My former colleagues on the New York Daily News editorial board sat down with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on April 1 for an illuminating interview. The more I read the transcript, the more it became clear that the candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination doesn’t know much beyond his standard stump speech about breaking up the banks and how he had the good judgment to vote against the Iraq War in 2002.
Nine moments in the Sanders conversation left me agape. From his own plans for breaking up too-big-to-fail banks to how he would handle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to dealing with the Islamic State, the man giving homegirl Hillary Clinton a run for her money seemed surprisingly out of his depth. The bold in the text is mine for emphasis.
1. Breaking up the banks
Daily News: Okay. Well, let’s assume that you’re correct on that point. How do you go about doing [breaking up the banks]?
Sanders: How you go about doing it is having legislation passed, or giving the authority to the secretary of treasury to determine, under Dodd-Frank, that these banks are a danger to the economy over the problem of too-big-to-fail.
Daily News: But do you think that the Fed, now, has that authority?
Sanders: Well, I don’t know if the Fed has it. But I think the administration can have it.
Daily News: How? How does a President turn to JPMorgan Chase, or have the Treasury turn to any of those banks and say, “Now you must do X, Y and Z?”
Sanders: Well, you do have authority under the Dodd-Frank legislation to do that, make that determination.
Daily News: You do, just by Federal Reserve fiat, you do?
Sanders: Yeah. Well, I believe you do.
2. The legal implications of breaking up a financial institution
Daily News: Well, it does depend on how you do it, I believe. And, I’m a little bit confused because just a few minutes ago you said the U.S. President would have authority to order…
Sanders: No, I did not say we would order. I did not say that we would order. The President is not a dictator.
Daily News: Okay. You would then leave it to JPMorgan Chase or the others to figure out how to break it, themselves up. I’m not quite…
Sanders: You would determine is that, if a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. And then you have the secretary of treasury and some people who know a lot about this, making that determination. If the determination is that Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan Chase is too big to fail, yes, they will be broken up.
Daily News: Okay. You saw, I guess, what happened with Metropolitan Life. There was an attempt to bring them under the financial regulatory scheme, and the court said no. And what does that presage for your program?
Sanders: It’s something I have not studied, honestly, the legal implications of that.
3. Prosecuting Wall Street executives for the financial collapse of 2008
Daily News: Okay. But do you have a sense that there is a particular statute or statutes that a prosecutor could have or should have invoked to bring indictments?
Sanders: I suspect that there are. Yes.
Daily News: You believe that? But do you know?
Sanders: I believe that that is the case. Do I have them in front of me, now, legal statutes? No, I don’t. But if I would…yeah, that’s what I believe, yes. When a company pays a $5 billion fine for doing something that’s illegal, yeah, I think we can bring charges against the executives.
Daily News: I’m only pressing because you’ve made it such a central part of your campaign. And I wanted to know what the mechanism would be to accomplish it.
Considering this is the core of his campaign message, Sanders should know all of the points covered in 1, 2 and 3 inside and out. He should have been able to lecture his interrogators into a stupor with his detailed knowledge. Instead, Sanders sounded slightly better than a college student caught off-guard by a surprise test in his best class just before finals.
4. Handling negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians over settlements
Daily News: I was talking about something different, though. Expanding settlements is one thing; coming into office as a President who said as a baseline that you want Israel to pull back settlements, that changes the dynamic in the negotiations, and I’m wondering how far and what you want Israel to do in terms of pulling back.
Sanders: Well, again, you’re asking me a very fair question, and if I had some paper in front of me, I would give you a better answer. But I think if the expansion was illegal, moving into territory that was not their territory, I think withdrawal from those territories is appropriate.
Daily News: And who makes the call about illegality, in your mind?
Sanders: Well, I think that’s based on previous treaties and ideas. I happen to think that those expansions were illegal.
Daily News: Okay, so if we were to find Israeli settlements, so-called settlements, in places that has been designated to be illegal, you would expect Israel to be pulling them back?
Sanders: Israel will make their own decisions. They are a government, an independent nation. But to the degree that they want us to have a positive relationship, I think they’re going to have to improve their relationship with the Palestinians.
