Monday night, I went to the Bernie Sanders Rally at Crisler Center. It was one of the most fun events I’ve attended recently — and I’m a Republican.

The audience’s excitement was palpable and contagious. The vibe was simultaneously relaxed and passionate; the music bounced back and forth between chill instrumentals and hardcore rock songs about freedom.

I’ve been to several rallies as a volunteer and interned on several campaigns, but this was by far the youngest and most energetic crowd I’ve seen at a campaign rally. The two girls sitting next to me screamed like they were at a One Direction concert, and shouted, “let’s go!” and “primaries, baby!” at various points throughout the rally. The couple sitting in front of me showed their support while holding a pair of giant sound-blocking headphones over their baby’s ears.

While I don’t agree with his policies or self-proclaimed socialist ideology, the excitement Sanders has managed to generate makes perfect sense.

Sanders’ platform is filled with policies that promise a radical deviation from the status quo of American politics. Opening speakers cited his promises to provide free college education and prevent manufacturing jobs from moving overseas by blocking free-trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

As countries in the global south liberalized their economies — in part due to pressure from the United States — millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs have moved overseas to countries where the market price for labor is considerably lower. As high-paying manufacturing jobs that don’t require a college education become scarce, affording an education becomes both more difficult and more important. It also doesn’t help that the cost of college is rising for other reasons, and the Europeans get it for free.

On both the left and right, U.S. voters are responding with excitement to policies designed to remedy the perceived decline in American exceptionalism. Both Donald Trump and Sanders have invoked the idea that the U.S. is losing from free-trade agreements.

On the right, rhetoric has been xenophobic and accusatory, blaming migrant workers and Chinese currency manipulation for the anemic growth of the U.S. economy. On the left, it has blamed capitalism and international trade for the same issue.

Capitalism is a logical target for Americans’ frustrations. After all, free trade really has allowed great jobs to move overseas, and this really has exacerbated income inequality. The only reason this is possible is because other countries transitioned to open-market economies.

But what the Sanders campaign fails to recognize is that global capitalism has lifted more than a billion people out of extreme poverty in the last 20 years alone.

Sanders runs an egalitarian campaign. But if promoting anti-trade policies that help U.S. union workers at the expense of the world’s poorest people isn’t American privilege, I don’t know what is. If the left is willing to sit back and throw stones at Trump’s racist rhetoric, then they should certainly be more critical of their own candidate’s policies that can only address domestic inequality at the expense of millions of people around the world.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself a bit, because Sanders’ policies aren’t really ready for that sort of serious analysis. The sort of changes Sanders promotes are far beyond the scope of anything a U.S. president can reasonably hope to accomplish unilaterally — or constitutionally. Given the recent Congressional gridlock and the fact that several U.S. entitlement programs are already systemically underfunded — I’m looking at you, social security — it seems unlikely that Congress would approve a plan to provide free college tuition. That’s simply not something that could happen via executive order.

I know that some of you reading this are probably feeling the Bern. Maybe you were even one of the enthusiastic voters screaming at the rally. And I can see why you would.

Sanders promises change, and change is exciting. Obama excited voters by promising change, too. But it’s hard to point to any thrilling shifts in U.S. policies from the past eight years. There’s an important lesson in that fact — American policymaking is much more gradual and far less earth shattering than election and campaign promises.

An adequate response to increasing competition from abroad and inequality at home cannot be derived by unrealistic campaign promises — no matter how exciting. We don’t need a socialist in the White House. We need a president who knows how to make global capitalism work more efficiently and equitably for Americans. Sanders is not that candidate.

Victoria Noble can be reached at vjnoble@umich.edu

 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.