As each day passes, the Left is becoming more excited about Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders’ entry into the Democratic primaries.
Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson points out:
[Sanders’ campaign] is the first such effort by a democratic socialist since Norman Thomas waged the last of his six such campaigns on the Socialist Party ticket in 1948.
However, there is one big difference between these two socialist campaigns: Thomas ran on his own party’s ticket, and not within the Democratic Party primaries.
He was acting on Eugene V. Debs’ old axiom that if you don’t vote for the candidate you really want, you’ll definitely get the one you don’t. Certainly, Debs received the largest vote a Socialist had ever received in the 1912 presidential race, but even so, it was only 5% and did not affect the election results. Debs believed, as he said in his post-election statement, that the million votes cast for him presaged something they could build upon — and that both the Republican and Democrat parties would collapse, leaving the Socialists in place for eventual victory.
That did not happen, but there have been changes within the current Democratic Party that might make Debs happy. Sanders decided not to emulate Debs, but to run within a Democratic Party that has already become a social-democratic political party on the far left of the spectrum.
The late socialist leader Michael Harrington considered the Democratic Party to be part of “the invisible social democracy” in which those who wanted America to turn socialist had to engage. That is why Harrington supported the policy advocated by Communist Earl Browder during the WWII years, which was to work within and support the Democrats, hoping to push the party towards the radical policies the socialists desired.
Today, Meyerson says that Sanders is advocating policies that are “distinctly more progressive than last year’s standard Democratic fare,” amounting to “a slightly more social democratic version of the newly populist liberalism.”
With Sanders running at a moment when “Democrats are moving left in response to the deep dysfunctions of U.S. capitalism,” Meyerson believes this is the right moment to put forth even more radical measures than Democrats of the past would have dared to propose, including higher Social Security benefits, single-payer national health care, major raises in the minimum wage, higher taxes on the rich, and cancellation of a new free-trade agreement with the Pacific Rim nations.
Give both Sanders and Meyerson credit for saying what they really advocate. They want to bring America closer to what exists in the welfare states of Europe, where economies are on the verge of collapse due to left-wing programs that cannot economically be sustained.
Do Meyerson and Sanders really believe that such programs are economically viable, and that taxing the rich will bring in enough money to fund what they advocate? If so, they are delusional. They seem to think, as William Voegeli argues in his seminal book, Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State, that our existing welfare state is limitless, and can be expanded dramatically so that the goal of equality by command will be realized.
Unlike the modest reforms Meyerson cites that Debs supported — an eight-hour workday, social insurance, and women’s suffrage — today’s socialists advocate such an expansion of government power and integration of the state with the economy that it would amount to destruction of the American idea.
It would do Meyerson good to read the essays of my friend, the late socialist historian Martin J. Sklar, who argued shortly before his passing that today’s “leftists” support economic proposals that are historically reactionary, consisting of high-tax, protectionist, and slow economic growth policies. Today’s conservatives, on the other hand, support less regulation, lower taxes, and a low-cost energy program. To Sklar, the Democrats are “ensnared in the green business/academia lobby agenda of high-cost energy,” which will restrict economic growth and negatively affect workers’ opportunities and incomes.
That the policies Sanders favors can even be seen as worthy of discussion is but one example of how far left the Democratic Party has already become. Much of its membership embraces statist and socialist programs as both good and reasonable.
America, however, is still a center-right nation, and the further left candidates like Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren move responding to the pressure of Sanders and the party’s base, the more regular Americans will reject them. That is why I say: “Go, Bernie, go!”