Bernie Sanders wants you to buy his socialism snake oil. To do that, he needs you to forget the 100-million murdered, the billions oppressed, and the countries socialism destroyed over the past century ever happened.
Socialism snake oil, he says, will cure all that ails us and there’s no need to read the warning label on the bottle.
Bernie Sanders is selling a socialist fantasy
In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt said that America should protect “four freedoms”: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. As he runs for president, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is presenting his “democratic socialism” as a way to finish FDR’s work. Judging from Sanders’s speech defining the concept, he has added a fifth freedom: freedom from facts.
Wednesday’s address was a long denial of reality. Through evasion and distortion, Sanders pretends that socialism has never proved oppressive to freedom, and that capitalism has never led to widespread progress.
To sell socialism, Sanders doesn’t just wish away today’s good economy. He claims that we have had a very long stretch of stagnation: “The average wage of the American worker in real dollars is no higher than it was 46 years ago and millions of people are forced to work two or three jobs just to survive.” Sanders can reach his conclusion about wages only by ignoring non-wage benefits such as health care and using a different adjustment for inflation than the one that the Federal Reserve and the Congressional Budget Office prefer. Use a measure of inflation that corrects for the technical deficiencies of older measures, and the average wage has grown by more than 20 percent over the last 46 years. Since benefits have grown as a percentage of compensation, average compensation has almost certainly grown even more. As for people holding more than one job: They’re 5 percent of all workers, and the percentage has fallen over the last quarter-century.
The senator stacks the deck when it comes to our political choices, too. As he tells it, the world has two options: right-wing authoritarianism or democratic socialism. He posits a world in which the phenomenon of left-wing authoritarianism has never existed. As Yascha Mounk writes in the Atlantic:
Sanders name-checked Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini but remained silent about Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. And while he rightly decried the autocratic tendencies of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, he neglected to mention leftist autocrats such as Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, Cuba’s Raúl Castro, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa, or North Korea’s Kim Jung Un.
The idea that socialism could ever go badly wrong emerges in Sanders’s speech as the invention of “red-baiters,” who opposed FDR and Harry Truman by calling them socialists. This is a less useful point for Sanders than he thinks, since unlike him, FDR and Truman denied being socialists — and Truman’s foreign policy was certainly alive to the dangers of socialism.
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