And why don't we ever find out?: Do Bernie Sanders' various proposals actually make sense? More specifically, is it possible that they could ever be paid for?
Ron Brownstein has an analysis piece in the Atlantic designed to help people consider those questions. His essay is entitled, The Sixty Trillion Dollar Man. That may give you some idea of where he seems to come down.
In fact, Brownstein's essay runs beneath a double headline. Though we think his essay is very much worth reading, we'd quibble with the second part of the headline:
The Sixty Trillion Dollar ManThat headline criticizes the other candidates for failing to make Sanders explain how he'd cover the cost of his proposals. We'd be more inclined to point a finger at the upper-end press corps itself.
The price of Bernie Sanders’s agenda could be his biggest general-election weakness. But his rivals haven’t yet forced him to explain how he’d cover the full cost.
The Democratic candidates have now engaged in about three million debates. Moderators from the various networks have rarely succeeded in creating a focused discussion of any serious topic.
In part, the cattle-call nature of modern "debates" plays a role in this failure. On Tuesday night in South Carolina, there were still seven (7) candidates—two of whom were only there because they'd bought there way onto the stage—interrupting, cat-calling and changing the subject every time the chance arose.
Given that circumstance, a fair-minded person might pity the poor moderator. But let's consider two (2) questions asked Tuesday night by Gayle King.
Early on, the following question sent three analysts screaming out into the yard:
KING (2/25/20): Vice President Biden, I want to make—I want to bring us to another topic. We're in South Carolina. It's the first primary with a significant black voting population. Your numbers appear to be slipping with black voters. And I'm wondering if you could respond about why that is happening to you at this particular time.Analysts wept! Do we want to see candidates forced to discuss major policy problems, or do we want to see them asked to audition for a role as a cable news pundit?
There's very, very little to gain from asking such a question of any candidate in a seven-hopeful debate. Sadly, four New York Times reporters discuss Biden's answer to this question on this morning's page A3, and none of them displays any sense that questions like this are a pointless waste of time.
(Biden's answer, in a nutshell: "I intend to win in South Carolina, and I will win the African-American vote." His exchange with King on this matter was time we'll never get back.)
The second question we have in mind came in the form of a statement. Fairly late in the debate, King told the candidates this:
KING: I know it goes fast, but a minute-fifteen is really a long time. So we'd ask respectfully if you would all please try to keep to the time.King was referring to the amount of time each candidate was given to answer questions from moderators. A minute and fifteen seconds is really a long time, she said.
In fact, except in the world of modern punditry, a minute-fifteen really isn't a really long time. To wit:
Way back when, Theodore White wrote the iconic campaign book, The Making of the President, 1960. As part of that historic campaign, Candidates Kennedy and Nixon staged the first televised presidential debates.
In his discussion of those debates, White lamented the way the rules of those debates limited the candidates to answers which couldn't exceed two-and-a-half (2.5) minutes in length. White lamented thusly:
WHITE (pages 291-292): [T]here certainly were real differences of philosophy and ideas between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon—yet rarely in American history has there been a political campaign that discussed issues less or clarified them less.Nixon and Kennedy were limited to two-and-a-half minutes at a time. To White, this made it impossible to conduct a real discussion.
The TV debates, in retrospect, were the greatest opportunity for such discussion, but it was an opportunity missed...[S]ince two and a half minutes permit only a snatch of naked thought and a spatter of raw facts, both candidates, whenever caught out on a limb with a thought too heavy for two-minute exploration, a thought seemingly too bold or fresh to be accepted by the conditioned American mind, hastily scuttled back toward center as soon as they had enunciated the thought...
If there was to be any forum for issues, the TV debates should have provided such a forum. Yet they did not; every conceivable problem was raised by the probing imagination of the veteran correspondents who questioned the candidates. But all problems were answered in two-minute snatches...
Today, candidates on crowded stages are told that they're lucky to get 75 seconds. Brief answers are given as crowds of hyenas leap about, interrupting at every turn, changing the subject where possible.
The candidates have been asked about health care at every debate. Has anything of substance ever been nailed down, in even the tiniest way?
With that in mind, do Candidate Sanders' sweeping proposals really make sense? Is there any conceivable way he could pay for his varied proposals?
Isn't it time that someone tried to nail this basic point down? Brownstein is a valuable throwback to an earlier, less fatuous time.