Author Archives: Ben Spielberg

Anyone but Trump? Weighing Three Approaches for Social Justice Advocates in 2020

Now that Bernie Sanders has suspended his presidential campaign, his supporters are faced with an important question: how to best move forward given bad (Joe Biden) and worse (Donald Trump) options for president. Our goal? Helping millions of people in need through implementation of the platform that Sanders continues to fight for and Biden opposes: Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, wealth taxes on the billionaire class, decarceration, peaceful foreign policy, inclusive immigration policy, and more.

Whether or not these policies become reality is dependent on much more than presidential politics. Congressional elections will have an important impact, as will state and local elections. Building the strength of the labor movement is a must. So is the growth of independent alternatives to corporate media. Social justice advocates must continue to organize, wage effective issue campaigns, re-envision Democratic institutions, and increase the membership of promising grassroots organizations that have begun to wield power, including the Democratic Socialists of America and the Sunrise Movement.

But presidential politics still matter, and while no progressive-minded person would consider voting for Trump, there are three distinct presidential election strategies social justice advocates may embrace. Those strategies, along with their pros and cons, are summarized below.

No matter how we weigh any individual strategy’s tradeoffs, it is essential to understand its rationale and stand in solidarity with social justice advocates who pursue it. Attacking each other over strategic disagreements only undermines our common agenda; there is much more that unites people who supported Sanders (or Elizabeth Warren, for that matter) in the primary than that divides us.

Vote Blue No Matter Who

This strategy, embraced by Sanders himself, centers the threat posed by a potential second term for Trump. Sanders, like many of his supporters, maintained since he entered the race that he would ultimately support any Democratic nominee – no matter who it was – because of the importance of defeating the man he believes to be “the most dangerous president in the modern history of our country.”

It’s not hard to understand the rationale for this strategy: Trump, beyond his bigoted rhetoric, disgusting personal conduct, and disregard for political norms, has pursued the standard GOP policy playbook while in office. His administration has worked to gut labor laws, oppress immigrants, roll back environmental regulations, and chip away at the Affordable Care Act. He has appointed a plethora of privilege-defending judges to the federal bench, including two on the Supreme Court. Trump has also flouted the emoluments clause of the Constitution, using his presidency to personally enrich himself and his family, and seriously bungled America’s response to the coronavirus.

Social-justice-minded proponents of this strategy acknowledge that Biden has a long history of condoning millions of people’s oppression. They don’t deny that, over the course of his career, Biden has stymied school integration, helped engineer mass incarceration, worked to deregulate the financial industry, spread racist stereotypes used to deprive poor people of cash assistance, voted against LGBTQ equality, championed the Iraq War, fought reproductive rights, enabled abuses of immigrants, and fomented deficit panic. They recognize that Biden frequently lies, has been accused of sexual assault, and vehemently opposes urgently needed policy, like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, that would threaten the profits of his corporate donors. But while that may be true, vote-blue-no-matter-who proponents point out, Biden would surely appoint Supreme Court justices better than Brett Kavanaugh. He also surely wouldn’t use a pandemic as cover for helping employers bust unions. In the short run, social justice advocates will undoubtedly have a better chance of successfully pushing their agenda – and preventing as much of the serious harm a president can cause as possible – with Biden than with Trump in the White House.

Still, there is a clear downside to pledging unconditional support for the eventual Democratic nominee: it deprives social justice advocates of considerable long-term power. If Democratic party leaders and their allies in the media know you will support a Democrat in the end no matter who that Democrat is, what incentive do they have to cover and push the issues and candidates you care about? Isn’t it perfectly logical for party elites to ignore you and the millions of people their policies hurt and cater instead to groups whose support is conditional upon the pursuit of their interests, like corporate America and affluent White suburbanites? The Democratic Party has for decades done just that, relying on social justice advocates’ fears of Republicans instead of actively trying to court social-justice-minded voters.

Refuse to Support Corporate Democrats

The social justice voting bloc is big enough that the Democratic Party cannot beat Republicans without it. If that voting bloc were to uniformly and credibly pledge to withhold support from corporate Democrats like Biden in general elections, less social-justice-oriented Democrats who want to win general elections above all else would have no choice but to support candidates social justice advocates support – like Sanders – in primaries. This strategy is about destroying the electability argument that won Biden and Hillary Clinton the last two Democratic nominations.

To be clear, corporate Democrats’ electability arguments have lacked evidence for years. But they have nonetheless convinced Democratic primary voters, in no small part because their logic makes a certain sense. If the only swing voters are moderates, people who want to win general elections against Republicans would naturally maximize their chances to do so by nominating candidates who appeal to this narrow swing constituency. Social justice advocates who refuse to support corporate Democrats increase their leverage by becoming a swing constituency themselves.

The goal of refusing to support corporate Democrats, in the long run, is to achieve one of two outcomes: pulling the Democratic Party in a social justice direction or creating the conditions for the emergence of a viable third-party alternative to the Democratic Party. For the millions of people who are incarcerated, bombed, deported, and/or mired in poverty due to policies corporate Democrats support when they’re in power, it is crucial that one of these outcomes occurs as quickly as possible. The likelihood of that happening through the strategy of withholding support from corporate Democrats is uncertain, but what is certain is that, all else equal, it is much higher than the likelihood of achieving these long-run objectives through the vote-blue-no-matter-who strategy.

In the short run, withholding support from corporate Democrats does not have the same impact as supporting Republicans; that’s a basic mathematical fact. It does have a real short-term downside, however. Relative to supporting a Democratic nominee, it makes a Republican win – and the four years of increased damage that would come along with it – more likely.

The Wait-and-See Approach

Some Democratic voters have yet to declare whether they will support or refuse to support Biden in November. These voters do not hold as much power to influence Democratic primaries as those who vow never to support corporate Democrats, but when a corporate nominee like Biden emerges from a primary victorious, they are well-positioned to influence that nominee’s agenda.

The successful execution of the wait-and-see strategy involves outlining concessions that Biden must make to earn your support. Perhaps what you ultimately decide will hinge on Biden’s vice presidential choice; maybe it will be based on who he commits to put in his cabinet or his shortlist for potential Supreme Court nominees. Anything you care about is potentially on the table. 

There are tradeoffs involved in figuring out how to approach this negotiation. Ask for rhetorical overtures without staffing commitments and you’re essentially deciding to vote blue no matter who. Insist on Nina Turner as Vice President, Naomi Klein as Energy Secretary, and Rashida Tlaib as Secretary of State and you’re effectively refusing to vote for Biden. Demand Pedro Noguera as Education Secretary, Lori Wallach as Trade Representative, and Matthew Desmond as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and maybe you have a shot at getting it.

