Bernie Sanders’ campaign is set to air this new ad in Iowa and New Hampshire that draws a sharp contrast between “two Democratic visions for regulating Wall Street:”
Sanders’ spot describes the two Democratic visions for regulating Wall Street this way:
“One says it’s okay to take millions from big banks and then tell them what to do. My plan: break up the big banks, close the tax loopholes, and make them pay their fair share. Then we can expand health care to all and provide universal college education. Will they like me? No. Will they begin to play by the rules when I’m president? You better believe it.”
Interestingly, the ad doesn’t name Hillary Clinton, with whom Sanders is locked in a very tight battle for both early states. Sanders campaign spokesman Michael Briggs tells Alex Seitz-Wald that the ad is not “directed at Secretary Clinton exclusively.” Briggs adds:
“It’s about people in the Democratic establishment who believe you can take Wall Street’s money and then somehow turn around and rein in the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior. Obviously she is part of the establishment that Wall Street has showered with financial support. Bernie is not. She wants Wall Street and corporate special interests to like her. Bernie does not.”
If this Democratic establishment is being defined by virtue of having taken money from Wall Street, it would of course include Barack Obama and probably a fair number of Democratic Senators who passed the Dodd Frank Wall Street reform bill. And the Sanders campaign probably is talking about all of those people. The Sanders argument is that nothing we’ve seen during the Obama years — and nothing we’ve heard proposed from the Hillary Clinton campaign — comes close to the sort of far-reaching, deep structural changes to the economy that will be required to seriously combat the soaring inequality and wage stagnation of the moment. The Sanders argument is also that such profound change cannot happen as long as the political establishment is beholden to Wall Street by its contributions.
It’s hard to evaluate this claim. Both Paul Krugman and Matthew Yglesias have argued that the differences between Sanders and Clinton are legitimate policy disputes about how best to regulate Wall Street in the broader public interest, with Sanders more focused on breaking up the big banks because they have too much power, and Clinton more focused on regulating the sort of shadow banking that led to the financial crisis. All of which is to say their differences don’t necessarily flow directly from the fact that one takes Wall Street money and the other doesn’t. As Krugman notes, it’s likely that Wall Street would far prefer a GOP president to either President Bernie Sanders or President Hillary Clinton.
And in any case, both Clinton and Sanders have proposed far reaching campaign finance reform to reduce the influence of big money in politics. What we can speculate, however, is that Sanders may be getting considerably more credit from liberal Democratic voters as a reform-minded candidate than Clinton currently is.
One other point about the new Sanders ad: It seems to sidestep one of the major arguments consuming the Democratic candidates at present. You’ll note that it says that making Wall Street pay its “fair share” in taxes will make it possible, among other things, to “expand health care to all.” The campaigns are currently locked in mortal combat over the notion that Sanders’ previous plans for single-payer — and, thus, any future such effort — would have to be paid for by middle class tax hikes. Sanders conceded on Chris Hayes’ show last night that middle class tax hikes might be needed but noted that this might be offset by the fact that beneficiaries of single payer would no longer need to pay premiums. The Clinton camp has been demanding that Sanders release a detailed plan so its overall impact on middle class finances can be evaluated, and more broadly, Clinton has ruled out a middle class tax hike.
All this has angered some writers sympathetic to Sanders, who have argued, plausibly, that it generally goes against progressive values to rule out such a middle class tax hike, because progressives should be prepared to defend the need for new taxes to pay for government programs that are worth it — such as single-payer health care. But Sanders’ new ad seems to suggest that future universal health care as he envisions it could be funded mainly by hiking high end taxes.