Bernie Sanders is not nearly as socialist as some past presidents

Campaign season involves a lot of predictable hand wringing. And so the hang wringing has started in earnest this year as Democrats decide who will be their presidential candidate.

Democratic Party leaders are starting to discover, as Republican Party leaders did in 2016, that the base is likely to reject anyone from their list of approved candidates. That’s because it’s looking more and more that Bernie Sanders will be that nominee.

Sanders they say is a fair weather Democrat, but so what? So was Donald Trump, who often claimed to be a Democrat. So is new “Democrat” Mike Bloomberg who famously ran New York City as its Republican mayor for eleven years.

It’s not hard to become either a Democrat or a Republican. Generally, it just involves going to your voter registration office and filing a form. There is no central party committee that gets to choose whether you are a real Democrat or Republican and if not reject your application. Both Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg are using this fact to advance their candidacies. I suspect that Democratic Party leaders are doing a whole lot less hand wringing over Mike Bloomberg’s candidacy than Bernie Sanders’s. Bloomberg’s candidacy is a long shot, so expect that after he loses the nomination that he’ll become a fair weather Republican again when it suits him. If Bernie Sanders loses either the nomination or the election, he’ll likely go back to being an independent from Vermont, just as he did after the 2016 race.

If enough Democrats joined the Republican Party just to change it, the Republican Party, as we know it now, would cease to be. Those Republicans would probably form another party. Our party structure is by design big tent. A party is nothing more than a coalition, which can be often fractured, assembled for the purpose of trying to acquire and maintain political power.

Anyhow, Democratic Party insiders are upset because they don’t see Sanders as a true Democrat, as if Bloomberg is one too. They fear his label of being a Democratic Socialist will guarantee his election loss because it will suppress turnout among “mainstream” Democrats or maybe prod these Democrats to vote to reelect Donald Trump. In head-to-head matchups against Trump, Sanders does as well as any of the candidates, currently winning by about ten percentage points. Obviously we are a long way from November 3, and this will likely change as Trump and Republicans refine their attacks. But rest assured regardless of whom Democrats nominate, they would do this. Republicans won’t sit on the sidelines.

The hand wringing is rather strange because if Sanders wins the presidency, he would by no means be our most socialist president. That would be Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who lived a privileged, upper class life, but who started all sorts of public works programs and instituted the social security system. He won four terms of office by standing up for the people. By current thinking, Texan Lyndon Banes Johnson would be a damned socialist too. Johnson definitely had some faults, but he got civil rights and voting rights bill passed, and started a war on poverty that allowed many to live better lives. He also proposed and got Medicare enacted, which set up a health care system for seniors. The most radical thing Bernie is proposing is taking our existing Medicare system and expanding it to the rest of us because, well, it works great! Ask any senior if they are dissatisfied with it. We’ve even had a socialist Republican president: Theodore Roosevelt, who busted up large corporations, greatly expanded our national park system and pushed through the Pure Food and Drugs Act, that ensured our food was clean and safe.

Democratic leaders have turned into nervous nellies because Republicans succeeded in shifting the Overton Window. Republicans convinced many Americans that government is bad, and private industry is good. That led to a collapsed safety net and income going disproportionately to the rich.

It’s likely that a Sanders candidacy would not be necessary had not these failings of our system gotten so severe. There should be nothing radical about not having to worry about being able to afford the health care you need. It’s being done by all the other first world nations, just not here. The inflated cost of our medical system is bankrupting us and exacerbating income inequality. Sanders is just one of the few candidates running for president ballsy enough to say out loud what the rest of us already know.

Taking Medicare for seniors and making it Medicare for All is not radical; it’s an evolution of a system that has already proven very effective, but only for those who reach a certain age. With a system that contains health care costs, we can use this money for other things, like maybe real wage increases for those of us who rarely seem to get it. I would think some Republicans could be persuaded to vote for Sanders for just this reason: who doesn’t like having more money to spend as they choose?

So much of our government is broken because moneyed interests, instead of the people, are in control. It’s a corporate-ocracy right now and it’s going to stay that way until we change things. The Democratic Party leadership’s response seems to be to make the giant sitting on your chest go on a diet, rather than wrestling him off your chest.

Barack Obama famously won on a campaign of hope. But famously he didn’t deliver much. We did get the Affordable Care Act out of it, and it was certainly better than nothing, but it too didn’t get it right. It was a response to fit our need into our corporate controlled government, and it was enacted only by the slimmest of margins. Government isn’t governing very well, so we need someone who will fight for the rest of us.

Mind you that if Sanders does become president, his task to make government work again won’t be easy. Minimally he will need a Democratic Senate and senators would have to agree to drop filibuster rules. Both are problematic in 2020. And even if this is achieved, progress is likely to be minimal, and courts would block a lot of his agenda. So his election would be the start of a longer campaign to truly make us a government of the people again.