Because the wait-and-see approach can apply to fundraising, voter outreach, and other forms of activity in addition to votes, it is not mutually exclusive to voting blue no matter who or refusing to support corporate Democrats. Someone who has already committed to voting for Biden may only donate or phonebank under certain conditions. Likewise, the frequency and intensity with which Biden is critiqued by people refusing to vote for him may change in response to who he selects as his vice president or promises to appoint to key positions. In addition, these strategies complement each other. People who refuse to vote for corporate Democrats stretch the Overton Window, making other social justice advocates seem less radical in comparison. The potential to bring other social justice advocates along is the carrot that vote-blue-no-matter-who proponents offer the Democratic Party in internal negotiations, while the potential to pull other social justice advocates away is the external stick wielded by those who refuse to pledge unconditional support to the party’s corporate Establishment.

Debate the Strategies, Unite Around Goals

Vigorous debate about how to weigh the pros and cons of each of the above strategies and when to engage which strategy is healthy; joining corporate Democrats in pillorying Sanders supporters who adopt different general election strategies is not. If we are to be successful in achieving the Sanders movement’s central aim – improving millions of people’s lives through the social justice policies a majority of Americans support – we must remember who our allies are. And no matter who is ultimately elected president, we must continue the down-ballot work, movement building, and on-the-ground activism essential to advancing our shared vision.

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Filed under 2020 Election, Philosophy, US Political System

It’s Not Over

Even before the results in Florida, Arizona, and Illinois started rolling in on Tuesday night, pundits renewed their calls for Bernie Sanders to drop out of the Democratic primary. “It’s over,” the official Slate account tweeted after it became clear that Joe Biden won big victories in Florida and Illinois.

Pundits and Democratic Party operatives typically cite the need to “unite” or focus on “beating Trump” as the reason Sanders should drop out. But these reasons don’t make sense. Sanders has consistently said that beating Trump is his top priority and that he will campaign vigorously for Biden if Biden ends up being the nominee. The two major Democratic candidates are already united and focused in their desire to beat Trump.

The real reason the political and media Establishment want Sanders to drop out is that it’s not actually over. If Biden had this election all wrapped up and thought it was time to “unite,” wouldn’t he be asking his Super PACs to stop mailing anti-Sanders hit pieces to Latino voters? And is it really plausible that Democrats expect Biden to weather an onslaught of advertisements and lies from the Republican Party during the general election but don’t think he can handle relatively mild, accurate critiques of his record from a guy who repeatedly calls him a “decent guy” and “good friend?”

We’re currently in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that has uprooted American life. It highlights the need for the type of fundamental change to American policy that Bernie Sanders has spent his life fighting for, and that large majorities of Democratic voters now support. Joe Biden is also a deeply flawed candidate who is often incoherent and lies all the time. He has spent his career enacting racist, sexist, and classist policy in line with what both Republicans and his donors want. Biden is not quite as bad as Trump, as his campaign likes to remind us, but that’s hardly a compelling reason to vote for him. The more the Democratic electorate sees Biden and Sanders side by side and learns about Biden’s record, Establishment Democrats fear, the less likely they’ll continue to harbor the misconception that Biden is well-equipped to take Trump on and to deal with major crises.

That’s not to say that things look good for Sanders; they most certainly do not. After losing Florida, Arizona, and Illinois, Sanders now trails Biden by approximately 300 delegates. He would need to win in the neighborhood of 60% of the remaining delegates to have a legitimate claim to be the Democratic nominee. Given that he’s currently polling around 35% nationally, amassing 60% of the remaining delegates looks like a very tall order indeed.

At the same time, many millions of people in 23 states, 3 territories, and the District of Columbia still haven’t voted. A whopping 42% of delegates – or 5.5 times the amount by which Biden leads – have yet to be awarded. The next set of primaries isn’t scheduled until April 4, 17 days from now. It’s hard to believe, but 17 days ago, forecasters still gave Sanders and Biden about equal chances of winning the nomination.

In other words, we’re about five minutes into the third quarter of a football game, four games deep in a seven-game series, or halfway through July in a typical Major League Baseball season. Sanders is trailing and Biden is sitting pretty. Yet there’s a reason you play out the game, series, or season. The New England Patriots wouldn’t have won the 2017 Super Bowl if they had stopped playing when Tevin Coleman put the Atlanta Falcons up 28-3 over 6 minutes after the start of the second half. The Cleveland Cavaliers wouldn’t have won the NBA Finals in 2016 if they had thrown in the towel when falling behind Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors 3 games to 1. And the Atlanta Braves wouldn’t have won the NL West in 1993 if they had packed it in when they trailed the San Francisco Giants by 9.5 games on August 7.

The probability that Sanders will win is low and nobody should delude themselves into thinking otherwise. Still, it’s probably higher than the probability the Boston Red Sox were going to win the American League Championship Series when they were down 3-0 to the Yankees in 2004. Baseball fans shouldn’t have called for the Red Sox to drop out then. Fans of democracy shouldn’t call for Sanders to drop out now, either.

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Filed under 2020 Election, Sports

The Wednesday Morning Speech Bernie Should Have Given

Thank you all very much for being here. Let me begin by acknowledging that last night’s results were disappointing. We lost in the largest state up for grabs yesterday, the state of Michigan. We lost in Mississippi, Missouri, and Idaho.

On the other hand, we won in North Dakota and we lead the vote count in the state of Washington, the second-largest state contested yesterday. With 67 percent of the votes having been counted in Washington, we are a few thousand votes on top.

Poll after poll, including exit polls, show that a strong majority of the American people support our progressive agenda. The American people are deeply concerned about the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in this country. The American people want the wealthy and large, profitable corporations to start paying their fair share of taxes. And the American people want a single-payer national health care system that eliminates copays, deductibles, and premiums, guaranteeing health care to everyone in America as a human right.

Joe Biden is opposed to guaranteeing health care as a human right – on television just the other day, he said he might veto a single-payer health care bill if he is elected President and Congress sends it to his desk. This position is unacceptable, especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic we are currently facing. But many Democrats are voting for Joe Biden anyway. Why, you ask? Because they believe he is the safe choice to take on Donald Trump in November.

We need to correct this misconception now, before it is too late. If you want to beat Donald Trump in November, you should vote for me.

I want you to think back to 2016. The same people who are telling you that Joe Biden is the safe choice to take on Donald Trump today were telling you that Hillary Clinton was the safe choice to take on Donald Trump four years ago. We all know how that turned out. Let us not make the same mistake again.

