Last week, popular podcast host Joe Rogan made a semi-endorsement of Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential primary, and Sanders’ campaign ran with it.
Rogan mistakes Sanders’ consistency as a virtue. But it’s hard to blame Rogan for wanting what’s on the package to be what he finds inside the box. Past heads of states have been marred by contradictions on signature positions, giving parts of the electorate a craving for a steady vision — regardless of its consequences.
Rogan said of Sanders, “You could dig up dirt on every single human being that’s ever existed. If you catch them in their worst moment and you magnify those moments and cut out everything else and you only display those worst moments. That said, you can’t find very many with Bernie. He’s been insanely consistent his entire life. He’s basically been saying the same thing, been for the same thing, his whole life, and that in and of itself is a very powerful structure to operate from.”
It wasn’t hyperbole. Sanders has been dogged democratic socialist for the last 40 years. As Kyle Smith points out in National Review, since the 1970s the Vermont senator has argued that no one should make more than $1 million a year and that the core problem in his home state is one percenters’ disproportionate share of the wealth.
Yes, Sanders’ ideas, if executed with the Puritanism he exclaims on the campaign trail, would be economically cumbersome. City Journal calculates that his three priciest ideas of Medicare For All, a climate plan, and guaranteeing a full-time government job with benefits at $15 an hour would come in at a cool $80 trillion over the next 10 years. Currently, the federal government spends about one-quarter of that amount.
Add in some of his other objectives of bailing out student loan debt and expanding Social Security, and Sanders’ plans would total at just less than $100 trillion in government spending over the next decade and consume 70 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product — a little more than 20 percent higher than “model” socialist nations of Sweden and Norway.
Don’t forget the other unwelcome possibilities these proposals might bring about. Medicare for All would essentially eliminate the private insurance a majority of Americans are fond of and could shut down certain hospitals. Student loan bailouts would make those who actually paid off their loans look like suckers for being fiscally responsible. And the trend of people leaving high-tax states of California, Illinois, and New York may evolve into an exodus of high-earners from the United States if Sanders’ plans become too much to bear.
But that’s not a concern for supporters of the independent candidate because he’s at least perceived as being honest about where he’s coming from. Considering that presidents routinely heel-turn on defining moments or issues, Sanders track record on socialist policies inspires some enthusiasm.
Donald Trump campaigned on building a wall along the southern border only to waste away a Republican-controlled House and Senate for two years, then, all of a sudden, declare it a national emergency once a divided Congress wouldn’t budge on funding. Barack Obama’s infamous claim of “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” to ward off fears that the Affordable Care Act would completely upend the insurance market earned four Pinocchios from The Washington Post’s fact checkers. George W. Bush was against nation-building during the 2000 election, and went on to spend a majority of his two terms attempting to reshape Iraq and Afghanistan in the American mold.
The list spans history. John F. Kennedy was intent on framing his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis as the United States winning a no-compromise-standoff that set a standard for how foreign policy should be conducted, despite his major concessions to the Soviets revealed some 25 years later. Ulysses S. Grant was hit or miss with support of Reconstruction, dispatching troops to protect African-American civil rights in some states but not others. And Thomas Jefferson, the man who stated that “all men are created equal” and thought slavery was morally depraved, also held more than 600 slaves and may have fathered four children with one.
In a lengthy feature on Ronald Reagan, New York Times columnist Leslie H. Gelb revealed a truth we all assume with commanders-in-chief: “A willingness to knowingly bend the truth if it serves his cause is part of the political technique of most Presidents.”
That’s never been Sanders’ style. He’s played his political poker with a mirror behind him and no hesitation to smirk or grimace at the hand he’s dealt. These qualities have endeared him to younger and working-class voters, who find his authenticity refreshing. That’s a large coalition who has Sanders just edging out former Vice President Joe Biden in the latest polls heading into the Iowa caucuses on Monday.
The fact that Rogan, whose chart-topping podcast has served as a refuge for ideas considered too “out there” for the mainstream, favors Sanders should be a hint that the consistency in his ideology is alluring to many kinds of Americans. It’s so enticing that voters will overlook plain truths such as governments that throw money at something almost never accomplish much, or how ideological consistency is what fuels the greater problem of polarization.
Sanders’ socialist beliefs have an organicness that’s increasingly rare in politics. This has been a passion project for him his entire adult life; it’s not a campaign strategy, as it is with fellow leftist Elizabeth Warren. Even if he doesn’t know all the answers to his proposals right now (such as with Medicare for All), there’s no doubt he’ll be annoyingly consistent about figuring out a solution, similar to when he lived on a dirt-floored shack in the ‘70s.
For once, voters appear interested in knowing precisely what they’re going to get from their president. And for a historical premium, Sanders will give them just that.