Means Testing: Sanders vs. Warren on the Single Most Important Policy Idea for Progressive Success

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    It is standard procedure for most Democratic candidates to support Bernie style social programs in theory—or at least some of them—but then to insert the caveat that “of course, rich people or even people above the poverty line should not get them for free because they can afford to pay for them out of their own pockets.” It sounds very fair and progressive, a blow against crony capitalism and directing government money to the undeserving rich. It is a staple line regarding the student debt plan of Elizabeth Warren, for example, and is roundly approved by the punditocracy. It is the mark of a “serious” candidate. It is called “means testing.”

    But means testing is a phony progressivism and a crucial tactic promoted by the right to eliminate social welfare programs that could benefit the population. We can understand why corporate Democrats like Biden or Buttigieg or Harris advocate means testing; the corporate wing of the Democratic Party warmed to means testing in the 1980s and it began to be embraced as a legitimate device in both the Clinton and Obama administrations. It is now a common approach for that crowd.

    So when someone as ostensibly progressive as Warren does the same it demonstrates just how pervasive right-wing ideology has been internalized in our politics.

    Why do I call this a right-wing idea? Because as soon as means-testing is accepted on principle and introduced for a program, it begs the logical question of why not extend it to other similar social programs? So if means testing free public college tuition is such a great idea, then why not have well-to-do parents pay tuition for their children in public high schools and middle schools and elementary schools? Why not bill only the rich when they drive on any public roads or use public libraries or parks or restrooms? Why not charge them for using the police or fire departments? Where exactly do you draw the line? That is a slippery slope toward privatization and elimination of government functions.

    Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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