I am the most electable Democrat for two main reasons. First, our campaign continues to win the vast majority of the votes of younger people. Young people’s votes and enthusiasm were a major reason why Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012. Hillary Clinton’s inability to inspire young voters in 2016 was a major reason why she lost that election, and young people also do not trust Joe Biden. You may be committed to voting for either Joe Biden or me in November, but whether we ask them to or not, young progressives – a key constituency we need to beat Trump – can only be expected to knock on doors and vote if I am the nominee.

Why are young progressives uninspired by Joe Biden? It’s because he has been on the wrong side of important fights for decades. I have a 100% pro-choice voting record; Joe Biden has voted over and over again to restrict access to abortion and contraception. When I was in college, I organized to desegregate housing and schools; years later, in the Senate, Joe Biden stood with southern racists and opposed desegregating schools. I’ve fought for free college; Joe Biden helped create the student debt crisis. I opposed the Iraq War; Joe Biden cheered it on. On issue after issue, I’ve been on the right side and Joe Biden has been on the wrong side.

That brings me to the second reason I am the most electable Democrat: I am the polar opposite of Donald Trump. Trump is a pathological liar who is running a corrupt administration. I am recognized even by Republican voters who disagree with my policies for my honesty and integrity.

The contrast will not be so stark with Joe Biden. When Biden points out that Trump has spent his time as President enriching himself and his friends, Trump will point out that Biden’s Wall Street donors got the policies they paid for during Biden’s Senate career. When Biden points out that Trump lies repeatedly, Trump will point out that Biden has plagiarized speeches, fabricated stories, and lied about his record of supporting Social Security cuts. When Biden points out that Trump is a racist and sexist, Trump will point out that Biden was an architect of mass incarceration, advanced racist stereotypes about single mothers, and frequently makes women feel uncomfortable. Even when Biden criticizes Trump for putting kids in cages, Trump will point out that the cages were built and kids first put in them when Biden was Vice President.

Let us be clear: Donald Trump is worse than Joe Biden. But let us also be clear: being better than Donald Trump is not enough. It is not enough for the millions of people who need health care and it is not enough to win an election. Democrats tried it already, in 2016, and we lost. We should not try it again.

So if you live in one of the 26 states that hasn’t voted yet, please tune in to the first one-on-one debate of this campaign on Sunday night. You will see then what you already know now if you’ve seen Joe Biden speak recently or watched my Fox News town hall: in addition to being the only candidate who has fought for you for decades, I am also the candidate best-positioned to defeat Donald Trump.

Donald Trump must be defeated, and I will do everything in my power to make that happen. I hope you will, too, by casting your vote for me in your upcoming primary. Thank you all very much.

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Filed under 2016 Election, 2020 Election

Pro-Choice? Bernie Sanders is the Clear Choice.

On reproductive rights, the records of Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are about as different as Democratic candidates’ records can be. “Biden over 36 years in Congress staked out a reputation as one of the Democratic Party’s most conservative voices on abortion,” as Politico summarized last year. According to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s 2016 review, on the other hand, “There’s no question: Senator Bernie Sanders has a strong record on reproductive rights.”

Here’s how Politico elaborates on Joe Biden’s record:

For decades, [Joe Biden] opposed late-term and so-called partial birth abortions, lamenting that one ban enacted in the 1990s did not go far enough. He supported Republican presidents’ prohibitions on funding for groups that promote abortions overseas, and backed legislation that would have allowed states to overturn Roe v. Wade. He even fought unsuccessfully to widen religious groups’ exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for birth control coverage…

In public statements, interviews and recently resurfaced videos, Biden said he believed that “abortion is wrong from the moment of conception,” and said he doesn’t “view abortion as a choice and a right” but rather “always a tragedy.” He also said he did not believe that “a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.”

Biden voted for the adoption of the Hyde Amendment in the 1970s and later opposed efforts to make exemptions and fund abortions for women who were victims of rape or incest.

He held that position until [the late spring of 2019, after he began his 2020 presidential campaign.]

Here’s how the Planned Parenthood Action Fund elaborates on Bernie Sanders’s record:

Sanders Has a 100% Voting Record on the Action Fund Scorecard
When the Action Fund started scoring congressional votes in 1995 (a few years after Sanders began his tenure in Congress), one of the first votes we scored was an amendment to allow over $190 million for family planning projects under Title X. Then-Representative Sanders was a key vote in moving that amendment forward. Throughout his career, he has continued to vote to protect access to safe and legal abortion, as well as federal funding for family planning and health care provided at Planned Parenthood health centers.

Sanders Supports Expanded Access to Birth Control
To this day, Sanders also has reliably and consistently voted to ensure women’s access to the full range of birth control options. During the fight over the Blunt Amendment, which would have allowed employers to opt out of providing insurance coverage of birth control, Sanders gave a speech on the Senate floor voicing his opposition:

“…there is growing anger that members of Congress, mostly men I should add, are trying to roll back the clock on women’s rights… Let me add my strong belief that if the United States Senate had 83 women and 17 men rather than 83 men and 17 women that a bill like this would never even make it to the floor.”

What’s more, he supports the Affordable Care Act, including its mandated coverage for birth control, and co-sponsored a bill that would protect women from bosses who want to block this coverage from them…

Sanders [also] signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court advocating against the Hobby Lobby’s decision to deny insurance coverage for contraception to their employees…

Sanders Supports Access to Abortion
To sum-up Sanders’ stance on abortion, just read what he had to say in a 2012 op-ed:

“We are not returning to the days of back-room abortions, when countless women died or were maimed. The decision about abortion must remain a decision for the woman, her family and physician to make, not the government.”

His strong position that we, as a nation, will never go backwards when it comes to access to abortion care is a major reason why Sanders is in our corner.

Sanders has also been a cosponsor of one of the most proactive pieces of legislation that would prevent states from chipping away at abortion access: The Women’s Health Protection Act, introduced in 2015 and 2013. This act would prevent politicians from passing laws aimed at shutting down health centers by imposing unnecessary building regulations and medical procedures such as mandatory ultrasounds — which have the sole intent of shaming women and making it harder for them to access safe, legal abortion…

On the campaign trail, Sanders boldly defended abortion access at the Christian institution Liberty University despite the fact that the university is so conservative that Ted Cruz announced his run for president there…

Sanders Has Stood With Planned Parenthood
The PPAF thanks Sanders for being an unwavering ally of Planned Parenthood patients and consistently voting in favor of protecting patients who rely on federal funds to access birth control, cancer screenings, and other basic health care at Planned Parenthood health centers.

