March 23, 2016 by David K. Sutton
Is Bernie Sanders A Socialist?
America, you’re a fickle thicket.
While Donald Trump swaggers around the country slinging neo-fascist hooey at a zealous horde, we have Bernie Sanders preaching the socialist gospel and calling for a revolution. It was just yesterday when the word “socialist” was being used to scorn, now today it’s embraced as a badge of honor. Or so it seems if we are to make sense of the success of Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist.
But, maybe that’s the problem. Is Bernie Sanders really a socialist?
A socialist is someone who supports the political philosophy of socialism, which is a governmental system that advocates community ownership and control of all lands and businesses rather than individual ownership.
Based on that definition, I’d say no. However, in modern society, most first-world nations are a mix of capitalism, democracy, and socialism, or as Jon Meacham wrote in Newsweek, “We Are All Socialists Now.” I’ve argued in the past that Bernie Sanders is really an FDR Democrat, but others would refer to him as a social Democrat (which is probably the same thing).
The bottom line when it comes to Bernie Sanders is that he is not advocating for state or community takeover of private industries. The furthest he will go on that front is advocating Medicare-for-all, or a promise to break up too-big-to-fail banks. Even then, the resulting smaller banks would still be privately owned. Although, it is true much of the private health insurance industry would likely cease to exist under a universal Medicare system.
I think its important to make these distinctions. Because ideas like true universal health care (Medicare for all) and tuition-free public college are not purely socialist. They are socialist-leaning ideas for a representative democracy. There would still be private colleges. There would still be privately owned hospitals. Pharmaceutical companies would still make profits.
And what about Sanders’ number one issue, “Citizens United” and campaign finance reform? If we are to have a fair and functioning democracy, that means money cannot equal speech. One person cannot have more free speech due to the size of his wallet. So, definitely not socialist. This one falls squarely in the democratic column.
While I believe it is safe to say Bernie Sanders embraces certain socialist ideals, he is no absolutist, which brings us back to the original question. Is Bernie Sanders a socialist? I guess each person is free to call themselves whatever they want. But, based on the definition of “socialist,” I’d say Sanders is more akin to a pragmatic quasi-socialist who recognizes the role capitalism plays in creating prosperity in a modern democracy. But, what Sanders also understands is capitalism must not be unfettered. The free market is not the answer to all problems. And for really big issues, like access to health care, the common good should precede profits. With that understanding, it is more than reasonable for Sanders to call himself a democratic socialist.
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