Members of the establishment media, along with others who have opposed Sanders for the Democratic nomination, are pouncing on an interview at The New York Daily News to make a bogus argument that Sanders is not prepared to be president. Those who have looked more closely have come to a different conclusion.
Ryan Grim, who is not a huge fan of Sanders, looked at the questions objectively and found that Sanders did not really botch the interview. He cited examples of where those asking the questions were actually wrong on the facts and Sanders was right:
Take the exchange getting the most attention: Sanders’ supposed inability to describe exactly how he would break up the biggest banks. Sanders said that if the Treasury Department deemed it necessary to do so, the bank would go about unwinding itself as it best saw fit to get to a size that the administration considered no longer a systemic risk to the economy. Sanders said this could be done with new legislation, or through administrative authority under Dodd-Frank.
This is true, as economist Dean Baker, Peter Eavis at The New York Times, and HuffPost’s Zach Carter in a Twitter rant have all pointed out. It’s also the position of Clinton herself. “We now have power under the Dodd-Frank legislation to break up banks. And I’ve said I will use that power if they pose a systemic risk,” Clinton said at a February debate. No media outcry followed her assertion, because it was true.
As the interview went on, though, it began to appear that the Daily News editors didn’t understand the difference between the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve. Follow in the transcript how Sanders kept referring to the authority of the administration and the Treasury Department through Dodd-Frank, known as Wall Street reform, while the Daily News editors shifted to the Fed.
Daily News: Okay. Well, let’s assume that you’re correct on that point. How do you go about doing it?
Sanders: How you go about doing it is having legislation passed, or giving the authority to the secretary of treasury to determine, under Dodd-Frank, that these banks are a danger to the economy over the problem of too-big-to-fail.
Daily News: But do you think that the Fed, now, has that authority?
Sanders: Well, I don’t know if the Fed has it. But I think the administration can have it.
Daily News: How? How does a president turn to JPMorgan Chase, or have the treasury turn to any of those banks and say, “Now you must do X, Y and Z?”
Sanders: Well, you do have authority under the Dodd-Frank legislation to do that, make that determination.
Daily News: You do, just by Federal Reserve fiat, you do?
This is simply a factual dispute between the Daily News and Sanders, not a matter of opinion. The Daily News was wrong.
Many of the questions were gotcha questions where there was no easy answer. For example:
On drones, the Daily News asked: “President Obama has taken the authority for drone attacks away from the CIA and given it to the U.S. military. Some say that that has caused difficulties in zeroing in on terrorists, their ISIS leaders. Do you believe that he’s got the right policy there?”
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Sanders said.
A nice gotcha, except that while Obama did announce publicly that at some point in the future authority would move from the CIA to the U.S. military, that decision was quietly reversed — so quietly that the news apparently didn’t make it to New York (though HuffPost did report on it).
Some questions are not easily answerable in an interview, but do not indicate ignorance of the topic:
Sanders has also taken a beating for saying he couldn’t cite a particular statute that may have been violated by Wall Street bankers during the financial crisis. But, quickly, without searching Google, can you name the particular statute that outlaws murder? Either way, here’s what Sanders actually said:
Daily News: What kind of fraudulent activity are you referring to when you say that?
Sanders: What kind of fraudulent activity? Fraudulent activity that brought this country into the worst economic decline in its history by selling packages of fraudulent, fraudulent, worthless subprime mortgages. How’s that for a start?
Selling products to people who you knew could not repay them. Lying to people without allowing them to know that in a year, their interest rates would be off the charts. They would not repay that. Bundling these things. Putting them into packages with good mortgages. That’s fraudulent activity.
Truthout posted a Democracy Now! interview which included Juan González, a columnist for the Daily News who did not think Sanders botched the interview:
Yeah, well, I certainly didn’t get that impression, tell you the truth. The editorial board is notorious, especially our editorial page editor, Arthur Browne, for his laser-like one question after another, and he bombarded, as several others of us also asked questions. I, overall, thought that Bernie Sanders handled the exchange very well. And I think that there were a few places where he stumbled, and — but I was amazed at his ability to parry the questions that were thrown at him and to, basically, for instance, bluntly say, when he was asked about the Israeli-Palestinian situation, that Israel needed to withdraw from the illegal settlements in Palestinian territory, which I was astounded that he was quite frank and clear on his position, while at the same time saying he would do everything possible as president to negotiate peace and security for Israel in an overall settlement. And I think there — he did stumble a little bit when he was pressed on how he would break up some of the too-big-to-fail banks. He clearly did not have that down pat.
Van Jones added:
You’re going to see the mainstream media go after him. Now there’s blood in the water on specifics. They’re going to go after him on specifics, you know, way beyond anything any candidate has had to address. And people are going to have to — I mean, he’s going to have to step up his game, because you can’t, you know, write excuses for people. He’s got to be able to answer those tough questions.
Bernie Sanders gave some fairly normal answers on financial reform to the New York Daily News editorial board. Someone sent it to me, and as I read it I thought “yes, these are answers I’d expect for how Sanders approaches financial reform.”
You wouldn’t know that from the coverage of it, which has argued that the answers were an embarrassing failure. Caitlin Cruz at TPM argues that Sanders “struggles to explain how he would break up the banks” and that’s relatively kind. Chris Cillizza says it was “pretty close to a disaster” and David Graham says the answers on his core financial focus is “tentative, unprepared, or unaware.” Tina Nguyen at Vanity Fair writes that Sanders “admits he isn’t sure how to break up the big banks.”
This is not correct. Sanders has a clear path on how he wants to break up the banks which he described. Breaking up the banks doesn’t require, or even benefit from, describing the specifics on how the banks would end up, neither for his plans or the baby steps Dodd-Frank has already taken.
After further discussion, Konczal said, “If anything, Sanders is too wonky.” Dan Wright at ShadowProof was even harsher on the media in a post entitled, Was Corporate Media Too Dumb To Understand Sanders Bank Breakup Plan? He also pointed out that there is more detail at Sanders’ web site.
The Clinton campaign is using this interview to attack Sanders on guns, once gain ignoring his D- lifetime rating from the NRA, in contrast to Clinton who ran as a pro-gun chruchgoer in 2008. I understand Sanders’ having considered the position of gun owners having represented a rural state like Vermont. Clinton’s position appears to change based upon pure political pandering.
Hillary Clinton could probably answer questions of this type better than Sanders, but that does not mean she would make a better president. Repeating the establishment positions, showing no ability to think out of the box or to recognize the problems, makes her just part of the problem, and unable to come up with solutions. It will not be easy for an incoming president to deal with the corruptive role of money in government, and few, if anybody in Sanders’ position would be able to provide better answers until they are dealing with the problems in office. Sure, if Elizabeth Warren was running, there could be a strong case for voting for her instead of Sanders, but she is not on the ballot. What matter is that we have a president who recognizes the problems, and is on the right side of the issues.
Plus we need to look at matters such as integrity and judgment. Clinton fails on both counts. The email scandal, along with her dishonesty during the campaign, are just a couple of examples which demonstrate her lack of integrity. Despite her experience, she has demonstrated poor judgment throughout her career. Her support for the Panama Trade Deal, was just the latest example to hit the news. For the last few decades, Clinton was repeatedly wrong on the big questions, while Sanders was right, showing which one of them is really prepared to be president.