If Bernie Sanders is elected, pro-choice women can feel confident he’ll have their backs. If Joe Biden is elected, regardless of what he says during campaign season, pro-choice women will have a lot of reasons to worry.

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Filed under 2020 Election, Health Care and Medicine

Progressive Democrats Beat Electoral Expectations in Competitive House Races in 2018

At the Democratic debate in South Carolina on February 25, Pete Buttigieg asserted that “the people who actually turned the House blue, 40 Democrats, …are running away from [Bernie Sanders’s] platform as fast as they possibly can.” He wasn’t wrong – the vast majority of Democrats elected in swing districts in the Democratic wave of 2018, like Buttigieg, oppose Medicare for All, free college for all, and other social justice policies that Sanders supports. Along with anti-Sanders pundits and Republican strategists, they contend that the Sanders agenda is an electoral death sentence, that candidates who embrace social justice policy cannot win in contested House races.

Their argument doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, however, and not just because corporate Democrats got thrashed by Republicans all over the country in the decade prior to 2018. The evidence from the 2018 elections in the House also fails to support Buttigieg’s electoral thesis, as progressive Democrats in swing districts performed about as well relative to expectations as corporate Democrats did.

Beginning a year-and-a-half in advance of every congressional election, The Cook Political Report publishes a running list of “competitive races” in the House of Representatives. These races may “likely” be won by a Democrat or a Republican, “lean” towards one party or the other, or look like a “toss up.” They change over the course of an election as new information becomes available. Combining the 58 competitive races that The Cook Political Report originally identified in May of 2017 and the 116 they thought were in play on the day before voters finally went to the polls, a total of 124 districts can be considered to have been “swing” districts at some point leading up to the 2018 election.

Under the assumption that endorsements from Justice Democrats and Our Revolution indicate some degree of alignment with Sanders’s social justice agenda, a progressive candidate ran in the Democratic primary in 37 of these districts. Due in no small part to opposition from the Democratic Establishment, which often bankrolled corporate alternatives, only 9 of these progressive candidates advanced to the general election. Every single one of these remaining 9 candidates ran in a district that was projected to be a Republican win. Only 2 of the districts, Nebraska’s 2nd and New York’s 24th, were even considered in play in The Cook Political Report’s original judgment back in May of 2017; the others were all thought to be solidly Republican.

None of these 9 progressive Democrats won the general election. But using the spread between the Republican and Democrat in the district’s 2016 House election and the spread between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election as comparison points, 7 of them outperformed expectations. 2 of them – Ammar Campa-Najjar in California’s 50th district and JD Scholten in Iowa’s 4th district – came extremely close to knocking out incumbent Republicans in overwhelmingly Republican districts (see below). On average, these progressive Democrats outperformed Hillary Clinton by 5 percentage points and the previous Democratic House candidate in their district by 12 percentage points.

The respective numbers for the more corporate Democrats who ran in the remaining swing districts* were slightly higher but statistically indistinguishable: they outperformed Clinton by 7 percentage points and the previous House candidates in their districts by 14 percentage points on average. The subset of corporate Democrats who beat progressive challengers in their primaries fared about the same in the general election, beating Clinton by an average of 5 percentage points and the previous House candidates in their districts by an average of 15 percentage points.

In other words, corporate Democrats didn’t outperform progressive Democrats in the November 2018 elections – there were just way more of them running in more winnable races! If there had been 115 progressive Democrats and 9 corporate Democrats squaring off against Republicans in swing districts rather than 115 corporate Democrats and 9 progressive Democrats, the Democratic Party could very easily have picked up the exact same number of seats.

What makes a district competitive and what makes a candidate progressive are up for debate, of course. Should Richard Ojeda, who supported Bernie Sanders in 2016 and outperformed historical expectations more than any other Democrat running in a swing district, be considered one of the progressives? How about Katie Porter, who supported Medicare for All and is a co-chair of Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign? Is it appropriate to use a more narrow definition of a swing district that excludes areas in which Medicare for All supporters significantly outperformed expectations? Should major gains from the likes of Campa-Najjar be discounted because the Republican incumbent he was running against (Duncan Hunter) was indicted? Should special elections like the one in Montana in 2017 replace 2016 elections as reference points when they’ve occurred? Given that he literally re-registered as a Republican after he flipped New Jersey’s 2nd district blue, can Jeff Van Drew’s big win really be considered a victory for the Democratic Party? These are all reasonable questions to ask and underscore the inherent subjectivity of electability analyses.

At the end of the day, as I wrote back in 2017:

A candidate’s general election viability is ultimately unknowable.  It may depend on her or her opponent’s platform, debating skill, fundraising prowess, personality, or field operation.  It may hinge on the quirks of the community she’s running for office in or how much the media likes her.  It may come down to random chance.  Electability is also often a self-fulfilling prophecy; people commenting on electability and making decisions based on their perceptions of it can actually influence it and do so all the time.

The only thing we can be certain of in the electability space is political strategists’ and pundits’ poor track records.  Many of the people who claim to know what is and isn’t possible in future elections thought Bernie Sanders would barely get 15 percent of the vote in the [2016] Democratic primary.  Many of them were sure that Republicans would never nominate Donald Trump, and once that prediction turned out to be wrong, were still absolutely positive that Trump would never become president.  It’s long past time we viewed their claims with skepticism, especially when there’s evidence that points the other way.

Good policy can sell.  Voters can be persuaded.  Political reality is not something that gets handed to us, but something we help create.  Candidates with economic and social justice platforms can win in purple districts, and they’ll be even more likely to do so if Democratic pundits stop assuming they can’t and start getting behind them.

*Pennsylvania districts had to be excluded from these calculations because the congressional map was redrawn before 2018, making the historical comparison impossible. Texas’s 32nd district, Arizona’s 8th district, and Wisconsin’s 3rd district also had to be excluded from the comparison to the 2016 House election because Democrats did not run a candidate in those districts in 2016 (these three districts were included in the calculated comparison to the 2016 presidential election).

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Filed under 2018 Elections, 2020 Election, US Political System

On Both Politics and Policy, “For All” Beats “For Some”

Medicare for All or Medicare for All Who Want It? Free college for all or free college for just the non-rich? The debate between universal (available to everyone) and means-tested (available only to those who meet certain criteria) programs has defined the Democratic primary. Bernie Sanders, often joined by Elizabeth Warren, argues for universalism, declaring education and health care to be basic human rights. Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and Joe Biden argue against, contending that government resources must be targeted only to those in need, rather than wasted on the rich and/or on those who ostensibly don’t want them.

