, he's going to accomplish many of the things he wants to do, including breaking up the banks in a way that does not cause a reverberating financial catastrophe. Finally obliged to answer that question, he literally provides nothing but vague suggestions about how it might be accomplished, followed by the breathtaking confession that he has never studied the legal implications of a key case study in precisely the reform he's proposing.

2. Despite having straight-up called his "establishment" line of attacks on Clinton a character assault, he incredulously makes that very line of attack on her again, only to then claim he's not assaulting her character:
Sanders: Look, I will not shock anybody in this room in suggesting what everybody in America knows, that Hillary Clinton is the candidate of the Democratic establishment. Alright, you don't get $15 million from Wall Street by accident. She is an establishment candidate. To my point of view, the terms of her issues and views are far, far preferable to any of the Republican candidates. But I think what she has basically said is, not to expect bold change from her. She talks about incremental change. I think that's a fair statement, is it not?

Alright, I believe that in the midst of the kinds of crises that we face with a disappearing middle class and massive levels of income and wealth inequality, the only major country on earth not guarantee to healthcare to all people, only major country not to provide paid family and medical leave, it is time to get beyond establishment politics. So to put your question in maybe a simpler way, is she a candidate of the establishment? The answer is, of course she is. That does not make her an evil person. I'm not judging her character…

Daily News: I wasn't suggesting that.

Sanders: I know that. But that's all.
Geez, she's just a devil-horned minion of the institutions that are destroying the country, but it's not like I'm judging her character. HOW DARE YOU EVEN SUGGEST IT?!

Again, he wants it both ways. He wants to say the establishment is evil and that Clinton is "an establishment candidate," but then absurdly claim that she's not an evil person and that he's not judging her character. And, weirdly, trying to have it both ways means that he's essentially robbing her of her agency. Because the only way to simultaneously call the establishment of which she's a representative destructive but not call her destructive is to imply she's an unwitting tool.

Which is not what Sanders is doing. He would certainly say he does not regard her that way. But that's what we're left with when he talks out both sides of his mouth about "the establishment" and its candidate Clinton, and about how he's definitely totally for sure not impugning Clinton's character.

The attack on the establishment cannot coexist with a claim not to be personally attacking Clinton when calling her an establishment candidate.

3. I have been repeatedly criticized for dinging Sanders on the idea that he is relying on a movement of millions to not only sweep him, but also a Democratic majority, into office—even as he continues to refuse to do down-ballot fundraising for Democratic Congressional candidates. But I have not imagined his delusions of grandeur, and here he is engaging in them once again:
Sanders: First of all, if I win, it will almost by definition mean that there will be a very large voter turnout. That's what I believe. If there is a very large voter turnout, I think the odds are pretty strong Democrats will regain control of the Senate, do better in the House. Can they win the House? I don't know. But they will do better.

But more importantly, if I win, it will mean that millions of people now want to be involved in the political process in a way that has not previously existed.

I have said many times that Sanders actively exploits ignorance about how politics and the government work—and I have begun to suspect that he himself doesn't totally understand how national politics and the presidency work. This interview, which is honestly one of the most disastrous interviews with a Democratic presidential candidate I have ever read, seems (unfortunately) to confirm my instinct.

He cannot provide details on how he will enact his proposals; he admits he has not studied relevant law; he exhibits aggressive disdain for a candidate who does know these things, and in fact treats her admirable ability to navigate these processes and institutions as a disqualifying feature; and he believes, despite all evidence to the contrary, that he can single-handedly inspire a revolution that will defeat entrenched Republican obstructionism.

This should be very worrying indeed to Sanders supporters, who want and expect Sanders to actually deliver on his promises. The fact is, he can't. He doesn't know how.

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