Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, has spent the summer making significant gains in national polling as well as in polling in the early contest states, Iowa and New Hampshire. In the RealClearPolitics average of polls, Sanders is actually up by 10 points over Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire and tied with her in Iowa.
What is driving support for Sanders' campaign? The promise of lots of free shit certainly helps. The Wall Street Journal has analyzed Sanders' campaign proposals and estimated that his plans for new federal programs would cost $18 trillion over the next ten years. The bulk of that—$15 trillion—would be spent on expanding Medicare to include all Americans in an attempt to impose a "single payer" (the government) healthcare system in the United States, something Republican frontrunner Donald Trump says he's supported other countries doing.
The $15 trillion number comes from a similar proposal in Congress for a single payer system, introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), which comes with that price tag. Sanders declined an interview request from the Journal but the paper spoke to his policy director, Warren Gunnells, who called the $15 trillion number for a single-payer system alone a fair estimate.
Gunnells defended the high cost of Sanders' proposals by calling them "very reasonable" given "the problems that are out there." The explanation is disingenuous. President Obama and supporters of Obamacare insisted Americans were dying in the streets as if it were Victorian England, because there wasn't enough government intervention in healthcare or whatever. When Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, Obama spent most of the political capital he earned from his landslide victory pushing Obamacare, not immigration reform or police reform or rolling back the war on terror. If $15 trillion over ten years is a reasonable cost to solve the "problem" of healthcare in America, it's impossible to argue that without at least implicitly blaming President Obama's contributions.
What's more, Sanders' spending programs are aimed at offering free things—healthcare and public college, primarily—for everyone. Sanders has dropped the pretense held by some liberals and progressives that government spending should focus on the needier elements in society. Even as he rails against "income inequality," Sanders is promising to pay for the healthcare and education of all Americans, even its richest.
And while he promises higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for all that free stuff, even setting aside the fact that there are serious diminishing returns on higher tax rates, his tax plans "only" cost taxpayers $6.5 trillion over ten years, far short of what's needed if Sanders wants to deliver on his promise. The Wall Street Journal spoke with an economist at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who acknowledged taxes would have to go up for the middle class too to pay for Sanders programs. So Sanders will raise taxes on middle class families so that he can "give" free stuff to the rich.
Sanders' proposals show a total lack of priorities, and are divorced from progressives' self-identification as compassionate people who care for the poor. Sanders isn't campaigning to help poor people. He may use that rhetoric, warning of income inequality or how economic conditions hurt the working poor. But his solutions have nothing to do with helping poor people, and everything to do with getting free stuff to everyone. As we're seeing in the polls, that's a far more popular position.
Other free stuff in Sanders' $18 trillion of proposals includes $1.2 trillion to increase Social Security benefits (more taking from the poorer to give to the richer), $1 trillion to build roads and bridges, $750 million to "make college affordable" (and public college free), $319 billion for paid medical and family leave, and, uh, $5.5 billion (over ten years!) for "youth jobs initiatives."