Op-ed: Bernie Sanders’ truthful lie

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, February 20, 2016 4:29pm
  • Opinion

Here’s why what Bernie Sanders promises is false: Because what he says is true — the system really is rigged so he can’t deliver. The wealthy in this country have a grossly unfair advantage because they can bribe our politicians to make sure the laws don’t apply to them.

Actually, they can use their financial advantage to buy the best of everything for themselves, whether it be tax shelters, medical care, lavish homes, education, you name it. They maintain their gilded existence through what amounts to bribery. They use their campaign contributions, meaning payoffs, and the overlap of their lobbying might to avoid legal responsibility for cheating the rest of us and making their profits without honor.

Before Bernie Sanders, we had Will Rogers saying that we have “the best Congress that money can buy.” But it’s gotten exponentially worse in the generations since. By now we live in a society that is corrupt overall. And the people finally are completely fed up. They can’t trust our institutions because everything is so trumped up.

Now, wasn’t that a clever segue? Donald Trump has enjoyed great success exploiting this disgust with the kind of scapegoating and simple-mindedness that would be entertaining if they weren’t so dangerous. History has demonstrated that.

On the left, Bernie Sanders is also right that we are being had. But he’s wrong when he promises that he can deliver free college education and single-payer health care or that he can break up the megabanks, rein in Wall Street and collect much higher taxes, mainly from the rich.

Let’s not debate right now whether his solutions for correcting our absurd concentration of wealth and power have merit. They won’t happen. They can’t happen in a political system that has become less a democracy than an oligarchy, just as he describes. Do we believe for one minute that our corporate rulers are going to allow meaningful reform, that the insurance companies are going to forfeit their stranglehold on medical care or that our financial institutions and plutocrats are going to open their vaults, pay much higher taxes and redistribute their hoarded wealth in some sort of egalitarian way? Of course they won’t.

They even more ruthlessly will manipulate the political system, which is irretrievably corrupt. When they can’t get their way on tax policy, they already flee the country. When they cannot coerce American employees to accept slave wages, they outsource abroad to countries where desperate workers will. Their loyalty ends where their selfish interest begins.

A President Bernie Sanders couldn’t rule by fiat. He readily admits that. As he said in the most recent MSNBC Town Hall, “I’m not a dictator here.” That’s certainly a good thing. However, after all his years in Washington, he knows that he can’t persuade his partners in government, meaning Congress and even the courts, to act against the interests of their big-money puppeteers.

That, of course, is the point that Hillary Clinton makes. She argues that she is the kind of experienced realist who can methodically tackle the country’s problems and put all those super wealthy bad guys in their place. The problem is that she and her family have gotten super wealthy themselves, thanks to the millions upon millions of dollars they’ve received from the very same bad guys.

We don’t know what kind of arrangements she and her family made to get their riches. Forget whether she mishandled classified material as secretary of state; the larger issue is what the emails from her private server would reveal about favoritism and dirty dealing. It’s tough to find out, because her lawyers unilaterally decided what should be discarded and never be available for a Freedom of Information Act search.

But in this case, Hillary speaks the truth: Bernie Sanders is making grandiose promises that are completely unrealistic.

Sanders has inspired millions of people with his fiery rhetoric, but he’s blowing smoke with his remedies to correct our grossly unbalanced society. His description is genuine. His promises are disingenuous.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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