The Washington press corps has gone into one of its great feeding frenzies over Bernie Sanders' interview with New York Daily News. Sanders avoided specific answers to many of the questions posed, which the D.C. gang are convinced shows a lack of the knowledge necessary to be president.
Among the frenzied were the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza, The Atlantic's David Graham, and Vanity Fair's Tina Nguyen, and CNN's Dylan Byers telling about it all. Having read the transcript of the interview I would say that I certainly would have liked to see more specificity in Sanders' answers, but I'm an economist. And some of the complaints are just silly.
When asked how he would break up the big banks Sanders said he would leave that up to the banks. That's exactly the right answer. The government doesn't know the most efficient way to break up JP Morgan, JP Morgan does. If the point is to downsize the banks, the way to do it is to give them a size cap and let them figure out the best way to reconfigure themselves to get under it.
The same applies to Sanders not knowing the specific statute for prosecuting banks for their actions in the housing bubble. Knowingly passing off fraudulent mortgages in a mortgage backed security is fraud. Could the Justice Department prove this case against high level bank executives? Who knows, but they obviously didn't try.
And the fact that Sanders didn't know the specific statute, who cares? How many people know the specific statute for someone who puts a bullet in someone's head? That's murder, and if a candidate for office doesn't know the exact title and specific's of her state murder statute, it hardly seems like a big issue.
There is a very interesting contrast in media coverage of House Speaker Paul Ryan. In Washington policy circles Ryan is treated as a serious budget wonk. How many reporters have written about the fact this serious budget wonk has repeatedly proposed eliminating most of the federal government. This was not an offhand gaffe that Ryan made when caught in a bad moment, this was in his budgets that he pushed through as chair of the House Budget Committee.
This fact can be found in the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) analysis of Ryan's budget (page 16, Table 2). The analysis shows Ryan's budget shrinking everything other than Social Security and Medicare and other health care programs to 3.5 percent of GDP by 2050. This is roughly the current size of the military budget, which Ryan has indicated he wants to increase. That leaves zero for everything else.
Included in everything else is the Justice Department, the National Park System, the State Department, the Department of Education, the Food and Drug Administration, Food Stamps, the National Institutes of Health, and just about everything else that the government does. Just to be clear, CBO did this analysis under Ryan's supervision. He never indicated any displeasure with its assessment. In fact he boasted about the fact that CBO showed his budget paying off the national debt.
So there you have it. The D.C. press corps that goes nuts because Bernie Sanders doesn't know the name of the statute under which he would prosecute bank fraud thinks a guy who calls for eliminating most of the federal government is a great budget wonk.