Is Bernie a socialist, a commie or just a New Deal liberal?

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Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

Back in 2016, it seemed unlikely that Bernie Sanders would win the Democratic nomination, much less the presidency. So there wasn’t as much of a discussion about his self-identification as a democratic socialist. Now that he might actually become the nominee, the “s” word is a major topic. 

Bernie has won what The Nation calls “the ideas primary.” His agenda of 2016 has shaped the debate in the Democratic Party. However, many progressives whose views are similar to Bernie’s have been fretting that the socialist label will doom his candidacy. Quite a few of those to his right in both parties have become overwrought and demagogic about his growing popularity. 

However, Jackson Diehl, a liberal centrist who disagrees with Sanders’ politics, came to his defense in a recent op-ed. Diehl is the Washington Post’s deputy editorial page editor who focuses on international affairs. He analyzed Sanders’ speeches and statements over the years and here is what he has to say about them:

“What emerges is a politician strongly shaped by his opposition to U.S. military interventions abroad, but also by a conviction that the United States should do what it can to support democracy and resist authoritarianism. That distinguishes him sharply not only from Trump but also from some of the Democratic candidates cast as moderates.”

Diehl has an interesting conclusion: “…Above all, if his speeches are to be believed, Sanders would put the United States back on the side of global democracy and human rights at a time when those causes desperately need bolstering. Would other Democrats do as much? Not all of them have made it clear.”

There was a recent little-noticed news item in Newsweek. After Bernie won the New Hampshire primary, Alexei Navalny — Russia’s leading opposition figure — tweeted in Russian, “So nice to wake up and find out that Bernie won! I am rooting for him.”

A fervent anti-corruption and pro-democracy voice, Navalny is a big thorn in Putin’s side. Denied airtime on state television, he exposes graft by Russia’s elite to millions of followers on YouTube. 

Here’s why Navalny is supporting Bernie:

Sanders’ anti-corruption reforms would endanger Putin. Russia today has a kleptocratic political system propelled by kickbacks, bribes and stolen public money for oligarchs loyal to the regime. Sanders advocates a program of  “corporate accountability” which would shut down tax havens, eliminate anonymous shell companies and strictly regulate the Wall Street banks that have helped oligarchs circulate their dark money through a gigantic and murky international financial system.

Bernie has proposed a big Green New Deal that would move us beyond fossil fuels. This endangers Putin. Russia is a petro-state. Putin has denounced Greta Thunberg as a foolish puppet of “green energy imperialists” who will keep people in poverty.  Last November at a Moscow investment conference, Putin freaked out at European plans to reduce the use of natural gas. He said, according to Euractiv, “in my view, disdaining such a clean hydrocarbon as gas is absolutely strange.”

Putin was alarmed at European plans to reduce the use of all fossil fuels by 2022. He said, “When people suggest such ideas, I think that mankind could end up back in caves again.” 

So Putin will intervene in the 2020 elections to re-elect the climate-change denier. In the United States and Europe, his strategy is to support the far right and divide the progressives. 

Sanders spoke of the challenge we face in a 2018 speech. He said, “There is currently a struggle of enormous consequence taking place in the United States and throughout the world. In it we see two competing visions. On one hand, we see a growing worldwide movement toward authoritarianism, oligarchy and kleptocracy. On the other side, we see a movement toward strengthening democracy, egalitarianism and economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”

Bernie’s vision is hopeful and inspiring. Will his many opponents in powerful positions stir up a fevered Red Scare, which will destroy him? MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews browned his trousers and yelped about Bernie Bros shooting him in Central Park. He mewed and wondered darkly what Bernie meant by the word “socialist.” His fellow commentator Chris Hayes responded, saying Bernie’s vision is clearly a mix of FDR’s New Deal and Denmark. 

Robert Kuttner, writing for The American Prospect claims that Bernie “is about as socialist as the sainted Franklin Roosevelt.” He explains:

“Roosevelt tried and failed to get national health insurance. Public universities in FDR’s era were free. The income tax, beginning with World War II, was steeply progressive. We invested in massive public works. Sounds pretty much like Bernie (and like Elizabeth Warren if she somehow rallies and stays viable).

“That picture of America was — and is — mainstream,” he continues. “And Roosevelt did two other big things that made everything else possible. He put government on the side of the labor movement. And he drastically regulated and limited the toxic potential and political power of the big banks.”  

this opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.