I am far from the first to make this point. But I would like to make it strongly and clearly, because very few on the left seem willing to. Based on Senator Bernie Sanders’s public statements, one of the following things must be true: (1) Bernie Sanders is unaware of the definition of socialism or (2) Bernie Sanders is fully aware of the definition of socialism, and is lying about it.
Bernie Sanders’s self-identification as a “democratic socialist” has caused a large amount of bafflement in the press. NPR, the Washington Post, and PolitiFact have all tried to figure out what he means by adopting this label. Of course, it shouldn’t be difficult to understand the term, because democratic socialism is not a complicated concept: it combines a socialist economic system with democratic decisionmaking, i.e. while the means of production are socially owned, they are not controlled in a top-down hierarchical fashion, but through the democratic participation of all.
The trouble is that when Bernie Sanders is asked the definition of “democratic socialism,” he describes something that is nothing like this. He says, instead, that:
“What democratic socialism means to me is having a government which represents all people, rather than just the wealthiest people, which is most often the case right now in this country.”
Well, that’s what all Democrats say, isn’t it? Would you find any Democrat who disagreed with that statement? In fact, would Rand Paul even disagree with that statement?
Being any sort of socialist requires much more than a vague belief in equal opportunity, as The American Conservative‘s Samuel Goldman clearly (and exasperatedly) explained over the summer:
Historically, the essential feature of socialism is the demand for public ownership or direct government control of major sectors of the economy. A bit more abstractly, socialists have aimed to eliminate considerations of profit from as many areas of life as possible. They used to the describe this goal as “revolution”, which didn’t necessarily mean violence.
Now, let’s be clear: Bernie Sanders is not asking for public ownership of the major sectors of the economy. He would steadfastly deny that he opposes the existence of the profit motive. He has defined his version of what “socialism” is, many times, saying that it means simply that:
the government has got to play a very important role in making sure that as a right of citizenship all of our people have healthcare; that as a right, all of our kids, regardless of income, have quality childcare, are able to go to college without going deeply into debt; that it means we do not allow large corporations and moneyed interests to destroy our environment; that we create a government in which it is not dominated by big money interest. I mean, to me, it means democracy, frankly. That’s all it means.
This is the standard progressive Democratic party line. It does not vary from it even slightly. Socialism is a revolutionary ideology that involves fundamentally changing the type of economy that exists. This ain’t that.
“Do they think I’m afraid of the word? I’m not afraid of the word,” Bernie says when asked if he is backing away from the word socialism. Well, no, nobody thinks he’s afraid of the word. But he’s definitely afraid of socialism itself, or he wouldn’t immediately redefine it every time he mentions it.
Amusingly enough, the Wikipedia entry on Democratic Socialism even discusses the Bernie Fallacy:
“democratic socialism” is sometimes improperly used as a synonym for social democracy, where “social democracy” usually refers to support for political democracy, regulation of the capitalist economy, and a welfare state.
Well, there you have it. He’s not a socialist. Or a democratic socialist. Josh Barro of the New York Times recently came to the same conclusion, saying:
The weirdest thing about this fight is that Mr. Sanders, a Vermont senator, is not really a socialist. Or at least, if he is a socialist, he is also, at the same time, a capitalist.
So pretty much everybody has realized now that Bernie’s “democratic socialism” is the phrase he uses for Nordic-style social democracy. Consider me added to the chorus. But let me add a point that people on the left seem reluctant to admit: this leads to the logical conclusion that Bernie Sanders either has no idea what the thing he says he is actually is, or is lying about it. Of all people, Jonah Goldberg of the National Review has got this one right, saying that if socialism doesn’t mean social democracy, Bernie must either be a fool or a liar. Unfortunately for the left, that’s absolutely the case.