Bernie Sanders was taking a bit of heat from pundits on Tuesday after being grilled by the New York Daily News editorial board on specific policy positions and coming up short on some key answers.
A person running for president being asked tough questions and evading or struggling to answer them is not out of the ordinary per se, but the Daily News did an especially good job of pinning Sanders down on a number of fronts and is rightfully getting credit for it.
Here are some of the areas where the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate appeared to struggle.
Sanders is perhaps taking the most criticism for his struggle to clearly articulate how he would break up the big banks, one of his central campaign themes:
Daily News: 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?
Sanders: Yeah. Well, I believe you do.
Daily News: So if you look forward, a year, maybe two years, right now you have…JPMorgan has 241,000 employees. About 20,000 of them in New York. $192 billion in net assets. What happens? What do you foresee? What is JPMorgan in year two of…
Sanders: What I foresee is a stronger national economy. And, in fact, a stronger economy in New York State, as well. What I foresee is a financial system which actually makes affordable loans to small and medium-size businesses. Does not live as an island onto themselves concerned about their own profits. And, in fact, creating incredibly complicated financial tools, which have led us into the worst economic recession in the modern history of the United States.
Daily News: I get that point. I’m just looking at the method because, actions have reactions, right? There are pluses and minuses. So, if you push here, you may get an unintended consequence that you don’t understand. So, what I’m asking is, how can we understand? If you look at JPMorgan just as an example, or you can do Citibank, or Bank of America. What would it be? What would that institution be? Would there be a consumer bank? Where would the investing go?
Sanders: I’m not running JPMorgan Chase or Citibank.
Daily News: No. But you’d be breaking it up.
Sanders: That’s right. And that is their decision as to what they want to do and how they want to reconfigure themselves. That’s not my decision. All I am saying is that I do not want to see this country be in a position where it was in 2008, where we have to bail them out. And, in addition, I oppose that kind of concentration of ownership entirely.
Not being able to explain how a key proposal on a signature issue would actually work in practice is not a great look, Bob—er, I mean Bern.
Vox, meanwhile, has focused in on his answers on trade policy, which the site argues “would hurt the very poorest people on Earth. A lot.”
Sanders: …. I do believe in trade. But it has to be based on principles that are fair. So if you are in Vietnam, where the minimum wage is 65¢ an hour, or you’re in Malaysia, where many of the workers are indentured servants because their passports are taken away when they come into this country and are working in slave-like conditions, no, I’m not going to have American workers “competing” against you under those conditions. So you have to have standards. And what fair trade means to say that it is fair. It is roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the United States.
“The free trade, or freer trade, that we’ve had since the end of the Second World War has been the great engine which has lifted up literally hundreds of millions of people out of poverty—far more than any aid programs,” trade law expert Gary Hufbauer told Vox. “The econometrics is indisputable.”
Sanders has also been criticized for his ill-defined position on drones, which seemed to amount to “use them, but don’t have any collateral damage,” as if collateral damage was an intentional thing that could be easily avoided rather than a “collateral” thing:
Daily News: … 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?
Sanders: I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is that drones are a modern weapon. When used effectively, when taking out ISIS or terrorist leaders, that’s pretty impressive. When bombing wedding parties of innocent people and killing dozens of them, that is, needless to say, not effective and enormously counterproductive. So whatever the mechanism, whoever is in control of that policy, it has to be refined so that we are killing the people we want to kill and not innocent collateral damage.
There’s more—Jonathan Capehart at the Washington Post outlines other specific areas he found problematic—but the point is that this is a tough interview and Hillary Clinton’s campaign has already begun to make a bit of hay from it.
Zerlina Maxwell, the progressive outreach director for Clinton’s campaign, commented on Twitter that the interview was “honestly stunning in a bad way.”
As I wrote last week the news media has at times seemed more aggressive in tut-tuting the supposed callowness in Sanders’ platform than it has been in forcing Clinton to define some of her programs and challenging her own realism. Which is why Clinton should face the same line of interrogators at the Daily News that Sanders did, and readers can judge whether her policy positions are any better defined than her opponent’s when she’s pinned down as fiercely on specifics, which hopefully they would be able to do.
When I asked Daily News opinion editor Josh Greenman whether Clinton had agreed to do one of these interviews he said, “We’re working on it.”
As of publication time, Maxwell had not responded to a request for comment on why she considered the Sanders interview stunning in a bad way and whether Clinton might take part in a similar meeting with the Daily News.