The Democratic primary battle between Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg could be easily resolved if they would realize how much they have in common. In fact, they would make a great ticket. Imagine the slogan: “Sanders-Bloomberg: Because you’re tired of running your own life.”
Being a moderate libertarian — or a libertarian moderate, I’m not quite sure — I’m partial to those passages in the Constitution that say, “Congress shall make no law.” I have a high regard for both free markets and civil liberties, for both abortion rights and gun rights, for a humane safety net and fiscal prudence. The best government is one that performs only clearly essential functions and performs those well — while recognizing its limits not only at home but also abroad.
Anyone of this general cast of mind, of course, can no more tolerate Donald Trump than a lamb could lie down with a Tyrannosaurus rex. It’s hard to remember a president so contemptuous of such a wide range of liberties.
Freedom of speech? He wanted NFL players banished for kneeling during the national anthem. Freedom of the press? He regards the media as “the enemy of the people.”
Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure? Trump pulled back federal efforts to curb police abuses. Reproductive rights? Since the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, they have never been at greater risk.
He doesn’t like laissez-faire capitalism, as evidenced by his hostility to international trade, his bullying of corporations that don’t obey his commands and his bailouts of farmers. He has installed a legion of knaves, hacks and toadies to mishandle the indispensable tasks of the federal government — such as fighting global pandemics or protecting the environment. His fiscal record is a fright.
Either Sanders or Bloomberg would be an improvement, in the same way that it would be better to be trampled by beagles than by buffaloes. But each of these Democrats has plenty of debits on his record. Neither has much commitment to individual freedom as a matter of principle.
Sanders has only contempt for people who gain great wealth by creating something that people want. He wants to punish them even if they have made our lives better.
It’s unfair to suggest that his policies would resemble communism. But his defense of Marxist regimes suggests a willingness to excuse harsh methods to advance what he sees as worthy purposes.
Sanders’ proposal for national rent control combines economic illiteracy with gross federal overreach. He believes in “Medicare for All” — and he does mean all, including those who would rather keep their private health insurance. It’s hard to escape the suspicion that in Sanders’ mind, the compulsory nature of his plan is not a necessary evil but a supreme virtue.
Then there’s the matter of paying for it. As The New York Times reported, he “estimated Sunday night on ’60 Minutes’ that the price tag for his ‘Medicare for All’ plan would be about $30 trillion over 10 years, but the revenue he identifies for it in the new outline totals about $17.5 trillion.”
Bloomberg is overbearing and intrusive in his own way. As New York City mayor, he barred many businesses from selling sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces on “public health” grounds — though a court overruled him. He waged war on flavored tobacco products and trans fats and required chain restaurants to post calorie counts.
He even deployed full-court pressure tactics to get new mothers to breast-feed, regardless of their needs or desires. The presumption of personal autonomy never found a place in Bloomberg’s heart.
His faith in coercion helps account for his support of stop-and-frisk tactics by New York police, which put a target on the backs of young Hispanic and African American men, the vast majority of them innocent. Under Bloomberg, the number of such encounters soared seven-fold. Though he now claims credit for reducing them, the reality is that a federal judge ruled the practice unconstitutional.
When that decision came down, Bloomberg raised fears of “a lot of people dying.” In fact, crime declined after stop and frisk was drastically curtailed. Bloomberg put his instincts above the liberties of New Yorkers, and his instincts proved wrong.
What he and Sanders share is an eagerness to override individual freedom whenever it hinders their plans and an impatience with limits on government authority. Their grand schemes are not as toxic or alarming as Trump’s. But under any of these three, the right to be left alone would be left in the lurch.