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Far from fringe: A historian explains why the democratic socialism of Bernie Sanders is an American idea

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Last night’s first gotcha question from Anderson Cooper about whether the American people would ever elect a socialist to office was one that Bernie Sanders was no doubt expecting. Progressive historian and BillMoyers.com contributor Bernard Weisberger didn’t think his answer was altogether bad (watch above), but he took time today to write out the response he wishes the other Bernie had given. He also included a response to Hillary Clinton’s later statement about how “Denmark wasn’t the United States.”

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Well, first of all, the last I heard Vermont was still an American state and the people of Burlington elected me as mayor four times and were satisfied because I gave them an honest and efficient administration. Then the people of the state as a whole sent me back to the House of Representatives several times, and next to the Senate. They responded to substance, not labels. I think we’re still smart enough to do that.

[As for our not being Denmark, I am not trying to turn the United States into Denmark or any other country in the world. But if we look and see that Denmark has a health care system that treats its people better than ours at lower cost, just as an example, are we forbidden to try it because it hasn’t got a “Made in America” label on it? We’re a lot smarter than that — and saying otherwise is a slander on our people.]

I consider myself a social democrat, yes. And for me, what social democracy simply means is a system that leaves room for small enterprises and individual liberty but also recognizes the fact that we’re all part of a larger community, and what hurts any one group of us eventually hurts us all. So there are some things we don’t leave to the so-called free market. We don’t want people going hungry or suffering from sickness or at the bottom of the ladder in educational attainments because they can’t afford them — especially when in economic downturns millions of us lose jobs through no fault of our own. So we tax ourselves to put money into a common kitty to make sure those things don’t happen and we’re all the better off for it. In other words we agree to bear each others’ burdens and make others’ suffering our concern, bound in “brotherly affection.” A far cry from the virtues of unrestricted and unregulated winner-take-all competition.

And do you know that that’s a basic American idea? What I just said comes straight from a sermon preached by minister John Winthrop to the band of fellow Puritans landing in Massachusetts in 1634. And it’s an idea picked up again and again throughout our history, from early state laws providing for public health and safety and punishing fraud, right on through to the Progressive period and the New Deal when we provided security for our elders, strengthened the bargaining power of workers, created public works programs to stimulate employment and spending, opened space for small business by breaking trusts, and reduced inequality to reasonable levels — without touching the basics of capitalism. That’s the American way and always has been, and I could name a long list of American heroes who embraced it if there were time. So let’s move past labels and start addressing the crises we face now.


Bernie Sanders schooled Cooper & Clinton on… by ewillies

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Elections 2016

Vietnamese women strive to clear war-era mines

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Inching across a field littered with Vietnam war-era bombs, Ngoc leads an all-women demining team clearing unexploded ordnance that has killed tens of thousands of people -- including her uncle.

"He died in an explosion. I was haunted by memories of him," Le Thi Bich Ngoc tells AFP as she oversees the controlled detonation of a cluster bomb found in a sealed-off site in central Quang Tri province.

More than 6.1 million hectares of land in Vietnam remain blanketed by unexploded munitions -- mainly dropped by US bombers -- decades after the war ended in 1975.

At least 40,000 Vietnamese have since died in related accidents. Victims are often farmers who accidentally trigger explosions, people salvaging scrap metal, or children who mistake bomblets for toys.

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Elections 2016

Chief Justice John Roberts issues New Year’s Eve warning to stand up for democracy

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In a progressive welcoming move, Chief Justice John Roberts issued his New Year's Eve annual report urging his fellow federal judges to stand up for democracy.

"In our age, when social media can instantly spread rumor and false information on a grand scale, the public's need to understand our government, and the protections it provides, is ever more vital," he wrote. "We should celebrate our strong and independent judiciary, a key source of national unity and stability."

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Trump’s next 100 days will dictate whether he can be re-elected or not — here’s why

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According to CNN pollster-in-residence Harry Enten, Donald Trump's next 100 days -- which could include an impeachment trial in the Senate -- will hold the key to whether he will remain president in 2020.

As Eten explains in a column for CNN, "His [Trump's] approval rating has been consistently low during his first term. Yet his supporters could always point out that approval ratings before an election year have not historically been correlated with reelection success. But by mid-March of an election year, approval ratings, though, become more predictive. Presidents with low approval ratings in mid-March of an election year tend to lose, while those with strong approval ratings tend to win in blowouts and those with middling approval ratings usually win by small margins."

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