On the most commonly cited rationale for each position – sustainability for universalists and resource constraints for means testers – proponents of universalism have the upper hand. Medicare and Social Security, two of the United States’s largest, most successful, and most popular programs, are as close to universal as we’ve got. By giving everyone a stake in these programs, proponents argue, their near-universality has insulated them from attack. Bob Greenstein (the President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where I used to work) points out both that these programs have been cut and that their popularity could conceivably be due to the perception that they’re tied to work rather than to their quasi-universal nature, but the Alaska Permanent Fund, a state-level universal program not tied to work, also enjoys overwhelming public support. So do universal programs that aren’t tied to work in other countries – other countries’ universal health care systems, for instance, are way more popular than our means-tested approach. It’s reasonable to expect a universal program to be more sustainable than a means-tested alternative over time.

The Buttigieges of the world counter that universal programs are too expensive; in December, for instance, Buttigieg said they would require “the kind of taxation that economists tell us could hurt the economy.” But even if you reject the notion that government spending can be substantially increased without raising taxes, concerns about higher taxes are entirely without merit. Research has consistently (and predictably) failed to support such concerns, the United States has significantly lower taxes than the rest of the developed world, and scores of reputable economists support tax proposals, like those Sanders and Warren have released, that can fund the universal programs on offer. When Buttigieg says he’d prefer to “save those dollars [that would otherwise be spent on free college] for something else,” he is presenting a false choice. It is only his and others’ political preferences, not actual resource constraints, that stand between us and full funding of all the priorities he listed: education, infrastructure, child care, housing, and health care.

Still, the most compelling case for universal programs isn’t political. It is, ironically, that they’re better at achieving two of means testing’s major goals: helping people in need and doing so efficiently. They reduce stigma, arbitrariness, usage barriers, and administrative costs.

Universal programs help people in need by reducing stigma

Most low-income people work incredibly hard to put roofs over their heads and food on their tables. Yet they’re constantly accused of being unskilled, lazy, good-for-nothing loafers in search of government handouts. Afraid of being perceived that way and/or ashamed of their economic situation, many people who are struggling to get by decide not to access the means-tested benefits to which they’re entitled. They’d rather go hungry than risk someone catching them using food stamps in the checkout line.

Correcting false stereotypes is a top priority, with universal programs a useful complement for improving the experience of people in need. If everyone received SNAP benefits (SNAP, which stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is the contemporary name for the food stamp program), for example, using them would no longer identify someone as low-income. We would thus expect higher rates of SNAP usage among low-income people.

That’s exactly what we’ve seen with the school meals program following the introduction of a program called “community eligibility,” which enables schools and school districts with a certain percentage of low-income students to offer free school meals to all students – regardless of their income levels – free of charge. Research suggests that reduced stigma is at least part of the reason students at schools that have adopted this program are more likely to take advantage of school breakfast and lunch programs.

Universal programs help people in need by eliminating arbitrary cutoffs

For SNAP, the income eligibility threshold is 130% of the poverty line, or about $27,700 annually for a family of three. People who make less than that amount (provided they meet other requirements – SNAP also has an asset test and restrictive eligibility rules for various groups of people including immigrants, individuals aged 18 to 49 who don’t have children, and students) can access benefits; people who make more than that amount cannot. Under Buttigieg’s higher education plan, college is free only for families making less than $100,000 a year (and discounted for families making between $100,000 and $150,000).

Means-tested benefits typically phase out slowly – that is, benefits get gradually smaller as beneficiary income gets higher – to ensure that the sum of pay plus benefits continues to increase when people pass eligibility thresholds. But why shouldn’t a family of three making $30,000 a year get food assistance? Why should $100,001 be the level at which a family starts having to pay for college? Eligibility thresholds in means-tested programs are arbitrary and inevitably create strange, difficult-to-justify divides between people right above and right below them. Universal programs avoid this problem completely by providing the same benefit to everyone.

Universal programs help people in need by reducing usage barriers

Means testing requires some form of testing, as the name implies, to determine whether or not someone is eligible for benefits. Depending on the complexity of a program’s eligibility rules, that testing might require a form of identification, proof of residence, proof of income, or any number of other things. Eligible beneficiaries may need to mail, hand-deliver, or electronically submit one or more forms, which, as Sanders accurately observed during the December debate, “people are sick and tired of filling out.

Filling out forms and proving eligibility is much more than an annoyance for many eligible people in need. Some may not know how to read or write. Some may move and/or change jobs frequently. Some may lack an official ID. The more hoops people have to jump through to access benefits, the fewer eligible people will actually end up receiving benefits.

Government agencies can mitigate this problem with outreach efforts and assistance programs, of course. But even well-administered means-tested programs like SNAP that continue to improve in these areas don’t catch everyone they should, in part because of the access barriers means testing inherently creates – in 2016, the most recent year for which we have data, about 15% of people eligible for SNAP did not participate in the program.

Universal programs improve efficiency by reducing administrative costs

In addition to creating an obstacle for eligible beneficiaries, the complexity introduced by means testing presents a challenge for efficient government. Every form that needs to be filled out has to be processed. Eligibility has to be verified. Complex rules have to be actively managed. Means-tested programs spend a larger share of their money on administrative overhead than universal programs do.

Administrative costs for Social Security, for example, are only 0.7% of total expenses. For SNAP, one of the most efficient and effective means-tested government programs, administrative spending comprises 7.7% of its total budget. Over three-quarters of those administrative costs are “certification-related,” meaning they’re “associated with determining household eligibility.”

To be clear, the overall cost of SNAP and other means-tested programs would be many times higher, even with substantially reduced overhead costs, if they were more universal. Increased overall cost is the only real potential downside of universality. And if one were forced to choose between increasing benefits for people in need and extending benefits to higher-income people who don’t currently receive them, increasing benefits for people in need would be the clearly correct choice.

But as noted above, that choice is a false one. There is no question that the US government has the money to offer increased benefits through universal programs. The only question is whether we will choose to spend it on the worthy goals of helping people in need and improving government efficiency for everyone.

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Filed under 2020 Election, Education, Health Care and Medicine, Poverty and the Justice System, US Political System

SCOOP: Bernie Sanders Raises the Bar for Campaign Employment Practices

“Labor fight roils the Bernie Sanders campaign” began a headline in The Washington Post on Thursday, July 18. In a tweet promoting the story, Post editor Matea Gold wrote: “SCOOP: For years, Bernie Sanders has traveled the country advocating for a $15 per hour minimum wage. His campaign organizers say they aren’t making that much, and they’re using his words to protest for higher wages.”

