Bernie Sanders: Naive Purist or Pragmatic Legislator?

A persistent theme in the Democratic primary contest is that the race is between Hillary Clinton, the pragmatist, and Bernie Sanders, the purist – images that the candidates have both acquired and themselves actively nourished.

Clinton has referred to herself as a “progressive who gets things done,” and Sanders, who is proposing large and expensive government programs in the realms of education, healthcare, infrastructure, and energy, has appropriately declared that his campaign is about “thinking big, not small.”

Yet the extent of the candidates’ pragmatism or purity is not mere rhetoric incapable of being measured; it is, in fact, quite quantifiable. Both candidates have served in Congress and thus have experience trying to “get things done.” Hillary Clinton served in the Senate between 2001 and 2009, and Bernie Sanders served in the House between 1991 and 2007 and has served in the Senate since 2007.

So, when it comes to their legislative records, how productive have they been? Continue reading

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Will Panama Papers Leak Spur Lawmakers to Tackle Tax Avoidance?

The political commentator Michael Kinsley once quipped that in Washington, “the scandal isn’t what’s illegal, the scandal is what’s legal.” President Obama echoed this sentiment last week during his comments on the Panama Papers – the 11.5 million leaked files released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that have disclosed how the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca set up shell companies to help wealthy individuals avoid paying domestic taxes.

“There is no doubt that the problem of global tax avoidance generally is a huge problem,” Obama has said on April 5, adding, “The problem is that a lot of this stuff is legal, not illegal.”

The disclosures have caused embarrassment for leaders and business magnates all around the world: the Icelandic prime minister resigned over a revealed conflict of interest relating to his handling of the 2008 financial crisis, and politicians from the United Kingdom, Russia, China, and Brazil have been implicated in scandals large and small. Continue reading

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How Many Superdelegates Has Bernie Sanders Picked Up?

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders is on a winning streak, having won eight of the last nine contests. Though Sanders still trails in terms of pledged delegates (whose support is tied to electoral outcomes in caucuses and primaries) by a count of 1,287 to 1,037, his deficit among superdelegates is even larger.

Created in the early 1980s to empower “party leaders and elected officials” (PLEOs), superdelegates can vote for whichever candidate they prefer at the presidential nominating convention. Among the approximately 712 superdelegates who will be traveling to Philadelphia in July, Clinton has support from 469, compared to 31 who have stated their support for Sanders. Continue reading

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Author Interview Uncovers ‘Real’ Motive for War on Drugs

In the early 1990s, journalist Dan Baum interviewed Nixon aide John Ehrlichman while doing research for a book on the effects of drug prohibition. Ehrlichman had served as a domestic policy adviser to Nixon, who in June 1971 declared a “war on drugs.” After an initially fruitless discussion, Baum reports that Ehrlichman made the following confession about the real motive behind the administration’s declaration of the drug war:

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

Baum says he chose to exclude this interview from his book because he could not find a way to neatly integrate it, and so, for nearly two decades, it remained unpublished (it made a splashless debut in an anthology of essays released in 2012).

Now the quotation appears in Harper’s April cover story, and it is garnering lots of attention. While some are claiming it proves nothing less than proof positive that the war on drugs was a deliberate attack on anti-war youth and African-Americans, some former aides have publicly defended Ehrlichman, who passed away in 1999. Continue reading

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How Well is the Media Vetting Donald Trump?

But quantity does not necessarily imply quality. While coverage has been abundant, it is worth exploring the nature of that coverage, and, specifically, whether the media is adequately vetting Trump as a candidate.

Chuck Todd, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press, claims that it has.

“A common criticism you’ve heard is that Trump’s rise is the media’s fault, because we have enabled his rise,” Todd has said. “But,” he added, before listing several of Trump’s flip-flops and liberal-to-conservative policy evolutions, “you could argue that the media has also provided all the material that normally a campaign would want to put together an attack against Trump.”

Yet a survey of attack ads against Trump in recent primary contests belies Todd’s claim.  Continue reading

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Justifying Egalitarianism: G.A. Cohen’s Socialist Critique of John Rawls’ Liberalism

In 1999, President Bill Clinton praised the philosopher John Rawls (1921-2002) – who had just received the National Humanities Medal – for his contributions to liberal political thought. Clinton applauded Rawls for having “placed our rights to liberty and justice upon a strong and brilliant new foundation of reason” and having “helped a whole generation of learned Americans revive their faith in democracy itself.”

But while Clinton was validating John Rawls, Rawls – or, more precisely, Rawls’ political philosophy – was validating the economic legacy of Bill Clinton. After all, it was Rawls who provided a liberal defense of inequality, which was justified, he argued, so long as the “rising tide” of the economy “lifted all boats.” As it happened, the inequality that blossomed under Clinton – the president of NAFTA and “welfare reform” and financial deregulation – was precisely of this sort. While inequality increased between 1993 and 2000, so too did the incomes of those in the bottom quintile. Clinton’s economic legacy, it turns out, was a perfectly Rawlsian one.

But how exactly, it is essential to ask, did Rawls justify inequality? More importantly, what are socialists and egalitarians supposed to make of his argument, and what are the flaws in Rawls’ theory (reformulated, though it was, several times between 1971 and 2001)? And, perhaps most importantly, what, if anything, can take its place? Continue reading

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Understanding the Oregon Standoff: Do the Occupiers Have a Legitimate Grievance?

The standoff in Oregon that began on January 2 appears to have reached its conclusion. On Tuesday, January 26, several occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were arrested, and one occupier, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was killed in a confrontation with law enforcement.

The leader of the occupiers, Ammon Bundy, has since called on the occupiers to return home. Only four occupiers remain, and a federal judge has denied the release of several apprehended individuals until the occupation has ended.

With all signs pointing to an imminent end to the conflict, it is appropriate to ask the questions, “What caused the occupation?” and, “Do the occupiers have a legitimate grievance?” Continue reading

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