Tuesday, January 26, 2016


In last night's Democratic town hall on CNN, Bernie Sanders was asked by an attendee to explain what he means when he calls himself a socialist. This has led to eye-rolls from Sanders skeptics:

My opinion is more along these lines:

No, I don't think this a "crackpot theory." Back in 2010, a Harris poll found that 40% of Americans thought President Obama was a socialist, including two-thirds of Republicans. In a poll that same year from James Carville's Democracy Corps, 55% of respondents overall said Obama was a socialist.

Democrats got their clocks cleaned that year in the midterms. But two years later, Obama won reelection fairly handily.

I agree with James Poniewozick that overuse by the right has blunted the impact of the word "socialist," except among people who'd never vote for a Democrat anyway. And don't forget, if you're in your late thirties or younger, even "communist," a label the New York Post recently tried to apply to Sanders, isn't much of an insult -- if you're that age, you've spent your entire adolescence and adulthood in a post-communist world. The Berlin Wall fell 26 years ago.

The most striking thing about the answer Sanders gave last night was its sense of decency. I think that blunts the line of attack quite a bit:
QUESTION: Yes, Senator, some of your detractors have called you a socialist on occasions, and you don't seem too troubled by that, and sometimes embrace it. I wondered if you could elaborate on that...

SANDERS: ... Sure...

QUESTION: ... And just to show us what the comfort level you have your definition of it so that it doesn't concern the rest of us citizens.

SANDERS: Well, what Democratic Socialism means, to me, is that economic rights, the right to economic security is - should exist in the United States of America. It means to me that there's something wrong when we have millions of senior citizens today trying to get by on $11, $12,000 a year Social Security. It means there's something wrong when the rich get richer, and almost everybody else gets poorer. It means there is something wrong, and government should play a role in making sure that all of our kids, regardless of their income, are able to get a higher education.

Which is why I'm calling for free tuition at public colleges and universities, and why we have to deal with this horrendous level of student debt that people are having.

Now, what's going on in countries around the world, in Scandinavia, and in Germany. The ideas that I am talking about are not radical ideas. So, what Democratic Socialism means to me in its essence is that we cannot continue to have a government dominated by the billionaire class, and a congress that continues to work for the interest of the people on top while ignoring working families.

What this campaign is about, and what I believe, is creating a government that works for all of us, not just a handful of people on the top. That's my definition of Democratic Socialism.

I think Sanders would eventually have to augment this stock answer by reassuring the public that he doesn't want the government to nationalize private industry. But apart from that, it's an answer that makes him seem compassionate and grandfatherly, not scary.

Steve D thinks Sanders will have to explain this "every day" if he's the nominee. Um, I think that newfangled wireless and all the other modern communication doodads -- what do the kids call that really new one? The "Internet"? -- will transmit his answers to the public effectively. After a while, we'll have his answer and accept it or not.

I don't think "socialism" is the word he has to fear. The word he has to fear is "taxes."

Here's the full answer to a question about whether the Sanders health plan will require a tax increase:
SANDERS: Yes, we will raise - we will raise the - we will raise taxes, yes, we will. But also let us be clear, Chris, because there's a little bit of disingenuity out there, we may raise taxes but we are also going to eliminate private health insurance premiums for individuals and for businesses.
If Sanders is the nominee, the "we will raise taxes, yes, we will" part of that answer will become as famous as John Kerry's "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it," through attack-ad repetition. The second part will be ignored.

But if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, the GOP will attack her on taxes, too:

The attack is likely to stick to Sanders, however, because he's talking about a more activist government than Clinton is. The question is whether his rebuttals would be effective. They might be. We don't know. He answers most questions by talking about how ordinary people have been shafted. He blames the powerful. That resonates with a lot of voters. Enough voters? It's not clear yet.

I think Republicans who try to attack Sanders as a socialist may find that the word has lost its impact. "Taxes"? That's an evergreen. That's a line of attack that never goes out of fashion.


Anonymous said...

For YEARS I've been wanting a Democrat to call bullshit on this tactic being used by Norquist there where he talks about taxes in terms of total dollars. I want someone to say "The beauty of my proposals is that we can generate One Trillion dollars by compelling those who can already afford it to pay more while leaving everyone else untouched. You pay your fair share and it's time for the richest and most powerful to do the same. They'll trot out people and slogans to try to fool you with a snow job, but you're smarter than that."

retiredeng said...

This country will never get out from under the jackbooted oligarchs as long as half the voters are uneducated fools.

sdhays said...

"Big government" is another one. People have been trained that a "big government" is bad, regardless of the validity of what it's trying to do and without any actual context on what "big" actually is.

Feud Turgidson said...

Sanders is about as good a spokesperson for taking on the antitax bullcrap as anyone in political life who's at all likely to dare it. If that's all he accomplishes -- getting enough voters to vote in a way that allows the next POTUS to be aggressive in seeking a tax increase and to provide enough newly elected Senators and knock off enough sitting House reps to get 'er down, I will be happy to praise the Bern to anyone willing to listen or not.

Along similar lines to Steve M's take here, I note that Sen. Ben Sasse (Repulsed-Nebraska) is going after Trump for his many sexual affairs. Apparently Sen. Sasse slept entirely through the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections.

'Just ask my wife what kind of husband I am. She'll tell you I'm fabulous. Have I had a colorful past? Sure: regrets, I have a few. But VERY few, I can assure you. Just look at some the babes I banged. And it's not like there's a lotta complaints about my performance, if you know what I mean. I'm YUGE with the ladies, lemme tell you.'

Why GOPers think that a state that would elect Steve King and the pig testicles woman is so all-fired 'innocent' is beyond me.

Greg said...

My number one concern with the Senator is his likely overestimation of his coalition-building skills, both on the grassroots level and the leadership level. He's improving as a communicator it seems, and just in time, but enough to stimulate 270 EC votes plus higher voter turnout in midterms and consistent grassroots pressure on DC? That's a mighty tall order for anyone, particularly when there's so much propaganda-enabled ignorance and foolishness in the heartland.

Clinton would likely continue the incrementalist, play defense strategy for another four years at least, and that wouldn't leave me brimming with confidence for 2020, but at least it buys further time to perhaps let crazy Republicans keep stumblin', and let would-be Democratic voters figure out that, yeah, they gotta vote more often.

Yastreblyansky said...

It's funny, his explanation on the tax issue, that for the overwhelming majority the tax rise would be smaller than the insurance premiums they'd stop paying, is obviously true, and the rest of it, tax increases on the very wealthy, is what Americans overwhelmingly say they want, and yet the media will continue to sell this as an insuperable problem in his campaign and they will succeed in making it that.

Victor said...

Most of the MSM "news" people and pundits, were suckled on Reagan's anti-government teat.

Raised on what happened to H W Bush when he broke his no new taxes pledge.

Came to puberty (no pun intended) on Bill's clenis and all of the women the right said he had affairs with, and sexual maturity at his impeachment.

Went to back W & Dick's war and occupations, so they could be called "War Coresponents," and earn fame and fortune.

And then have stewed since Newt gave his fellow Republicans a list of blame words - like "DemoCRAT Party" - in 'both sides do xxxxxxx!', Frank Luntz approved, verbiage.

And we wonder why so many of our fellow citizens don't know jack-shit about who to believe?

Now, add in Rush and the rest of the reich-wing yakkers, and FOX's propoganda via attractive short-skirted, ta-ta displaying "babe's," and good looking dudes, and it's a wonder there's any sanity left in this country at all!