Refusing to pay your workers less than the $15-an-hour minimum wage you’ve been championing for years would be an unacceptable practice, and anti-Sanders commentators delighted in the Vermont Senator’s alleged hypocrisy. Fortunately for Sanders supporters, however, the headlines were misleading. In fact, both the body of the Post’s original story and subsequent events strongly suggest that the Sanders campaign has the best workplace policies of any presidential campaign in history.

Campaign workers are notoriously underpaid and overworked. Meager salaries, few benefits, long hours, and 7-day work weeks are the norm. Campaign workers also typically have little to no job security. These conditions were the impetus behind the recent formation of the Campaign Workers Guild, which ratified its first-ever contract with Randy Bryce’s congressional campaign in February of 2018. Since then, many other campaigns around the country, both local and national, have unionized as well.

In May of 2019, the Bernie Sanders campaign became the first-ever presidential campaign to sign a union contract. UFCW Local 400, which represents Sanders’s staff, lauded the campaign’s approach to the unionization effort, saying that “Senator Sanders walked the talk on unions,” that the campaign “engaged in good faith bargaining,” and that the overall process “was a model experience in every respect.” According to UFCW Local 400, workplace policies the campaign and union agreed on include:

  • a $15 minimum wage for all campaign staff, including interns
  • fully paid health care benefits for all full-time employees making $36,000 a year or less, with 85% of health care benefits paid for employees making more than that amount
  • four days per month when employees will not need to be on call with “breaks throughout the day, including meal breaks, as well as mandatory time off between particularly long shifts”
  • 20 days of paid vacation for both hourly and salaried employees
  • transparency for both management and consultant compensation with a rule capping management pay at 3 times the amount of the highest salary class in the bargaining unit
  • “robust anti-discrimination provisions as well as comprehensive protections for immigrant and transgender workers,” plus a process for employees to review pay equity
  • “employee-led Labor Committees to address ongoing working conditions and other issues with management”

Soon after negotiations concluded, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir proposed raising field organizer salaries from $36,000 annually to $42,000 annually while extending the expected work week from five days to six days. The union rejected this offer. On July 11, some field organizers raised concerns internally about their hours and their ability to make ends meet. Shakir responded promptly and said changes would need to be negotiated through the union. The union was preparing a proposal and had not yet sent it to the campaign when the Post’s original story broke a week later. A few days after that, on July 22, the campaign and union agreed to the salary and work week Shakir originally proposed while raising the salary threshold for which the campaign would cover the full costs of employee health care premiums (the Post reported that the union rejected the initial offer over concerns about higher-salaried workers paying a portion of their own health care costs).

That’s the entire story. Reporters and pundits gleefully blasting Sanders’s integrity are seizing on how employees made their appeal for higher wages – by saying their salaries come out to less than $15 an hour if you factor in the extra hours they’ve been working and appealing to Sanders’s pro-worker rhetoric – rather than what the union says actually happened: the campaign negotiated a historically labor-friendly contract in partnership with workers and then agreed, per that contract, to renegotiate provisions in response to worker concerns. When originally contacted about the Post’s story, UFCW Local 400 said “the Bernie 2020 campaign staff have access to myriad protections and benefits secured by their one-of-a-kind union contract, including many internal avenues to democratically address any number of ongoing workplace issues, including changes to pay, benefits, and other working conditions.” After the deal, worker representatives reiterated that “the campaign staff and management have engaged in this process in good faith and to achieve a mutually agreed upon outcome…This is what democracy in the workplace looks like.”

The new agreement deserves praise. $42,000 a year is still not that much money, but that salary for a 50-hour work week – when combined with 4 “blackout” days per month, 20 days of paid vacation, and fully paid health care – blows the typical campaign compensation package out of the water. Factor in the contract’s robust anti-discrimination, pay transparency, and pay equity provisions and it’s easy to see why UFCW Local 400 believes Sanders “walk[s] the talk.”

The headline writers and Twitter commentariat, on the other hand, deserve rebuke. As Daniel Marans reported, union members reacted with “a mix of anger and bewilderment” both about the leaked details of negotiations and the way those details were framed. Staff were involved in “seemingly amicable negotiations with management,” not the “labor fight” trumpeted by the Post’s headline.

Perhaps, if there’s one potential positive to it, the misleading reporting on this issue will build on Sanders’s leadership by pressuring other presidential campaigns to be more pro-worker. Besides Sanders, only Julián Castro and Elizabeth Warren have unionized staffs and neither campaign has a contract yet. The Post reports that Warren and Pete Buttigieg pay their field organizers the same amount as Sanders and that Beto O’Rourke and Joe Biden pay more, but while the Post contends these campaigns “have revealed their compensation structure for field organizers,” the paper did not try or was unable to ascertain at least some key relevant details about hours worked, health care premiums, days off, and/or management-employee pay equity from every single one of these campaigns. What the Post did find out – Biden’s non-union field organizers, for example, pay 20% of their health care premiums and typically work 60-hour weeks – appears to confirm that the Sanders campaign’s compensation package is most generous. Sanders is also the only candidate who currently lists compensation for all job openings on his website, and the Post neglected to report that at least two candidates, Biden and Warren, run what are essentially unpaid internship programs.

To the extent that people are now more aware of and outraged about the conditions campaign workers typically face, that’s also a plus. Unpaid internships need to be a thing of the past, as do 7-day work weeks. Personally, I think you should be excommunicated from the party if you try to run as a Democrat and refuse to recognize a campaign workers union.

But if you’ve read an anti-Sanders headline or tweet and wondered if Sanders is a hypocrite, wonder no more: he’s not. Sanders, who for years was one of the only congresspeople to pay his interns, is every bit the champion of economic justice he purports to be.

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Feel the Bern and Vote for These Philly Judges on Tuesday, May 21

Last Sunday, Bernie Sanders published an op-ed decrying America’s system of criminal punishment for “effectively criminalizing communities of color.” Noting efforts already underway to end cash bail in Philadelphia under the leadership of community organizers and District Attorney Larry Krasner, Sanders urged “the citizens of Philadelphia [to continue this progress and] cast their votes for progressive judicial candidates in this month’s primary election.”

Voters can choose up to 6 of the 28 Democrats running to be a judge in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Knowing that Philly residents compelled by Bernie’s op-ed may be wondering who deserves their vote on May 21, I asked my sister Hannah, who closely follows criminal justice issues and is my moral role model, to provide specific recommendations. Hannah is currently getting her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania. She has extensive knowledge of the Philadelphia court system through both her past job in the public defender’s office and the activism she engages in with a variety of social justice organizations around the city.

