For the past several weeks, big guns from Hillary Clinton's policy-wonk hit squad have been firing away at Bernie Sanders' proposals for faster, fairer growth. Promoting themselves as defenders of "responsible arithmetic," four former chief economic advisers to Clinton and Obama published an open letter slamming University of Massachusetts professor Gerald Friedman (himself a Clinton supporter), whose detailed analysis concluded that Sander's numbers were quite credible.
Ordinarily, this would not be much of a news story. But the prospect of their Presidential nomination going to Sanders has so unnerved the Democratic Establishment that its media minions have up kept the attack. A flock of "liberal" pundits piled on -- including Paul Krugman at the New York Times and just about everyone who writes for the Washington Post.
The Clinton/Obama economists denounced Sanders' proposals for single payer health care, universal education and a $15 minimum wage as so "unrealistic... insupportable...and fantastical" that they "undermine the credibility of the progressive economic agenda."
But what is the progressive economic agenda if it is not to provide everyone with high quality affordable health care at a cost of 30 to 50 percent less of GDP? Or to make public higher education as accessible to everyone as is public primary and secondary education? Or to pay the people who clean the floors, flip the hamburgers and work the checkout counters enough to cover the rent and feed their kids?
Sanders' projection that his economic package could accelerate growth is a prime target for Hillary's sharpshooters. "Voodoo... embarrassing...fairy dust," sputtered Krugman. Yet, as Matthew Klein of the Financial Times pointed out, Sanders is simply saying that by the end of his Administration (2024) the trend of US growth could return to where it was before the 2008-9 crash. Sanders may not be able to pull it off, but as Klein concludes, it is certainly plausible. And if that is not a realistic economic goal for Democrats, what claim does the Party have for the votes of the tens of millions of young people stuck in a jobs market of eroding wages and disappearing opportunity?
Sanders' numbers may be a stretch. But he is trying to stretch the Democratic Party's political imagination that has been too long constricted by leaders anxious to accommodate themselves to the Wall Street noose tightening around the neck of working Americans.
His program is not being attacked because of fear that he is endangering the "progressive economic agenda." Rather it is being attacked out of fear that he actually believes in it, thus exposing the cynicism behind the Democratic elites' showy concern for the poor and middle class that hides the shallowness of their commitment.
How else can you account for their intellectual defenders' venom against Sanders? And the childish mockery? Austen Goolsbee, Obama's economist and one of the gang of four, giggles to the press that Sander's ideas are like "magic flying puppies with winning Lotto tickets tied to their collars." How's that for gown-up responsible arithmetic?
Krugman assures us that, of course, he is "for" a large expansion in the social safety net. "But the problem with such a move" he writes, " is that it would probably [sic] create many losers as well as winners - a substantial number of Americans, mainly in the upper middle class, who would end up paying more in additional taxes than they would gain in enhanced benefits." In other words, Krugman, as it was once said of liberal Republicans, is "for" social justice, just so long as it doesn't actually cost someone money.
The Democratic Party has occupied the White House for 16 of the last 24 years. Over that time its policies have not only not halted the concentration of income and wealth at the top, they have made it worse.
Bill Clinton campaigned in 1992 on a theme that Americans were working harder for less. But once in office, he promoted, and his economists rationalized, trade deals that empowered US corporations to export millions of jobs and suppress wages. The Clintons stood aside indifferently as Big Business launched its war against labor, refusing to fight for legislation - even when the Democrats had a majority in Congress - to stop the erosion of collective bargaining. They deregulated Wall Street, unleashing the speculative binge that crashed the economy in 2008-09. Their "tough love" welfare reform made life even tougher for the very poor. And they happily adopted the Reaganite railings against Big Government to facilitate the privatization and subsequent demoralization of the civilian public sector.
When Liberals occasionally pushed back, Clinton protested that he really felt their pain, but lacked the "crisis" that would have allowed him to overcome conservatives' resistance to progressive change.
Barack Obama had the crisis - the worst since 1929. Like Clinton, he had campaigned as the people's champion against the financial elites, who by the time he assumed office were thoroughly discredited and desperate for Big Government to save them. Obama had all the high cards. Yet, advised by the same fierce defenders of "responsible arithmetic" who had advised Clinton, he caved in to Wall Street, the Republicans base, while getting little or nothing for the rank-and-file Democrats on Main Street.
Yes, things probably would have been even worse had the Republicans won those elections. But, for the enablers and rationalizers of this sorry record to be attacking Bernie Sanders as endangering "the progressive economic agenda" takes the chutzpah of the well-fed professional classes to a new level.
So here we are again: Hillary Clinton is next up in the line of Democrats who campaign "populist" in the primary, slide in just to the left of the Republicans in the general election, and once elected, bring in Wall Street to run the country. As always, there are plenty of ambitious economists with prestigious PhD's eager to use the tools of their trade to justify this charade. Why not? The rewards are substantial: among the economists parading their passion for the progressive agenda we find Clinton's chief adviser Laura Tyson - Board member of Morgan-Stanley, AT&T, Eastman-Kodak, and more. Goolsbee - who held the same job under Obama - is now partner in a prominent firm of advisers to multinational corporations.
Meanwhile, the working people whose votes provided these "liberals" with their ladder of upward mobility are expected to get along as best they can. So the 20-Somethings are waiting on tables, walking dogs and driving for Uber as they watch themselves turn to debt-ridden 30- and 40- Somethings with no future. Faced with the sticker-shock of skyrocketing insurance company deductibles under Obamacare, the message they take away from the Democrats is: "Be grateful for what you have. Shut up and lower your expectations."
Sanders' campaign is about raising expectations to the point where people won't put up with this debasement of democracy any more. Such a concept is, of course, well over the head of cynical bean counters whose arithmetic -- sadly, of course, even at times tearfully -- always sums to the same political conclusion: there is really not much you can do about who gets the beans.
They are therefore likely to remain clueless as to why an uncharismatic rumbled Vermont socialist from Brooklyn could be causing their Hillary such fits on the way to her coronation.
As the character in one of Oscar Wilde's plays famously put it, a cynic is one "who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."