February 24, 2016

PAUL STARR: Why Democrats Should Beware Bernie Sanders’ Socialism: He’s A Socialist, Not A Liberal — And There’s A Big Difference.

So, just what is Sanders’ socialism? As analogs to his own program, Sanders points to the policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and the social democracies of northern Europe. As a liberal, I find a lot to like about both of those. But Sanders’ portrayal of democratic socialism as nothing but the New Deal is a disingenuous sleight of hand that plays on foggy historical memories. And his comparison to Nordic social democracy is equally misleading: Much of Sanders’s platform ignores the economic realities that European socialists long ago accepted.

Many people may be inclined to interpret Sanders’ calls for a revolution as just a rhetorical flourish. I think we should take it seriously. His policies are rooted in a socialist framework rather than a liberal one. And despite what Republicans may say, there’s a big difference between socialism and liberalism. . . .

Since Republicans have been calling Obama a socialist for the past eight years, the label socialist may seem to many to be a synonym for progressive or liberal. But the differences between socialism and liberalism are fundamental. At its core, liberalism has a concern for liberty. While liberals have expanded public programs, they also have sought to strengthen rights that limit arbitrary power, both governmental and private. Liberals do not sanctify the free market, but they care about preserving the incentives that stimulate innovation and investment and make possible a flourishing economy.

Socialism and Sanders have their heart in a different place—economic equality before all else. Socialism is still the dream of those who don’t worry about concentrating power in the state or about the perverse effects of making goods and services available at a zero price. To bring socialism back from the dead wearing New Deal liberalism as a mask is no service to either. Socialists should know the difference, and liberals should too. After feverish right-wing accusations that every liberal proposal is tantamount to socialism, the last thing liberals need is a Democratic presidential candidate blurring that line.

Indeed.

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