Tony Blair Says Bernie Doesn't Have the Answers (Public Opinion Says Otherwise)

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Tony Blair Says Bernie Doesn't Have the Answers (Public Opinion Says Otherwise)

"Blair, who's earned millions consulting for Gulf royals, says he's worried by things like tuition free college."

Tony Blair speaks at the 2017 Concordia Annual Summit at Grand Hyatt New York on September 18, 2017 in New York City.

Tony Blair speaks at the 2017 Concordia Annual Summit at Grand Hyatt New York on September 18, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

"People like Blair and Macron are poster children for the utter vapidity of neoliberal centrism."
—Will Bunch, Philly.com

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in an interview on The Global Politico Podcast published Monday that people should not approach U.S. President Donald Trump with "flat-out opposition" and seemed to argue that Americans should be less concerned about Trump and more concerned about the platform of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—remarks that earned him immediate derision from commentators on social media.

Critics took particular umbrage at Blair's attempt to claim that the solutions proposed by "populist right" and the "populist left" are similarly misguided, a stance some mocked as an attempt to equate those fighting for Medicare for All with neo-Nazis.

Throughout the Politico interview, Blair, a "Third Way" centrist figure who enthusiastically supported the Iraq War, characterized the demands of the left in the U.S. and the U.K.—like free public college tuition—as little more than pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking.

"[Y]ou can go for what are very good-sounding things like, we're going to abolish tuition fees, or we're going to give you this for free, or that for free," Blair said. "Okay, so that's one way you can go, and it definitely, in today's world, and in particular, in the absence of a vigorous change-making center, that's very attractive. But I don’t think it's the answer, and I'm not sure it would win an election."

"I think a lot of these solutions aren't really progressive," Blair continued. "And they don't correspond to what the problem of the modern world is, which is the problem of accelerating change. And so, the solutions that kind of look back to the '60s or '70s, they get a round of applause."

Blair went on to offer a comparatively charitable interpretation of Trump's tenure in the White House, saying that while he disagrees with the U.S. president's decision to ditch the Paris climate agreement, he thinks that Trump's moves to deepen American involvement in the Middle East have "been helpful."

When Politico's Susan Glasser asked Blair about his decision to wholeheartedly support the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Blair noted that it is a discussion he is "perfectly happy" to have, dismissed as a "fundamental misunderstanding" arguments that the invasion is to blame for destabilizing the Middle East, and asserted that the present suffering in Syria is one of the "costs of non-intervention."

Blair concluded the interview by expressing his desire to "renew the center" in order to quell the appeal of the right and left, pointing to the victory of Emmanuel Macron in France's presidential election as a blueprint.

But judging by recent polling data and electoral results, Blair appears to be on the wrong side of public opinion.

Bernie Sanders is far and away the most popular politician in the U.S.—popularity attained with his platform of free public college tuition, Medicare for All, and a $15 minimum wage. Jeremy Corbyn, for his part, effectively revived the U.K.'s Labour Party by surpassing all expectations in this year's snap election with an explicitly left-wing manifesto.

France's Macron, on the other hand, has watched his approval ratings plummet in his first months as president, and he is increasingly under fire as he eyes tax cuts for the wealthy and rams through deeply unpopular union reforms that will make it easier for employers to fire workers.

Will Bunch, a columnist for Philly.com, concluded that the soaring popularity of Sanders and Corbyn, and the plummeting popularity of Macron, is an indication that centrism has failed to offer a viable alternative to the status quo.

"People like Blair and Macron are poster children for the utter vapidity of neoliberal centrism," Bunch wrote.

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