But you got to start sometime and you use the vehicle that you got. If Sanders is that vehicle, I’m in. I’ll likely be voting for Elizabeth Warren instead, but that’s only because I believe she would be wilier at enacting a true progressive agenda. Both she and Sanders though want big, structural changes to government.

It’s as obvious to me as the nose on my face that that’s exactly what we need. Trump was elected on this promise too, but obviously failed to deliver. At least we know what Bernie Sanders stands for because he’s been consistent his entire life. So I’ll be most comfortable with him or Warren as the Democratic candidate and our president. We need someone in the White House that is truly one of us. Trump isn’t, and never has been.

So what’s wrong with democratic socialism?

We are told socialism is bad and un-American, but is capitalism really all that great? Consider how poor a job the free market is doing in providing affordable health care. Before the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies did their best to keep their insured pools as pristine as possible. They had no problems canceling people’s insurance when they judged they were too risky and often when they needed it the most.

In spite of the ACA, which Republicans and Trump are working hard to kill, premiums still are going up. Since this latest tinkering by Trump, they are going up a lot while kicking millions off health insurance. Premiums for 2019 will be announced shortly before the midterm elections and they are expected to rise twenty percent or more. This will likely result in lots of disgruntled voters. Right now, the cost and availability of health care is their number one concern. So I really don’t see why Democrats running on a “Medicare for All” platform should fear the wrath of voters. It’s much more likely they will be cheered on instead.

Ask any senior citizen if they want to give up their Medicare. Even the senior citizen gun nuts will give up their guns if the choice was between giving up guns or Medicare. Medicare is wildly popular, despite its issues. The rest of us simply wonder why if it’s good enough for old folks, we younger and healthier people can’t buy into it.

After all, Medicare takes all comers, at least if you meet the age and eligibility requirements. There are certainly aspects of the program that are annoying and baffling. I have been studying them as my Medicare eligibility looms in a few years. I’m not sure why parts B, C and D can’t come as a general benefit for one premium. I don’t understand why there has to be a donut hole if you use their drug program. In any event, universal health care is not that hard. Every major industrialized country except for ours has done it. Surprisingly, people in these countries are quite happy with their systems overall. So while we are creating Medicare for All, let’s improve the system too.

Of course with our Congress awash in health care money, their real mission seems to be to keep these companies flush with profits. Which is why me and the majority of Americans could really use Medicare for All, which is basically democratic socialism at work. It’s socialist in the sense that the government creates and manages the system. It’s democratic in that we the people get to elect people who will enact such a system.

The private sector has proven not up to the task. That’s why Medicare was created in the first place. The private sector didn’t want anything to do with insuring old people. There was no profit in it so it was either put grandma in the poor house or create a government program to fix the issue. Now health care costs are getting so high for the rest of us that we simply can’t afford it even if we can find insurance.

Republicans don’t get that the government’s purpose is to do things the private sector can’t or won’t but which the public needs. If there were no needs like this, we wouldn’t need government. Private health insurance is a failure. Rather than lowering prices, it raises them for all while kicking millions off health care altogether. Competition between insurers with an even playing field was the basis of the ACA. It helped but it has not proven to be the solution. We need something a whole lot more socialistic.

So sign me up as a Democratic Socialist. There’s no Democratic Socialist party to join, but maybe there will be if the Democratic Party can’t get its act together on these pressing issues. Government exists to help all its citizens and to provide solutions where the free market can’t or won’t affordably or at all. I see this out here in western Massachusetts where I live. Cities out here have high speed Internet, but many in the hill towns don’t. Comcast and the like can’t be bothered. It’s not profitable. No wonder local governments are engaging in some democratic socialism by creating community networks, an effort I am helping lead in my city, and we already have Comcast. (We’ve figured that without Comcast, we could get 1 gigabit per second fiber to the home for a third less than Comcast charges. No wonder Comcast can afford to buy all those arenas.)

Ironically, many of the tenets of Democratic Socialism put Trump in the White House. During the campaign he promised much better health care than we have now for much less. He’s done nothing to implement this promise; in fact he has gone in a completely different direction. Many Obama voters voted for Trump because they thought he could break this gridlock by being different. Obviously they were crassly used, but the idea of having great health care while paying a lot less for it is sound, and is now the number one concern of voters.

Let’s bring in a whole new crew of Democratic Socialists to Congress in the midterms. Hopefully we can replace every Tea Partier elected in 2010 with a Democratic Socialist instead. Let’s let government govern again. Lyndon Johnson was the right leader in the 1960s to bring Medicare to fruition. Medicare for All can be done providing we elect leaders committing to doing the people’s business first.