Bernie Sanders And The Good People Of Wall Street

Reuters/Carlo Allegri

Jim Huffman Dean Emeritus, Lewis & Clark Law School
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Much has been made of Donald Trump’s insulting and degrading comments about millions of good people, ranging from Mexicans to Muslims to women and even prisoners of war. He has been roundly condemned, and that is as it should be.

What is not as it should be is the near total lack of scorn for the persistent insults directed by candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton at the millions of good people who work on Wall Street and in banks and large businesses across the country. The insulted may think that Clinton doesn’t really believe what she says – that she’s just doing what she needs to do to get the nomination. After all she has been pretty cozy with Wall Street in the past. But in Sanders’ case there can be no doubt that he really believes that fraud, lying and greed are the norm on Wall Street.

Until Kimberly Strassel highlighted Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam’s “takedown … of Bernie Sanders” in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal, hardly anyone in the national media challenged Sanders on his persistent denunciation of the many people working on Wall Street and in large corporations across this country. As McAdam reportedly said, Sanders’ views on corporate America are “uninformed” and “contemptible.” Contemptible not because they are uninformed, but because they demean millions of law-abiding and tax-paying Americans.

A few weeks ago a dear friend who happened to be a highly successful corporate CEO died. He was widely respected in our community and hundreds of people turned up for his memorial service, including many former employees who honored him for his business acumen and leadership. But most in attendance knew and respected him for his philanthropy, his mentorship of young people and his many contributions to civic organizations.

That’s the way it is with successful business people. They gain respect and recognition in their communities not by being successful in business but for the contributions they make when they are not tending to business. That’s not surprising since most non-business people pay little attention to business. But the Sanders phenomenon suggests that there is more to it than ignorance or indifference. His anti-business views appear to be widely shared.

Sanders’ assault on business people has only improved his prospects in the Democratic primaries. Enormous crowds cheer wildly at his repeated allegations of fraud and corruption on Wall Street and in the big banks. Because of Sanders’ success at the polls, Clinton has followed suit. Her mantra on the subject is that “no business is too big to fail, and no executive too big to jail.” Yes, she would happily thrown them in jail and there is no doubt that Sanders would happily throw away the key.

Why is the anti-business vitriol tolerated with scarcely a whisper of dissent? Why is it OK to demonize friends and neighbors who provide gainful employment to other friends and neighbors? Who will pay the taxes necessary to support Sanders’ democratic socialist state without successful businesses to employ would be taxpayers? And how will businesses succeed if they cannot get financing, and if their executives are publicly shamed for looking after the interests of their shareholders, employees and customers?

Big and small businesses alike don’t’ threaten the public interest as Sanders claims. They serve the public interest. Volunteerism is to be admired, but without businesses of all sizes providing employment, goods and services to the public, no one could afford the time or resources to volunteer. Among the many contributions my CEO friend made to our community, his success as a businessman was by far the most important. It made everything else possible.

Trump has earned condemnation for his gratuitous insults of good people. So have Sanders and Clinton. Our failure to call the latter two out, as Clinton might say, is worrisome. Not just because good people are being insulted, but because without those good people doing the good work of business we will be in big trouble as a nation.