5. Looking back at the 2014 conflict between Israelis and Palestinians
Daily News: And I’m going to look at 2014, which was the latest conflict. What should Israel have done instead?
Sanders: You’re asking me now to make not only decisions for the Israeli government but for the Israeli military, and I don’t quite think I’m qualified to make decisions.
6. Israel and war crimes
Daily News: Do you support the Palestinian leadership’s attempt to use the International Criminal Court to litigate some of these issues to establish that, in their view, Israel had committed essentially war crimes?
Daily News: Why not?
Sanders: Why not?
Daily News: Why not, why it…
Sanders: Look, why don’t I support a million things in the world? I’m just telling you that I happen to believe…
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most vexing and vital for the occupant of the Oval Office. It bedeviled Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. And as we learned from Jeffrey Goldberg’s excellent piece on “The Obama Doctrine,” our current president has given up. Solve that foreign policy Rubik’s Cube and you might unleash broader peace on the Middle East. But it requires being able to answer 4, 5 and 6 with finesse, which can’t be done if you “don’t quite think I’m qualified to make decisions.”
7. Dealing with the Islamic State
Daily News: Okay, while we were sitting here, I double-checked the facts. It’s the miracle of the iPhone. My recollection was correct. It was about 2,300, I believe, killed, and 10,000 wounded. President Obama has taken the authority for drone attacks away from the CIA and given it to the U.S. military. Some say that that has caused difficulties in zeroing in on terrorists, their ISIS leaders. Do you believe that he’s got the right policy there?
Sanders: I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is that drones are a modern weapon. When used effectively, when taking out ISIS or terrorist leaders, that’s pretty impressive. When bombing wedding parties of innocent people and killing dozens of them, that is, needless to say, not effective and enormously counterproductive. So whatever the mechanism, whoever is in control of that policy, it has to be refined so that we are killing the people we want to kill and not innocent collateral damage.
Paris was attacked. Istanbul was attacked. Brussels was attacked and is basically a bedroom community for terrorists seeking to destabilize Europe. And several African nations have been terrorized by Islamic State affiliates. That Sanders “[doesn’t] know the answer” to whether the president has the right policy against the Islamic State is unacceptable.
8. Disposition of captured ISIS commanders
Daily News: Okay. American Special Forces recently killed a top ISIS commander, after they’d hoped to capture him. They felt, from what the news reports were, that they had no choice at that. What would you do with a captured ISIS commander?
Sanders: Imprison him.
Daily News: Where?
Sanders: And try to get as much information out of him. If the question leads us to Guantanamo…
Daily News: Well, no, separate and apart from Guantanamo, it could be there, it could be anywhere. Where would a President Sanders imprison, interrogate? What would you do?
Sanders:Actually I haven’t thought about it a whole lot. I suppose, somewhere near the locale where that person was captured. The best location where that individual would be safely secured in a way that we can get information out of him.
“Actually I haven’t thought about it a whole lot”?! C’mon, man! What makes Sanders’s responses to all of these foreign policy questions even more troubling is that he spoke with more clarity and certainty on foreign policy during a speech on March 21.
9. Riding the subway
Daily News: I know you’ve got to go in a second. When was the last time you rode the subway? Are you gonna a campaign in the subway?
Sanders: Actually we rode the subway, Mike, when we were here? About a year ago? But I know how to ride the subways. I’ve been on them once or twice.
Daily News: Do you really? Do you really? How do you ride the subway today?
Sanders: What do you mean, “How do you ride the subway?”
Daily News: How do you get on the subway today?
Sanders: You get a token and you get in.
Daily News: Wrong.
Sanders: You jump over the turnstile.
Daily News: We would like our photographer to be there when you jump over the turnstile.
In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a big deal. This is the Big Apple equivalent of asking a candidate what the price of a gallon of milk is. The answer is supposed to show whether you’re in touch with everyday Americans. Sanders’s answer simply reveals that he hasn’t been on a New York City subway with any regularity since 2003, when the MetroCard took over. As for jumping the turnstile? There’s a reason the Daily News would love a photographer to capture Sanders jumping over one. The attempt would be priceless.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj