Bernie Sanders: Socialist, Nationalist, Romantic Print
By Ben Boychuk
Thursday, July 30 2015
Americans are primed for a populist message, which is one reason Donald Trump has caught fire with a sizable minority of Republicans. But are Americans keen to elect a socialist who peddles populist rhetoric?

Bernie Sanders is attracting crowds. The avowed socialist U.S. Senator from Vermont may be running a long-shot campaign to upset Hillary Clinton’s acclamation as the Democratic Party’s nominee for president next year, but what he lacks in polish and money he more than makes up for in enthusiastic grassroots support.

Last year, he was pulling 200 or 300 people to his rallies for liberal Democratic candidates around the United States. Now he’s drawing thousands—10,000 in New Hampshire in June; 11,000 in Phoenix last week; 8,000 in Dallas a few weeks ago. On Wednesday, he drew more than 1,000 people in the former Republican stronghold of Orange County, California.

And what is Sanders saying that Clinton and other Democrats are not?

Sanders is a socialist. In an interview with Ezra Klein of this week, Sanders explained that being a socialist means emulating other socialist countries such as Finland, Norway and Sweden.

“[W]hat you find is that in virtually all of those countries, health care is a right of all people and their systems are far more cost-effective than ours, college education is virtually free in all of those countries, people retire with better benefits, wages that people receive are often higher, distribution of wealth and income is much fairer, their public education systems are generally stronger than ours.”

Sanders is also a romantic. He hasn’t much use for free markets, which he suspects are rigged for the benefit of the rich. He is unsurprisingly in favor of single-payer health care, and believes prescription drugs should be subject to price controls—which are guaranteed to restrict supplies and squelch innovation.

His thoughts on public education are telling, insofar as they tell us very little beyond the fact that Sanders thinks education is a fundamental right: “I don’t know how you have the United States being competitive in a global economy if we do not have the best-educated workforce in the world. What does that mean? It means that everybody should be able to get all of the education they need, regardless of the income of their families.”

Does that mean Sanders supports school choice? Of course not. He voted against the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which allows low-income, mostly black and Hispanic families to send their children to a private or parochial school of their choice. In fact, he has consistently opposed school choice programs.

Sanders is also a nationalist. National Review editor-at-large Kevin Williamson wrote a dynamite cover story for the magazine’s July 2 issue that made the connection explicit: “He is, in fact, leading a national-socialist movement, which is a queasy and uncomfortable thing to write about a man who is the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and whose family was murdered in the Holocaust. But there is no other way to characterize his views and his politics.”

The problem with referring to Sanders as a national-socialist is that obvious association people make with Hitler, the German Nazi Party, and the Holocaust. Genocide tends to be a conversation-stopper. But the fact is, national-socialism exists to this day. Syria under the Assads is a national-socialist regime. Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a national-socialist regime.

But Sanders’ brand of national-socialism is American through and through. Williamson points to Sanders’ “incessant reliance on xenophobic (and largely untrue) tropes” blaming the Chinese, Mexicans and other foreigners for the nation’s economic sluggishness.

“If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or UK or Denmark or any other country,” Sanders told Klein, “you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people. What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don't believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.”

That’s a cartoon caricature of the conservative take on immigration. Conservatives disagree on immigration reform. Many conservatives oppose opening the borders, but support a more rational system that allows highly skilled immigrants to come to this country to make a living.

Yet from the left’s perspective, Sanders is just talking good sense. “What is remarkable about Sanders's platform is how unremarkable it would sound to any run-of-the-mill Democratic politician 40 years ago,” observed the left-wing writer Charles Pierce at Esquire, “and how moderate it would have sounded to Eugene V. Debs, the last major Socialist candidate for president.”

Americans are primed for a populist message, which is one reason Donald Trump has caught fire with a sizable minority of Republicans. But are Americans keen to elect a socialist who peddles populist rhetoric?

Not likely. Sanders and Trump are tapping a growing dissatisfaction among Americans who believe, with good reason, that their government holds them in contempt. But Sanders’ remedy for out-of-touch government is more government. Power to the people is power to the bureaucracy. Socialism, at bottom, is subjugation.