This post was originally published on Forbes Oct 4, 2015
Reports I have read on the Bernie Sanders rally at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center yesterday indicate attendance of 25,000, a five block line waiting to get in and thousands left out in the cold. I can at least partially confirm some of that. The room in the expo center was very big and very full. My place in the line seemed to be a couple of blocks away from the center and there were plenty of people behind me and the retired school superintendent I had car pooled with. It wasn't really cold though - more blustery. Two other observations. The crowd was very young and pretty white. My big disappointment was that there was not that much on taxes, but maybe that is something of a tax story. We'll get to that.
We'd been warned to get there early and had. Frank and I met up in Westborough at 3:00 and were at the Center not much after 3:30 for the event that was slated to start at 6:00. I sprung the extra ten bucks for valet parking. Then we had to hike to the end of the line, which was already a considerable distance although we were assured that we still had a good chance to get in. While waiting people came along trying to sell us buttons and get us to sign petitions.
There were a couple of requests for signatures for a "millionaires tax" that would tack an additional 4% in state income tax onto people with incomes over $1,000,000. The Massachusetts income tax rate of 5.15% is pretty middle of the road and by the state constitution has to remain flat, which is why the ballot question is needed to change it. The thing about Massachusetts is that unless you stay on the East West thoroughfares like the Mass Pike and Route 20, you can't drive much over forty miles without crossing a state line, which might makes millionaire flight pretty easy.
The other thing about the proposal is that it made me pine for the good old days when "millionaire" meant someone with a net worth of a million dollars, which I might actually aspire to soaking wet after a full meal with the wind at my back.
We mostly chatted with an official of the ironworkers local who said that his local is all for Bernie, but the national union is not on board yet. He told us that he is a third-generation ironworker with roots in Newfoundland. Apparently the maritime tradition of climbing up on masts and the like translates into ironworking. Who knew?
After we finally got into the venue, there was a pretty long period of standing around as the room filled. The traffic direction was handled pretty smoothly by the volunteers. Several hours of standing on a hard floor is tough on old guys like me and Frank, but the youth did not seem to be disturbed. I wandered off after agreeing that we would meet under the huge American flag. It might have been a mistake, since Frank and I had had a prime vantage point and I ended up far enough away from the lectern that I did not get any decent pictures.
I ended up mostly chatting with some Harvard students. They were interesting guys, attorneys who are getting Harvard LLMs, all from other countries - Canada, Australia, Switzerland and Pakistan. The thing that bothered them most about Bernie is that, from their perspective, he is weak on gun control. The Aussie told me that there had been one mass shooting in Australia and that was it they rounded up all the guns. I didn't do a very good job of explaining why that would not be something worth trying in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Finally Symone Sanders, Bernie's new National Press Secretary, a young African American woman, took the stage, perhaps an indication that future crowds might not be so dominated by the melanin deficient. (I didn't catch the name of the fellow who had come on before her.) Prior to the main event she introduced four speakers who nicely linked his outreach to organized labor and concern about health care, students and the environment.
Karen Higgins, President of the National Nurses Union spoke about "breaking the class ceiling" and Bernie being for education not incarceration and the that he would be the President of the 99%. Jimmy O'Brien President of the Boston Carmen's Union spoke about a move to privatize parts of the MBTA. They were followed by Jillian Brownsford, a nursing student at UMass-Boston and environmental author Bill McKibben, who took off his hat to show us he was as gray as Bernie.
The Big Event
It sometimes seems to me that Republicans when at all possible want to be seen as running against the IRS and Lois Lerner. Bernie Sanders wants to be seen as running against Citizens United and the Koch brothers. He let us know that he does not represent the billionaire class and does not want their money. Although I found this intriguing group called Patriotic Millionaires who are in favor of higher taxes, something tells me Billionaires for Bernie, will not be a thing, so the image of him spurning their money will probably remain hypothetical.
I think "Koch" may have been the only name he mentioned more than once and it was always good for a rousing boo. There were some interesting zingers as when he talked about Republicans being in a parallel universe and being a national embarrassment as a political party that refuses to believe science when it comes to climate change. He talked about how as husband, father and grandfather that he supports family values, but just does not think that that includes interfering with how women control their own bodies and preventing gay people from marrying one another. Pretty sure that part rated the biggest cheers.
We heard about the grotesque level of inequality and the impossibility of surviving on $7.25 per hour. He also called for amnesty and a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people living among us.
Much to my disappointment, the only mention of taxes was in the part about providing tuition-free public education. It would be financed by a "tax on Wall Street speculation". For whatever it is worth Tim Worstall in his piece - Bernie Sanders And His Adventures With The Magic Money Tree - argues that scored dynamically the Financial Transactions Tax being floated by Sanders is a revenue loser. I don't think too many people in the crowd have read that. Personally, I remain agnostic on the Final Transactions Tax, although every time I have mentioned it I have heard that it would turn lower Manhattan into a ghost town or something like that.
So I remain waiting for the other shoe to drop on the Sanders tax plan. The high points of the unofficial summary I received from the campaign were lifting the cap on earnings subject to social security tax and taxing dividends and capital gains the same as ordinary income. There was not mention of an increase in the top marginal rate. Given his interest in rebuilding the middle class, it might be worth reflecting that in any given year, some of the high incomes and capital gains are middle-class people having a brief moment in the sun when a small business or rental building tended for decades is sold. Maybe they are thinking about that in crafting their plan. We can hope.
How Many People Are Feeling The Bern?
Yesterday is pretty good evidence that there is quite a bit of enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders. Several of my Jewish friends have told me that the country is just not ready for a Jewish President, but I really think that that ship has sailed. If the Sanders campaign can craft a tax plan that could conceivably pay for everything without squashing real entrepreneurs, he might find support in all sorts of odd places. Oddly enough, Jeb Bush with his proposal to eliminate the deduction for business interest may have failed in that regard. I just hope that Sanders doesn't go crazy with the top marginal rate. We'll see.
If you don't believe I was really there. The evidence is at 00:15 on this clip.