Who is Bernie Sanders?
His Campaign's Challenges
What is Socialism?
Is Bernie's Platform "Socialist"?
Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from the state of Vermont, raised $1.5 million during the first 24 hours after his announcement -- more than any Republican candidate did in a comparable time -- and is getting wildly enthusiastic crowds of ever-increasing size in Iowa and wherever else he appears. We witnessed this phenomenon at close range here in Iowa City this past Saturday (see video of presentation, below). Trip Gabriel and Patrick Healy, "Challenging Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders Gains Momentum in Iowa,", New York Times, June 1, 2015, p. A12.
[In Davenport, where Martin O'Malley announced his candidacy to a "crowd" of 50, Bernie Sanders had earlier attracted 700 -- the largest crowd for any presidential candidate in Iowa this year. In little Kensett, Iowa, population 261, some 300 turned out to hear him. His Vermont kick-off drew 5000; his post Iowa stop in Minneapolis, 4000.]
Neither Democrat nor Republican, he's sufficiently well regarded by his Senate colleagues that they've given him the coveted position as ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee. He often caucuses with the Senate Democrats, and will be running as a Democrat during the forthcoming caucuses and primaries. He is sufficiently well regarded by Democratic Party voters that 15% of them are already leaning his way in what had been predicted to be the Party's Clinton coronation nomination process.
His personality, presentations, and positions on the issues are such that every member of the 99% ought to be supporting him. Why isn't everyone there -- yet? There are two challenges.
Central is our corporate media's approach to politics in general and the presidential primaries in particular -- as a horse race, and delights over their gotcha presentations of candidates' gaffs. When Sanders is mentioned at all it's usually to compare him with Hillary. Seldom has any report devoted even a single sentence to each of his policy proposals -- most of which, polls show, are supported by a majority of Americans.
However one might characterize what the media is currently doing, it's not an effort to inform and involve the American people in a discussion and debate regarding the "best practices" approach to our nation's challenges. Since that's what Bernie wants to do, no other candidate seems to, and therefore ought to be one of the most newsworthy elements of his campaign, the fact that it's impossible to report his exciting platform in the media's 20-second sound bites is a substantial campaign challenge.
The other major challenge is Sanders' association with what for many Americans is the dreaded word "socialist" -- the modern day equivalent of Senator Joseph McCarthy's irresponsible use of the label "communist."
Socialism might be loosely thought of as government (federal, state, county, or city) ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, the provision of services or facilities. "Capitalism," by contrast, suggests a system in which these things are the province of private individuals or corporations.
Thus, our interstate highway system might be characterized as "socialist highways." Privately owned toll roads and bridges (there are a few) would be "capitalist highways."
In the real world there are few pure "communist," "socialist," or "capitalist" countries. China is ruled by a "Communist Party" and yet is best known today for its galloping capitalist advances that are providing a real challenge to the rest of the world's economies, including ours.
Like China, ours is also a mixed economy. Americans may not be unanimous, but most seem to like the idea of socialist roads and bridges; national, state, county and city parks; public K-12 schools and state universities; and public libraries. They like cooperatives, whether for farmers, rural electricity, grocery stores, or credit unions. They don't seem to mind -- at least not enough to abolish them -- the blend of government and corporate institutions known as"corporatism" that transfers taxpayers' money to private "capitalists" (in the form of grants, tax breaks, TIFs, subsidies, price supports, earmarks, and other creative schemes -- limited only by the imaginative abilities of business persons and those whose campaigns they fund).
So I think it's a little silly to treat "socialist" as a "slur word" when we're all living in the midst of it and liking it -- the sidewalk and road in front of my house, the trash collection truck that just drove by on it (and the recycling truck that will soon follow), the water plant and main that just provided the water I needed to make tea, the fireplug on the corner of our lot, the public library book that sits on my desk as I keystroke this blog essay, the park across the street, the street cleaning machine that drove by the other day.
Besides, I think living a life of labels -- whether of ethnicity, gender, race, religion, or political ideology -- is dangerous, limiting, and not very productive. When it comes to public policy, we're better off evaluating the challenge, the data, and the options for solutions than to accept, or reject, proposals on the basis of ideological labels. Of what relevance is it to adequate funding for our roads and bridges whether the tax, and the projects it funds, are labeled "capitalist," "socialist," "libertarian" -- or "communist"? A pothole, or a falling bridge, has no ideology.
It would be amusing if it were not so serious that anyone would want to use "socialist" as a pejorative in trying to diminish Senator Sanders. He's as American as Vermont maple syrup. He is brighter, more creative, compassionate, accomplished, experienced, and committed to his constituents than most. But aside from that, he is otherwise merely engaged in the same kinds of political and legislative activities of other U.S. senators since the beginning of our nation.
Those who do find labels useful would probably consider the Cato Institute either "conservative" or "Libertarian" or both. Here's what it has to say about Senator Sanders:
According to the National Taxpayers Union, 42 senators in 2008 voted to spend more tax dollars than socialist Bernie Sanders. . . . Meanwhile, the American Conservative Union rated 11 senators more liberal than Sanders in 2008, . . .. The Republican Liberty Caucus declared . . . Sanders voted better than 31 colleagues in support of personal liberties.David Boaz, "Is Bernie Sanders the Most Liberal Senator?" "Cato at Liberty," Cato Institute, April 30, 2015.
As Ralph Nader has said, "This country has more problems than it deserves and more solutions than it uses."
Bernie Sanders wants us to address those problems, search for and then use those solutions.
Here are a couple of illustrations, followed by links and a video of Bernie's Iowa City presentation to fill you in on more details.
Bernie advocates "Medicare for all," otherwise referred to as "universal, single-payer healthcare." This is not some risky, radical, never-tried-before idea of his. Variations of this idea have long been the global standard, the moderate, middle-of-the-road approach by the industrialized nations for economic growth as well as better health and associated happiness for their entire populations.Those nations' peoples have longer life expectancies, and lower rates of infant mortality, than we do, with more of their people covered, and at lower cost. We chose a costly health insurance approach, although now expanded to more Americans. They chose health care provided to all.Nicholas Johnson, "Free College Education for Iowans? Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 16, 2015, p. A7, embedded in, "Free College Education for Iowans? Will Germany’s Economic Formula Work for Iowa?" January 16, 2015.
Bernie advocates free higher education. This is no more a radical idea than Medicare for all. As I wrote last January, "Germany is only the latest country to realize that free higher education for all world citizens promotes economic growth in each of its states ("Länder"). Other countries with similar programs include Brazil, Finland, France, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden. . . . Providing free college education to all, like the free food samples at Costco, is just good business.
"Germany is part of a global economy. The more world citizens with German ties, the more the Länders' economies grow. It's true whether students from abroad stay, or return home with networks of German contacts. It's equally true of German students otherwise without access to higher education. The German economy benefits when they stay; it benefits when they study abroad, stay, and do business from there.
Iowa, unlike Germany, does not grasp this simple truth. Our leaders believe if Washington can pay for a war with tax cuts, Iowa can create prosperity with tax cuts. Both Washington and Des Moines are in desperate need of remedial math."
For more of Bernie's proposals and their details, see on his Senate Web page, Agenda for America: 12 Steps Forward"; and for a fulsome description of Senator Sanders and his positions on numerous issues, see "Bernie Sanders Presidential Campaign, 2016," "Balotpedia," and the "Political Positions" section of the Wikipedia "Bernie Sanders" entry.
If you'd like to watch Bernie explain these ideas to thunderous applause and standing ovations, here is a video of his entire Iowa City presentation, May 30, 2015, prepared by Gregory Johnson of ResourcesForLife.com:
You owe it to yourself to learn more about this man, his policy proposals and stands, and the process he proposes to get us there.
Bernie Sanders' Presidential campaign Web page: http://www.BernieSanders.com
Senator Sanders' Web page: "Bernie Sanders: United States Senator for Vermont"
Bernie Sanders' Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/berniesanders
Bernie Sanders on Wikipedia: Bernie Sanders