Sanders is Making Liberals Very Nervous

Or perhaps file this under the “Civil War on the Left” series.

With Sanders suddenly appearing a credible threat to Her Ladyship’s coronation, some liberals are openly expressing their worry. Start with Ezra Klein, who trashes Sanders’s advocacy of the Holy Grail of liberalism—single-payer health care, in “Bernie Sanders’s single-payer plan isn’t a plan at all.”

In general, I’m comfortable with higher taxes on the rich — though they’ve risen substantially in the Obama era already — but tax increases of the scale Sanders proposes here would begin to have real economic drawbacks. European countries tend to pay for their health-care systems through more broad-based, economically efficient taxes like VATs; Sanders’s effort to fund a universal health-care system so heavily on the backs of the wealthy would be unprecedented.

All in all, Sanders wants to raise taxes by a bit over a trillion dollars per year — which may not sound like much to those who remember the Obamacare debate, but remember that the numbers that got thrown around for Obamacare were 10-year estimates. Adding inflation, Sanders will be raising taxes by close to $15 trillion when the Congressional Budget Office applies its normal scoring window. . .

In the absence of these kinds of specifics, Sanders has offered a puppies-and-rainbows approach to single-payer — he promises his plan will cover everything while costing the average family almost nothing. This is what Republicans fear liberals truly believe: that they can deliver expansive, unlimited benefits to the vast majority of Americans by stacking increasingly implausible, and economically harmful, taxes on the rich. Sanders is proving them right.

A few days ago, I criticized Hillary Clinton for not leveling with the American people. She seemed, I wrote, “scared to tell voters what she really thinks for fear they’ll disagree.” Here, Sanders shows he doesn’t trust voters either. Rather than making the trade-offs of a single-payer plan clear, he’s obscured them further. In answering Clinton’s criticisms, he’s raised real concerns about the plausibility of his own ideas.

Jeepers, Klein almost sounds like a Republican here. And then there’s Jonathan Chait in New York magazine with “The Case Against Bernie Sanders.” Chait also backs away from single-payer health care. Maybe some liberals actually can learn?

Even those who do share Sanders’s critique of American politics and endorse his platform, though, should have serious doubts about his nomination. Sanders does bring some assets as a potential nominee — his rumpled style connotes authenticity, and his populist forays against Wall Street have appeal beyond the Democratic base. But his self-identification as a socialist poses an enormous obstacle, as Americans respond to “socialism” with overwhelming negativity. Likewise, his support for higher taxes on the middle class — while substantively sensible — also saddles him with a highly unpopular stance. He also has difficulty addressing issues outside his economic populism wheelhouse. . .

Against these liabilities, Sanders offers the left-wing version of a hoary political fantasy: that a more pure candidate can rally the People into a righteous uprising that would unsettle the conventional laws of politics. Versions of this have circulated in both parties for years, having notably inspired the disastrous Goldwater and McGovern campaigns. . .

Sanders has promised to replace Obamacare with a single-payer plan, without having any remotely plausible prospects for doing so. Many advocates of single-payer imagine that only the power of insurance companies stands in their way, but the more imposing obstacles would be reassuring suspicious voters that the change in their insurance (from private to public) would not harm them and — more difficult still — raising the taxes to pay for it. As Sarah Kliff details, Vermont had to abandon hopes of creating its own single-payer plan. If Vermont, one of the most liberal states in America, can’t summon the political willpower for single-payer, it is impossible to imagine the country as a whole doing it. Not surprisingly, Sanders’s health-care plan uses the kind of magical-realism approach to fiscal policy usually found in Republican budgets, conjuring trillions of dollars in savings without defining their source.

Pass the popcorn.