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You can’t “Feel the Bern” if the Ideas are Half Baked

democratic donkey

Vox.com’s Matthew Ygelsias, a journalist who has been covering the Bernie Sanders campaign, has written a definitive piece on the Sanders campaign and documents what many Democrats have long thought — Bernie’s plans are short on detail and long on slogans.

From the piece:

I decided I should dive into the plan myself to learn about some other aspects of it. For example … how does the actual health insurance that everyone is going to get work? What is covered?

Well, here it is in full:

Bernie’s plan would create a federally administered single-payer health care program. Universal single-payer health care means comprehensive coverage for all Americans. Bernie’s plan will cover the entire continuum of health care, from inpatient to outpatient care; preventive to emergency care; primary care to specialty care, including long-term and palliative care; vision, hearing and oral healthcare; mental health and substance abuse services; as well as prescription medications, medical equipment, supplies, diagnostics and treatments. Patients will be able to choose a health care provider without worrying about whether that provider is in-network and will be able to get the care they need without having to read any fine print or trying to figure out how they can afford the out-of-pocket costs.

That’s the whole description of the content of the insurance. Is abortion covered? Is acupuncture? What if there are shortages of medical equipment? What if a doctor wants to prescribe a course of treatment that’s not supported by science?

And on Bernie’s plan for free college tuition at public colleges and universities, again Ygelisias points out where sanders is short on details:

He does this by saying the federal government will pick up two-thirds of the tab if state governments carry the rest. Sounds good. And he’ll pay for it with a new tax on speculative trading on Wall Street, another big applause line.

But again, there are big questions here: What if states make this work by pushing more costs into the room and board column? What if public university systems are swamped with applicants now that they’re free? What if eliminating tuition means students start taking longer to complete their degrees? What if the underlying cost of providing a college education grows faster than the volume of Wall Street trades? What about the quality of college education?

Bernie’s plan to break up the big banks, in Ygelias’ view, is nothing more than a slogan:

The bill is only four pages long, and what it does is direct the Financial Stability Oversight Committee to compile a list of banks that are deemed “too big to fail” and then break them up.

This just isn’t the way bank regulators think or work. There’s no such thing as a bank that’s “too big” to fail. There are specific situations in which the failures of certain financial institutions could be gravely threatening to the stability of other financial institutions and could set off a chain reaction of bank failures that devastates the economy. Sanders’s legislation offers regulators no guidance as to what criteria are supposed to be used to identify institutions that are to be broken up, and says nothing much about how the breakups are supposed to look or work.

“A bank that’s too big to fail is too big to exist” is a great line for a stump speech or a television appearance. But it’s not even the beginning of an actual agenda on bank regulation.

Yglesias says the media starts to taking the Sanders campaign seriously — and so does the candidate who offers little detail in any of the ideas that are getting the extreme left wing of the party excited.

To the extent that Sanders is running a campaign that’s about raising issues and securing national attention for some ideas that don’t normally come up on Meet the Press, I applaud him.

But Bernie-mania has gotten a lot bigger than that. He’s obviously still the underdog, but he’s doing well — he’s rising in the polls and to my eye bested Clinton in a debate. It’s possible to imagine him winning the nomination, which means it’s possible to imagine him becoming president.

Which means that we in the media need to start taking his campaign seriously, but also that Sanders himself needs to take his campaign seriously.

As more details emerge about how Sanders is rising in the polls, that might be true.  But I trust in Nate Silver’s forecast that show the Iowa and New Hampshire race to be “Sunny skies for Hillary Clinton.