Because Philadelphia’s Democratic judge pool leans conservative, there aren’t any candidates Hannah enthusiastically supports. There are, however, three judges she finds good enough to bullet vote for: Anthony Kyriakakis (#19 on the ballot), Tiffany Palmer (#23), and Kay Yu (#27). I have provided brief descriptions of those three candidates below.

Voting recommendations for Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia

#19, Anthony Kyriakakis (5th Ward): A lecturer at Temple Law and Penn Law, Kyriakakis is a private defense attorney and former prosecutor who says incarceration rates are too high, sentences are too long, and defendants are treated unequally along racial, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and class lines. He has been interested in representing low-income defendants since his time with the Harvard Defenders at Harvard Law and volunteers as a pro bono Child Advocate in family court. Campaign website: https://anthonyforjudge.com/

#23, Tiffany Palmer (9th Ward): A daughter of public school teachers, Palmer began her career in 1998 as a public interest lawyer at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights and soon became the organization’s legal director. She co-founded the private family law firm she currently works at in 2003 and has won numerous awards, including being named one of the nation’s “40 Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40” in 2011. She says her “own experience with having her long-term partner treated as a legal stranger has shaped her commitment to fairness, inclusion, and equal treatment under the law.” Campaign website: https://palmerforjudge.com/

#27, Kay Yu (15th Ward): Yu’s own experience as an undocumented immigrant has informed her advocacy for increased ballot access and voting rights. While she is an employer-side lawyer in private practice, she has also chaired the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations for four years and worked to update Philadelphia’s civil rights policy. She won several awards in 2018, including being named Attorney of the Year by the Asian Pacific American Bar Association. Campaign website: https://www.kayforjudge.com/

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Filed under 2020 Election, Poverty and the Justice System, Race and Religion, US Political System

Boycott the Anti-Worker Surcharge

Workers in the Fight For $15 movement have sparked dozens of minimum wage increases over the past six-and-a-half years. Workers have also won the battle of public opinion: even the majority of Republican voters now support their efforts. But businesses who profit off low wages, particularly those in the food industry, aren’t ready to concede defeat. When they’re not hoodwinking media outlets with an astroturf group that pretends to represent workers’ interests, restaurants are campaigning hard against higher wages at the point of service.

Adding a small surcharge to your bill is one aspect of restaurants’ anti-worker campaign. Those that employ this practice should be boycotted.

What is the surcharge and where might you see it?

The surcharge is an added cost that a business links to pro-worker legislation. It is presented differently in different establishments. Customers who look closely may just see a line item that says “living wage surcharge” or “mandates surcharge” when they get their checks. Some restaurants may put a note about the charge in small font at the bottom of their menus. Others may put up a sign explaining the added costs.

Signs and menu notes often assert the organization’s support for the benefits that ostensibly led to the surcharge. Don’t be fooled. The note, and the charge, are designed to prejudice customers against living wage policies.

How do we know the surcharge is anti-worker?

Consumers don’t like surprising add-ons; when you go somewhere expecting to pay menu price and then end up needing to pay more, you’re usually annoyed. Business owners who put a surcharge on their menus know that and want you to tie your annoyance to legislation that makes them compensate their employees more fairly.

Note that the labor involved in making, selling, and/or serving a product is only one of many factors that influence a product’s price. The cost of purchasing the ingredients or materials needed to make a product matters, as do rent, utilities costs, advertising spending, and a variety of other business expenses. Have you ever seen a “rent increase surcharge” on a menu? How about an “advertising fee?” Since a business owner’s desired profit may be the biggest factor in the prices that business owner sets, the most honest note on a menu would probably be something along the lines of: “The price of this hamburger is $15 because of the lifestyle of Mr. Smith, the owner of this restaurant and four other restaurants in the city, who lives in a $1.5 million house, drives a Porsche, and is looking forward to his three-week stay at a Hawaiian resort this summer.”

That’s not to say it’s necessarily unethical for businesses to raise prices after a minimum wage increase. While minimum wage increases don’t tend to influence prices very much – in part because they can lead to a higher volume of sales (due to increased demand for businesses’ products), efficiency gains (e.g., lower turnover), and/or more equal distributions of wealth within companies (by shifting profits from owners to workers) – it’s reasonable for prices to be one channel through which businesses with small profit margins absorb added costs. But it is both unreasonable and unethical for a business to itemize labor costs and nothing else. When you see a wage surcharge or note tying price increases to wage increases on a menu, what the business is really saying is that, if it weren’t for the law, they’d be paying their workers a more exploitative wage. And that they’re hoping your annoyance about the surprise charge they’ve added will convince you they should be able to do so.

How can you challenge the surcharge?

The next time you see a business embracing this practice, ask to speak to the owner. Explain why their policy is unacceptable and ask them to change it. If they refuse, let them know that you’ll be boycotting their business until they change their mind. Then leave a note in the comments of this post or send a direct message to @BenSpielberg on Twitter to get the business added to the list below.

Update (8/1/19): Effective 7/23/19, Ike’s Love and Sandwiches became the first business to respond to the boycott by removing their surcharge. They have been removed from the list below. Email aizleforhr@loveandsandwiches.com or call 510-309-9909 to let them know that you appreciate them making the right decision and can now resume eating their sandwiches.

Update (1/19/20): Following conversations with Emily Burton and me, Enoteca La Storia in San José has become the second restaurant to remove the surcharge. They have been removed from the list below. Email Joe Cannistraci at joe@joecannistraci.com to let him know that his concern for his workers’ well-being is much appreciated.

Enoteca La Storia
408-618-5455
infosj@enotecalastoria.com, Mike@enotecalastoria.com, miyuki@enotecalastoria.com, joe@joecannistraci.com
Submitted by: Emily Burton

Notes: Emily emailed them and they wrote a long response attempting to justify the policy, saying (among other things) that they felt it was a better solution to their increased labor costs than raising menu prices and that many other restaurants also have this practice. Emily conveyed that the policy attempts to pit customers against workers and that she would be encouraging others not to go there until they changed the practice.

CALIFORNIA RESTAURANTS TO BOYCOTT

San José

Luna Mexican Kitchen
408-320-2654
lunamexicankitchen@gmail.com
Submitted by: Paul Nyhof

Luna

Notes: I emailed management and they never responded.

Treatbot
408-548-7328
info@treatbot.com
Submitted by: Melissa Urbain

Treatbot.jpeg

Notes: I emailed management and they never responded.

Village California Bistro
408-248-9091
john@thevillagebistro.net
Submitted by: Ben Spielberg

Village Bistro

Notes: I emailed management and they never responded.

