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Bernie’s Socialism

This Week in the Narrative 136

‘Yes Lord, I voted for Jesus.’

I wonder, did the person who wrote this message, seen somewhere in the Mississippi backcountry, mean they voted for Donald Trump? After all, there are places where ‘Make America Great Again’ is somewhat messianic.

If not, then it appears they are saying they voted for a socialist Jew. In which case, I think I see what they’re getting at … Perhaps I should’ve stopped and scrawled #FeelTheBern at the bottom.

Yeah, I know, it’s unlikely someone in Mississippi is covertly expressing their support for Bernie Sanders, a socialist Jew for our time. In 2016, Bernie lost the Mississippi primary by 66 points to Hillary Clinton, who in turn lost Mississippi to Trump in the general election by 18 points.

The question is, why not? Why not support the man preaching the modern equivalent of “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” of “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” of “love thy neighbor as thyself?”

Well, because he’s a socialist. That’s the short answer. He’s a socialist and many people do not have an understanding of the term, beyond its association with the country’s long-time former antagonist, the Soviet Union.

Unfortunately, the Soviet Union has very little to do with Bernie Sanders.

Spoiler Alert: Feeling the Bern does not mean turning over the means of production to workers, nor does it include the establishment of a politburo or totalitarian dictatorship. But Bernie does call himself a socialist, or, rather, a ‘Democratic Socialist.’ So what, if not the hammer and sickle, does this mean?

Luckily for all those from Mississippi to Mount Rainier, he offered a concrete definition this week in a much-talked-about speech at George Washington University.

His definition, first and foremost, relates to a different interpretation of the term ‘socialism,’ one apart from a Soviet boogeyman, though, interestingly, one not invented by Bernie or, for that matter, any progressive person.

As he pointed out:

In 1936, FDR’s New Deal policies were attacked by a presidential rival who said, “Just get the platform of the Democratic Party and get the platform of the Socialist Party and lay them down on your dining-room table, side by side.”

When Harry Truman proposed a national health care program in the 1940s and 50s, he and those in his administration were called “followers of the Moscow party line.”

In 1960, Richard Nixon wrote of JFK, “Under the tousled boyish haircut is still old Karl Marx.”

In the 1990s, Bill Clinton was criticized for bringing “centralized bureaucratic socialism,” and, in more recent times, President Obama was accused of leading “a new American socialist experiment.”

In the words of President Truman, “Socialism is the epithet they have hurled at every advance the people have made … Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.”

What Bernie is saying when he runs towards the socialist label is, ‘if supporting the New Deal in the 1930s, or Medicare and Medicaid in the 60s, or Universal Healthcare and a Green New Deal in the 2010s makes one a socialist, then I guess I’m a socialist.” 

But Bernie’s self-definition as a democratic socialist has a deeper angle, one surrounding the definition not of ‘socialism,’ but of ‘freedom.’

Again, Bernie chooses to fight on a battlefield chosen by corporatists and conservatives, since ‘freedom’ is often used as a counterpoint to socialism – with ‘socialism’ taken to mean centralized control and restriction, and ‘freedom’ shorthand for the freedom of the individual to do what they want.

Bernie challenges this definition of freedom by asking:

Are you truly free if you are unable to go to a doctor when you are sick, or face financial bankruptcy when you leave the hospital? Are you truly free if you cannot afford the prescription drug you need to stay alive? Are you truly free when you spend half of your limited income on housing, and are forced to borrow money from a payday lender at 200% interest rates? Are you truly free if you are 70 years old and forced to work because you lack a pension or enough money to retire? Are you truly free if you are unable to go to attend college or a trade school because your family lacks the income? Are you truly free if you are forced to work 60 or 80 hours a week because you can’t find a job that pays a living wage? Are you truly free if you are a mother or father with a newborn baby but you are forced to go back to work immediately after the birth because you lack paid family leave? Are you truly free if you are a small business owner or family farmer who is driven out by the monopolistic practices of big business? Are you truly free if you are a veteran, who put your life on the line to defend this country, and now sleep out on the streets?

The game changer is that Bernie puts economic rights alongside other fundamental rights like free speech, freedom of assembly, and a free press as necessary to guarantee the freedom of the individual.

Think about it: Even with its many rights, the US is still a system, statistically, in which large numbers of people struggle daily just to do enough to survive, while a small number of people at the top accumulate most of the wealth, control the political process, and even enjoy longer, healthier lives.

How is this system really all that different than something like serfdom, besides, I suppose, presenting better platitudes … like ‘freedom.’

You can call Bernie’s ideology ‘socialism,’ or ‘democratic socialism.’ Or, you can borrow a page from Martin Luther King Jr. and say, “Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.”

Whichever way, I don’t think a person in Mississippi has any more desire to be a serf than one in Portland. It’s simply a choice between living with the ironclad rule of the Pharisees or voting for a socialist Jew.

Quote of the Week:


Written by Nigel Clarke

Nigel Clarke

Writer and notorious vagabond. From the frozen north. Follow Nigel on Twitter @Nig_Clarke.

Nigel Clarke is a Writer for Progressive Army.

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Bernie’s Socialism