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Ex-Obama adviser defends Sanders against Bloomberg's communism attack

Ethan Wolff-Mann
Senior Writer

Austan Goolsbee, an economist who served under the Obama administration, isn’t backing Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination. But in a new interview with Yahoo Finance, Goolsbee defended Sanders from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s suggestion during Wednesday’s debate that he’s a communist.

In the debate Wednesday night, Bloomberg, a former Republican and latecomer to the race, said he wouldn’t “throw out capitalism,” because “other countries tried that: It was called communism, and it just didn't work.”

In an interview with Yahoo Finance’s “The Ticker” on Wednesday, Goolsbee, the former Obama Cabinet member who is now a professor of economics at the Chicago's Booth School of Business, said that this comment was off base.

Democratic presidential candidates (L-R) former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) take a break during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Paris Las Vegas on February 19, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

“I thought it was a little unfair. Bernie Sanders doesn't advocate communism,” said Goolsbee, who said that the former mayor was clearly talking about Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who together represent the more progressive wing of the Democratic field. “It was a funny line that Mayor Bloomberg had there, but I thought overall that his performance left a lot to be desired.”

The former Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers said that Sanders speaks to a desire to “reject the Trumpism, corporate power, and $2 trillion of tax cuts.” Goolsbee says he supports Pete Buttigieg, the moderate 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, because he has “the most sensible plan.”

Still, the former economic adviser for Obama said that Sanders was especially strong when he evoked government support from the other side — the wealthy side.

“I thought Bernie Sanders was pretty effective when he said: ‘You say you don't like socialism, but how is giving $2 trillion to corporations not socialism, just upside down socialism?’” Goolsbee said, referring to tax cuts under the Trump administration. 

Overall, Goolsbee said that he didn’t think “Bloomberg had such a great night.”

“He just looked out of his league,” he said. “He did not come ready to talk about his policies, talk about really it seemed like anything, except how much money he had.”

Goolsbee noted that “six months is forever in the business of primaries,” and that a lot could change, but called Sanders the “front-runner at this moment.”

While Goolsbee is far from the first observer to criticize Bloomberg’s debate performance, the former mayor did seem to be gaining headway with voters before Wednesday night. A national poll from Marist, PBS NewsHour, and NPR released on Tuesday showed his level of support among Democrats and left-leaning independents at 19% — trailing only Sanders, who had 31%.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, personal finance, retail, airlines, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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