Zona Rosa
408-275-1411
dine@zonarosasj.com
Submitted by: Ben Spielberg

Zona Rosa

Notes: I emailed management and they never responded.

San Francisco

Greens Restaurant
415-771-6222
info@greensrestaurant.com, min@greensrestaurant.com
Submitted by: Ben Spielberg

Greens

Notes: I had a nice email exchange with Min Kim, their general manager. Min said they support all the pro-worker legislation in San Francisco and said “I do understand your push to include costs in the menu. But, I also do believe you and I would not be having this conversation if it wasn’t separated.” Min indicated interest in discussing the issue further but has not responded to my follow-up emails.

Palo Alto

Local Union 271
650-322-7509
hello@localunion271.com
Submitted by: Ben Spielberg

Local Union 271

Notes: I emailed management and they never responded.

Mayfield Bakery and Café
650-823-9200
info@mayfieldbakery.com, karey@bacchusmanagement.com, tim@bacchusmanagement.com
Submitted by: Ben Spielberg

Mayfield.png

Notes: Founding Partner Tim Stannard wrote to me that “The issue of labor surcharges is a difficult and thorny issue for us…It’s probably too complex to go into in an email, but if you send me your phone number I’d be happy to give you a call to try to explain.” Tim left me a message and said he was interested in chatting about the issue but then stopped returning my emails and follow-up calls.

Oren’s Hummus
408-391-9762
mistie@orenshummus.com
Submitted by: Kate Frelinger

Oren's Hummus

Notes: I emailed Mistie, the President and Owner, and she wrote back an email explaining why they have the surcharge, saying she “encourage[s me] to consider the business owners [sic] perspective in that we do not control the ongoing increases of the additional health care and other costs that are imposed on the business.” She incorrectly contended that the surcharge “is infarct [sic] pro-worker because without denoting these funds to pay for these benefits we would likely have to hire less people or provide a lesser quality of benefit.” When I followed up with an explanation of why her assertions were unfounded, she said she “respectfully need[ed] to decline [my] invitation to speak more on this matter.”

WASHINGTON RESTAURANTS TO BOYCOTT

Check out this comprehensive list from Working Washington.

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Filed under Business, Labor

How Mainstream News Coverage Distorts the Policy, Politics, and Polling on Medicare For All

Jonathan Martin and Abby Goodnough discuss a brewing Democratic Party debate about Medicare For All in The New York Times. Does it mean a single-payer system in which the government covers everyone’s health care costs? Or is it just rhetoric intended to mean “I support a better health care system” without a commitment to challenging insurance industry power?

Martin and Goodnough helpfully note that only one of the five likely 2020 presidential candidates they discuss* is committed to a single-payer system: Bernie Sanders. But their article is also misleading in its discussion of Medicare For All policy, politics, and polling. Their errors are all too common in news articles and anyone wishing to responsibly cover politics over the next few years needs to correct them.

First, when it comes to the policy implications of Medicare For All, Martin and Goodnough characterize single-payer health care as a system “in which many would lose their current insurance options and pay higher taxes.” They fail to mention that the policy replaces people’s “current insurance options” with more expansive coverage that (under Sanders’ plan) eliminates premiums, copays, and deductibles. As pretty much every distributional analysis of proposed single-payer plans show, the vast majority of people will pay substantially less money in taxes plus health care costs under Medicare For All than they currently pay. The omission of these details is akin to implying Martin should have felt “uneasy” about losing his health insurance options and paying higher taxes in 2013 – without mentioning that he was replacing his insurance and making a higher income by moving from Politico to The New York Times.

sanders-tax-and-transfer-distributional-analysis

Similarly, in an attempt to support Michael Bloomberg’s claim that single-payer health care will “bankrupt” America, Martin and Goodnough cite a study from the Mercatus Center that “predicted [Sanders’ plan] would increase federal spending by at least $32.6 trillion over the first decade.” That study also predicted that combined private and public spending on health care in the United States – the most important number in health care cost estimates – would fall by $2 trillion, but Martin and Goodnough don’t mention that fact. As Matt Bruenig has documented extensively, it’s hard to read the numbers in the Mercatus report as anything other than an endorsement of Sanders’ plan.

Mercatus doesn’t want us to read their study that way, which brings us to the second way in which the Times article is misleading. Martin and Goodnough describe Mercatus as the “Mercatus Center of George Mason University,” giving it the imprimatur of impartial academic institution, when Mercatus is in reality a Right-wing think tank funded by the Koch family foundations. This neutral description is inconsistent with how the Times news pages describe other think tanks – they routinely call my old employer, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “liberal” or “liberal-leaning” – and erroneously suggests to the reader that the concerns Mercatus raises come from an objective source.

Martin and Goodnough fail to provide key context for other political opinions, too. They write about how “moderates believe” that Medicare For All will “frighten” an important crop of general election voters, for example, but don’t note that these moderates have been consistently wrong about what voters care about. If there’s any lesson to learn from the 2016 election result, it’s that people’s beliefs about what makes politicians electable should be discounted – especially the beliefs of people who ignored electability evidence the last time around.

Third, Martin and Goodnough cherry-pick the Medicare For All polling data that makes their preferred case. They acknowledge that the term itself “has broad public support,” but they highlight how support for the policy drops “when people hear that it would eliminate insurance companies or that it would require Americans to pay more in taxes.” A result from the same poll that goes unmentioned? That support for the policy rises when people hear that it would “guarantee health insurance as a right for all Americans” or “eliminate all health insurance premiums and reduce out-of-pocket health care costs for most Americans.” Martin and Goodnough also cite a Gallup poll finding that “70 percent of Americans with private insurance rate their coverage as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’” without pointing out that the number jumps to 79 percent for Americans on Medicare or Medicaid.

What Martin and Goodnough get right is that “attitudes [about Medicare For All] swing significantly depending on…the details.” If you tell people that the policy will result in them losing their current insurance, paying higher taxes, and interacting with a bankrupt federal government, they’re less likely to support it. If you tell people the truth, however – that public insurance in the United States is well-liked and more cost-efficient than private insurance, that other countries with Medicare-For-All-type systems spend way less money while covering a much higher percentage of their populations than we do, and that, under a Medicare For All system, all but the richest among us will get better coverage while paying less than they do today – people are fully on board. We need our news media to start telling the truth.

*Update (2/4/19): Thanks to a reader comment, I updated this sentence post-publication to clarify that the Times did not discuss every likely 2020 candidate. Tulsi Gabbard, for example, may also be committed to a true single-payer system.

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Filed under 2020 Election, Health Care and Medicine, Media, US Political System