Waiting for Lefty
In the grand leftist tradition of putting lipstick on a pig, Bernie Sanders's democratic socialism is being touted as "a fair capitalism," where Academy Award swag bags of entitlements will be handed out – free health care, free college tuition, expanded Social Security, increased minimum wage, pay equity for women, near forgiveness of student debt... The list goes on – all made sweeter by the promise that everything will be paid for by thickets of taxes targeting "Wall Street," "the billionaire class," "the top 1%," "the largest corporations," and the "20 wealthiest people in this country." And the glorious vehicle for this 20 trillion dollars' worth of "democratic" largesse and service to society? – "political revolution."
Using the conceit of a revolution allows Sanders to rail against a whole host of perceived injustices, as well as to define the enemy, the rich, whom he holds responsible for America's economic, social, and spiritual malaise. Our nation's producers – men and women who have invested in our system, taken risks, created jobs, and generated wealth – are now denounced as corrupt oligarchs, who buy elections, enjoy huge tax breaks, perpetuate racism, support a broken criminal justice system, and refuse to pay their fair share. In the new order of things, to atone for their "greed," the top 1% will be required to pay more than their present 40% of the federal tax bill and the top 10% more than the 70% they currently pony up annually. In the name of income equality, wealth will be redistributed – which in Bernie's world means that it belongs to the government or society, not the individuals who earn it.
To make a case for the morality of his revolution, Sanders invokes the concept of "rights" – the right to health care, the right to a college education, the right to housing, etc. – however, in doing so, he makes the mistake of conflating the so-called "right to things" with the actual "right to actions" to acquire things. It is an important distinction. Yes, one has the right to a college education – if he meets the school's qualifications and accepts its rules, procedures, and costs. Yes, one has the right to health care – if he works for a company that offers it as a benefit of employment or if he chooses to purchase it from a private health care provider. Simply, there is no right to a house, a job, a living wage, or child day care – any more than there is a right to a Cadillac, a diamond ring, or a pair of sneakers.
A right is a moral principle that governs one's freedom of action in society – action to pursue the things and the values he wants – not something granted by government. As Americans, we are free to live our lives the way we choose, by our own stars and our own compass – to seek our individual happiness as we see fit – as long as we respect the equal rights of others to do the same. Individual rights in this sense – rights we are born with – are what subject society to moral law. Morality can apply only to those who have a choice.
The crown jewel of Sanders's revolution is democratic socialism. In a speech at Georgetown University, he conceded that, to Americans, the word socialist is problematic. For many, socialism is un- and anti-American and still evokes the long, bloody history of ruthless despots using the Command of the State to deny individual rights, private property, free markets, and political liberties. Sanders cites Sweden as an example of a socialist alternative to capitalism. But Sweden's history reveals that capitalism was the engine that allowed it to emerge as one of the most prosperous countries in the world – until "social justice" measures were instituted, and it devolved into a declining welfare state.
To Sanders: "Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy." He says it is not tied to any Marxist belief that government should own the means of production; rather, private ownership and competitive markets would come under strong rules and regulations – to protect the little guy from abuse, corruption, and uncertainty. What those rules are, we don't know, but he often invokes Franklin Roosevelt and the kinds of policies and programs instituted during the 1930s.
In the end, hovering over everything is Mr. Sanders's hero – Eugene V. Debs – the founder of the Socialist Party of America and its five-time candidate for president (once from jail). When Sanders was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, a picture of Debs hung in city hall, and now there is a plaque honoring Debs in Sanders's Senate office. One can envision Bernie there alone, smiling at the plaque of his champion – two old leftist dreamers in search of a revolution.