Though many stories emerged from the New Hampshire primary, none was more compelling than Sen. Bernie Sanders defeating Hillary Clinton by more than 20 percentage points. Though I would be extremely unlikely to vote for a “Democratic-Socialist,” I’d love to have a chat with Bernie. Many of his ideas are specific and detailed, compared to the generalities of candidates on either side. And he’s authentic, spin-free, and proud of his political positions. Since a chat with Bernie is unlikely to happen, I am instead offering an open letter to articulate what I might say in a face-to-face chat. Of course, I’d prefer a face-to-face discussion in which Bernie could respond to my remarks. But I have a hunch that he would listen to what I would say, and then provide a standard socialist response.
Perhaps I should address you as Senator Sanders, but you’re only a few years older than I am, so we’re contemporaries—older guys who have seen a lot and learned from it.
Though I am an independent voter—watching campaigns from both parties—I have become extremely interested in what you have been saying. Your stunning victory in New Hampshire certainly got my attention. I’m beginning to understand how the powerful Clinton machine was so thoroughly shellacked. And it seems that there are three things about your victory that every voter and pundit should note.
The first is that many New Hampshirites as neighbors of your home state, like, respect, and give you their votes. Most observers expected that effect, but few predicted that it would be strong enough to bring home a significant win.
The second factor—which some would consider most important—is the “trust issue” for your opponent. Exit polls indicated that more than 90 percent of New Hampshire voters consider you more trustworthy than your opponent. Obviously, she has suffered from the self-inflicted wounds regarding the FBI investigation of classified documents handled through her personal server. But beyond those issues, Hillary appears to vacillate and equivocate on many issues and appears less authentic than you. Voters today rate trust and leadership as their most important voting issues. Trust may be the one issue that she will find difficult to overcome.
Third—and most discussion-worthy—are your detailed positions on vital issues. I’d like to discuss two of them with you—universal healthcare, and free college tuition.
You may be on the right track about universal healthcare though you won’t get there with your current pitch. Here’s your problem. You say everyone will get free healthcare, under a single-payer system. Your opponents—both Democrats and Republicans respond by asking rhetorically, how will you pay for it? You give the usual liberal response by saying that you’ll tax the richest people to find the necessary revenue. Bernie, in your heart you know that will never work. Even if you pass confiscatory taxes on all of the Nation’s billionaires and richest millionaires, there wouldn’t be enough money to provide the healthcare for all. Besides, many of the richest people would ship their wealth and earnings offshore, and away from your tax collections.
Nevertheless, there is a path you can take that will eventually result in universal healthcare. It begins by attacking the fundamental problem: healthcare is too expensive. That’s why the Affordable Care Act doesn’t help more people. It relies on the same old insurance companies, and then adds a huge expense layer for government bureaucracy.
But an aggressive president could work to pass laws to sharply lower all healthcare costs. You might start by lowering the huge costs doctors must pay for malpractice insurance. These gigantic premiums are deemed necessary by the outrageous awards that courts now give for lawsuits, much of which goes to legal fees. Sharply limiting those awards and the percentages for legal fees would ultimately shrink malpractice insurance to more affordable levels, and ultimately reduce charges to patients. This change, of course, is often called “Tort Reform” and avoided by Congress, which has so many members who are lawyers. Their law firms profit from lawsuits, even while they are serving in Congress. Don’t let them off the hook, Bernie. Expose their profiteering and shame them into Tort Reform legislation!
Even larger savings would come from eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse. The FBI doesn’t have enough manpower to root out fraud since it must now concentrate on securing the country from terrorists. But an aggressive President could drive the creation of a special investigatory force that would more than pay for itself.
The overall result would be to provide consistent Medicare benefits at far reduced costs. Medicare is already a single-payer system that could expand to uncovered patients without spending beyond current levels.
Bernie, let’s also look at your proposal for free college educations. College students naturally love that idea, especially those burdened with large loan repayments. As with healthcare, you can’t afford to provide free college by taxing the rich. And, as with healthcare, you need to attack the real problem: Tuition costs have risen to levels that are too high for the average family to finance.
But an aggressive President can do much to root out significant expenditures that are major drivers of ballooning tuition costs. For all intents, the large universities waste money on outrageous administrative salaries and for professors who no longer teach classes, or work only a few hours a month.
The Federal Government has potential control of any university that accepts lucrative research contracts. You can drive programs that force these institutions to open their books, and respond to changes in their expense structures. You might also have your Education Secretary begin a process to give more responsibility to the junior colleges. Perhaps they could provide three-year programs instead of limiting themselves to the standard two-year programs. The result would be to lower the overall tuition cost for students who would then attend the four-year universities for only one year. Some junior colleges might also provide a profitable vocational track, enabling some students to deliver profitable services (e.g. computer maintenance, auto repair, and cyber security services.) while learning.
Bernie, it’s been great communicating with you, and hope we can do it again sometime. Though I probably won’t vote for you, I congratulate you on your success to date, and your genuine desire to help people. You have demonstrated more integrity than most other candidates, and you deserve our respect.
My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX