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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Getting Burned By The Bern

When Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist, started his presidential campaign, a seminary friend from way back asked if we could get together to discuss his campaign. Since we live 6+ hours apart pending traffic, we've have yet had that discussion.

How Sanders defined Socialism was a mystery for a while. We Socialists knew that he was not talking about Socialism as we know it. We knew that right away by his foreign policy statements. His foreign policy statements support the same old, same old. But why he was different from us in domestic issues was a little difficult to pin down. After all, we all wanted some of the same benefits. But Sanders recently gave a speech that further clarified the differences between him and real socialists (click here for the speech). And now it is easy to identify the differences between us.

While Sanders wants to define Socialism by the benefits he is promising, benefits that conservatives define as Socialism, he never addresses the key concern of Socialism: the nation's political-economic structure. Instead of telling us how we can change the structure of both our political and economic systems, Sanders wants us to look forward to the past. He wants us to see him as a reincarnation of FDR. But therein lies some problems.

The first problem was one that was admitted by FDR himself. The purpose of some of the programs he instituted was to save Capitalism from itself (click here). By redistributing wealth, it was apparent that one of the deadliest enemies of Capitalism was the wealth disparity it created at that time. Does that sound familiar? Thus, by instituting a more equal distribution of wealth, FDR was actually protecting the handful of the richest from the rest. 

On the other hand, Socialists want to dismantle Capitalism. They want to undo it. The first redistribution they want is that of power. They want workers to have more power at work and not just in terms of wage negotiations. I think it was Noam Chomsky who said something to the effect that there is no sense in talking about political freedom when the tyranny at the workplace. Do we honestly think that those who are best at commanding the workplace for their own profit will not also try to control our nation's politics when there business success at partially depends on it?

The next problem we have with Sanders is that suppose he is elected and puts through the programs he wants, what prevents the next elected president from undoing his work? If our political structure doesn't change, then his changes are more at the whim of the next President and Congress. Here, we should note that many of FDR's programs have been under attack for quite a while. And it is quite possible that what has sustained his programs this long was the context in which they were started. The combination of the Great Depression and World War II pretty much cemented his programs for the then immediate future. But such will not be the case with any programs Sanders institutes.

An old friend from college made this observation. That most Americans are not represented by their government because our elected officials do not share our occupations. The three most common occupations held by members of Congress are lawyers, public servants/politicians, and business people (see here). This leaves many occupations under represented, if represented at all, in our government. How are teachers and social workers represented in our government? How are factor workers or those working in information technology represented in our government? How are those who have trade skills represented in our government? Or how are housewives represented in our government? We assume that our representatives will represent the region that elected them. But our regions are not monoliths and thus many are not represented at all because the view of what serves the region is that of the lawyer, politician, or businessperson. We need to change the structure of our government so that people from other occupations are well represented too.

In addition, those with money bought our government and so our elected officials now serve them (see here). And while Sanders promises to eliminate the influence of money on government, he belongs to a political party that is part of the problem of being sponsored and controlled by money.

Perhaps where we get burned the most by the bern is how Sanders, whether intending to or not, is acting as a sheepdog candidate. That Sanders has significantly different positions than Hillary Clinton, who is the likely nominee, is insignificant. If Hillary is nominated, he will support her candidacy rather than support the candidacy of a 3rd party candidate whose positions are more like his. Thus he is being used to bring as many strays back into the fold of the Democratic Party as possible.

This means that Sanders' campaign helps prevent nonconservative 3rd parties from eventually becoming competitive in the elections. For such parties can only become competitive incrementally from year to year until finally enough defections from the 2 major parties allow these 3rd parties to garner a significant percentage of the vote. Those who wait to vote for 3rd party candidates until their respective political parties or the candidates themselves become competitive are taking a passive-aggressive approach to changing our political system.

In the end, Sanders claims he is a Socialist by the benefits he promises to bring to the country. And we should note that some of his promised benefits are very laudible. But with those benefits, Sanders wants/needs the power that FDR had to get Congress to do their job. And in the end, it is that centralization of power in the hands of a few rather than a distribution of power among workers and others who do not belong to the upper economic class that distinguishes Sanders from real socialists. In addition, it is that cenralization of power that would allow Sanders to maintain the status quo set by his predecessors.




2 comments:

Pink Liberty said...

Ah, Sanders is a shop keeper and so am I. It's kept Britain alive for centuries. I want transparency and choice, and the U.S. system of commerce and taxation allows both. I also support a strong safety net for health, housing, high quality childcare and education, so that we can all build the lives we want with more liberty to do so.

Curt Day said...

Pink Liberty,
First, I'm sorry that I didn't post your comment earlier. It was in my email but I overlooked it.

We both want many of the same things. But can they be obtained on a long term basis without changing our political and economic structures? That is the issue with Sanders. Can we get the kind of government we want simply by trying to provide necessary benefits without changing the kinds systems we have?