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Does Bernie Sanders Believe in Democracy?

Posted June 14th, 2016 at 12:11 pm (UTC-4)
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by James Kirchick

In his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, the Vermont Democrat is more than 3 million votes behind his challenger, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But to listen to Sanders and his supporters tell it, he is being deprived of victory in a “rigged” system.

When they were winning primaries earlier this year, the Sanders campaign focused on the supposed unfairness of “super-delegates,” the elected party officials and big wigs who, by virtue of their position, get to vote at the Democratic convention this summer. The vast majority of these individuals long ago committed to Clinton. Now that Clinton has clinched the nomination – via her amassing both pledged and super delegates – the Sanders campaign is trying to convert the latter, effectively arguing that he should win the nomination even though he is far behind in the popular vote count.

The super delegates, however, have always been a distraction. For it’s not Sanders’ lack of elite Democratic support that stands in the way of his achieving the nomination; it’s the millions of more people who voted for Hillary Clinton.

Sanders’ obvious scorn for basic democratic procedure, while simultaneously draping himself in the mantle of a hardscrabble populist, should come as no surprise to anyone remotely familiar with his career. That’s because Bernie Sanders has spent his entire life extolling the virtue of left-wing dictatorships, where the prerogatives of a revolutionary vanguard trump the rights of individuals and the desires of the population at large. Not surprising for a man preaching “revolution,” Sanders has attempted to hijack a political party – the Democrats – to which he never belonged to forward his sectarian agenda.

Sanders proudly calls himself a “Democratic Socialist.” Yet while that term may evoke rosy images of Willy Brandt and Scandinavian welfare states, it obscures just what sort of socialist Sanders really is.

From the beginning of his career as an elected official in the 1980’s, Sanders has had a soft spot for a variety of authoritarian, anti-democratic regimes – provided they were left wing. As mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he was a vocal supporter of the Soviet-backed, Cuban-trained Sandinista government in Nicaragua, one that imprisoned journalists and whose “rigging” of electoral processes was real, not the imagined skulduggery of the Democratic National Committee.

After a Potemkin Village trip to Cuba in 1989, Sanders came back singing the praises of the Castro regime, waxing lyrical to the Burlington Free Press about how he “did not see a hungry child. I did not see any homeless people. Cuba today not only has free healthcare but very high quality healthcare.”

If Sanders were a true democratic socialist, then why has he so often gone out of his way to shill on behalf of expressly undemocratic regimes?

Talk about Sanders’ affection for communists and you will immediately be accused of “red-baiting.” But some of the greatest anti-communists were Social Democrats, whose anti-communism was borne of real struggle, having been, in many countries, the first victims of communist oppression. Bernie Sanders, unfortunately, does not come from the anti-authoritarian tradition of social democracy, however, but from the ethically compromised anti-anti-communist tradition. He is the latter day incarnation of Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry Wallace, the well-intentioned dupe of the Soviet Union who ran against Harry Truman in 1948 after having been fired by Franklin Delano Roosevelt for his patently pro-Stalinist sympathies.

To be sure, Sanders likes to extol first world European democracies like Denmark as the quintessence of the sort of socialism he preaches. Last year, he said that he had “talked to a guy in Denmark” who told him that, “it is very hard to become very, very rich but it’s “pretty hard to be very, very poor.” (“Talking to a guy from Denmark” may be the left-wing variant of saying you get your foreign policy chops from “watching the shows.”)

Sanders’ temperament and policies, however, are actually closer to the sort seen in Latin American “Bolivarian” republics like Venezuela than those of Scandinavia. Denmark, to take but one example, has one of the most deregulated free trade regimes in the world, something that Sanders militantly opposes. Consider the words of none other than Denmark’s own Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen. “Some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism,” he said, obliquely referencing Sanders. “Therefore, I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.”

Bernie Sanders can keep calling himself a “Democratic Socialist,” but voters should understand that the latter half of the term means much more to the man than the former.

James Kirchick is an American journalist, a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Initiative and writes for The Daily Beast, Tablet Magazine and VOA

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