In the latter stages of the primaries, as Bernie Sanders’ chances of actually winning the Democratic nomination went from remote to virtually nonexistent, his remaining in the race has had less to do with winning the presidency and more to do with promoting his campaign’s core ideas. Would issues like single-payer healthcare, free public college and regulating Wall Street stay on the front burner, or be left behind as a primary-season ideological fling?
And as his candidacy’s political purpose became clearer, corporate media criticism of his intention to stay in the race has become sharper. After the June 7 primaries, when it became mathematically impossible for Sanders to win a majority of the pledged delegates, much of the media circled the wagons, insisting Sanders drop out in the interest of “party unity” and “stopping Trump”—something Sanders himself has pledged to work toward.
But for establishment outlets like the New York Times, more important than Sanders dropping out of the race is that his core policy goals be dismissed as fantasy. In its editorial look back at the Sanders campaign, the Times (6/11/16) did some ideological policing:
Mr. Sanders offered prescriptions that too often consisted of facile calls for “revolution,” for feel-good but economically unsustainable proposals for universal healthcare and free tuition to public colleges.
With this one sentence, the New York Times not only embraced a right-wing canard that’s been peddled by everyone from the Wall Street Journal to the neoliberal Urban Institute, it also contradicted its previous editorial stance on the issue. In 2013, the Times (9/29/13) presented universal healthcare as a widespread standard that the US ought to meet:
After decades of debate and bitter political battles, millions of uninsured Americans will soon be able to get health coverage they can afford, a right that has long been universal in other advanced nations.
And later that November (11/18/13):
The report found that by virtually all measures of cost, access to care and ease of dealing with insurance problems, Americans fared poorly compared with people in other advanced countries. The survey covered 20,000 adults in the United States and 10 other industrial nations — Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Britain, all of which put in place universal or near-universal health coverage decades ago. The United States spends far more than any of these countries on a per capita basis and as a percent of the national economy.
But now universal healthcare is “feel-good,” “economically unsustainable” claptrap? Sanders’ proposal is based largely on the single-payer model of Canada—a model the Times editorial board venerated less than three years ago. What changed?
One major change was in the official policy position of the Democratic Party. While universal healthcare was once a broad goal of putative liberals, the Democrats’ soon-to-be leader, Hillary Clinton, says that single-payer healthcare will “never, ever happen.” New York Times Clinton partisan and leading center-left economist Paul Krugman insisted in January that single-payer was “a distraction.” Adam Gaffney of the New Republic wrote in March, “Republicans are no longer afraid of the menace of single-payer, for a perfectly good reason: The mainstream of the Democratic Party has largely abandoned it.”
One could argue that the New York Times’ problem is with Sanders’ specific proposals, and not the goal of single payer in the abstract, but such a position has never been proffered by the Gray Lady since the beginning of the Clinton/Sanders debate. The Times’ dismissal of free public college—again, also routine in several countries—is also telling: Large social programs are “unsustainable,” despite being entirely unexceptional throughout the developed world.
Conversely, the Times editorial board, which supported US wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, rarely if ever discusses the “economic sustainability” of these ventures. The urgency of these long-term budgetary commitments (over $4 trillion and counting) was put in purely moral and life-and-death terms, cost be damned.
Such conviction is entirely absent when it comes to overhauling America’s healthcare system, despite the fact that one 2009 Harvard study found that 45,000 Americans die a year due to lack of healthcare coverage. And while the ACA has mitigated this crisis somewhat, almost 10 percent—or 33 million—Americans remain without coverage.
Any attempt to radically address this shortfall—and the deaths inevitably resulting from it — is not seen as something worthy of consideration, much less endorsement. Instead, what is normal in most rich countries is dismissed by the paper or record as the “unsustainable,” “feel-good” posturing of an “unkempt,” “impatient” and “angry” socialist.
Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst for FAIR.org. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamJohnsonNYC.