Bernie Sanders sat down with the New York Daily News editorial board last Friday, seeking its endorsement in the upcoming April 19 Empire State primary. It did not go well for the senator from Vermont.
Time and again, when pressed to get beyond his rhetoric on the evils of corporate America and Wall Street, Sanders struggled. Often mightily. (The Daily News published the full transcript of the interview today so you can check it out for yourself.)
A few examples make the point.
Here’s an exchange between the editorial board and Sanders on how, specifically, he would break up the biggest banks in the country:
Daily News: And then, you further said that you expect to break them up within the first year of your administration. What authority do you have to do that? And how would that work? How would you break up JPMorgan Chase?
Sanders: Well, by the way, the idea of breaking up these banks is not an original idea. It’s an idea that some conservatives have also agreed to.
You’ve got head of, I think it’s, the Kansas City Fed, some pretty conservative guys, who understands. Let’s talk about the merit of the issue, and then talk about how we get there. ...
Daily News: Okay. Well, let’s assume that you’re correct on that point. How do you go about doing it?
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.
And this back-and-forth over the consequences of forcing the closure or fundamental reorganization of the big banks:
Daily News: So if you look forward, a year, maybe two years, right now you have ... JPMorgan has 241,000 employees. About 20,000 of them in New York. $192 billion in net assets. What happens? What do you foresee? What is JPMorgan in year two of ...
Sanders: What I foresee is a stronger national economy. And, in fact, a stronger economy in New York State, as well. What I foresee is a financial system which actually makes affordable loans to small and medium-size businesses. Does not live as an island onto themselves concerned about their own profits. And, in fact, creating incredibly complicated financial tools, which have led us into the worst economic recession in the modern history of the United States.
Daily News: I get that point. I’m just looking at the method because, actions have reactions, right? There are pluses and minuses. So, if you push here, you may get an unintended consequence that you don’t understand. So, what I’m asking is, how can we understand? If you look at JPMorgan just as an example, or you can do Citibank, or Bank of America. What would it be? What would that institution be? Would there be a consumer bank? Where would the investing go?
Sanders: I’m not running JPMorgan Chase or Citibank.
There’s more — lots more — including an exchange over what law, exactly, Wall Street executives broke during the economic collapse and how Sanders would actually prosecute them. But the two passages above give you some idea of how the bulk of the interview went: the Daily News pressing Sanders for specifics and asking him to evaluate the consequences of his proposals, and Sanders, largely, dodging as he sought to scramble back to his talking points.
For Sanders’s critics — including Hillary Clinton — the Daily News interview is the “ah ha!” moment that they have been insisting will come for Sanders, a time when his pie-in-the-sky proposals are closely examined and found wanting. Sure, free college tuition sounds good, but how, exactly, do you pay for it? And, yes, breaking up the biggest banks seems appealing — particularly if you saw “The Big Short” — but (a) can you actually do it? and (b) what does it mean for all the people those banks employ?
A large part of Sanders’s appeal to the throngs who back him is his insistence that we are in need of a political revolution. And, for those people, the Daily News interview will be much ado about nothing. But what the interview exposes is that once the revolution happens there will be lots of loose ends to tie up. Loose ends that Sanders either hasn’t grappled with — or doesn’t want to.
Remember that Sanders’s campaign began as the longest of long shots. He could propose the world and more because no one thought that he ever had a chance at winning. I could tell you 100 radical changes I would make to the NBA if I were commissioner — raise the age limit to 21, move the three-point line back, etc. — but I would never have to really explain how I was going to do it because you would know there’s a zero percent chance I am going to run the NBA. But if suddenly my name started to pop up on lists to replace Adam Silver — please please please let this happen — then a more careful examination of how I was going to accomplish all of my proposals would be in order.
The Daily News interview amounts to a moment of reckoning for Sanders. Okay, let’s say you get elected — now what? And have you thought through what it might mean to the American worker and the American economy if all of the things you insist have to happen actually did happen? Judging by Sanders’s responses, he hasn’t.