The Media’s Bernie Sanders Makeover Begins

Sen. Bernie Sanders is accompanied by his wife Jane O’Meara Sanders as he arrives to speak at his New Hampshire primary-night rally in Manchester, N.H., February 11, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Left-wing pundits have already started selling moderates on a vision of the radical Democratic presidential front-runner that doesn’t comport with reality.

Just you watch: By the time Election Day rolls around in November, liberal columnists will be telling us that Bernie Sanders is the “real conservative” in the presidential race.

Many among the center–left commentariat are struggling to come to terms with the likelihood that the Democratic Party will nominate an authoritarian leftist for president. A lot of this anxiety is, no doubt, driven by recent polls that find a majority of Americans are more open to voting for a non-binary Martian atheist than for a socialist.

Others, however, have begun reinventing Sanders, who, they now contend, isn’t actually a socialist socialist, because he’ll never send you to die in an icy Gulag and few of his policy ideas will ever come to fruition.

Matt Fuller over at Huffington Post posits that moderates shouldn’t be too “scared” of a Sanders presidency “when all Republicans and most Democrats in Congress publicly oppose Medicare for All.” Really? The signature policy idea championed by a major party’s leading presidential contender is so unpopular that the majority of elected officials can’t publicly support it, and that should reassure moderates?

‘Vote Bernie: He’s got tremendously unpopular positions that will never pass!’

You’ll notice, no doubt, that Fuller is careful to say elected officials only “publicly oppose” socialistic ideas, which usually intimates that some might personally desire a federally run health-care system. It’s just a matter of time before they evolve to the enlightened position, no doubt. Bernie, who we must now take seriously but not literally, is just a step in the right direction.

Paul Krugman is more straightforward in his latest column, “Bernie Sanders Isn’t a Socialist.” The real problem, contends the New York Times pundit, is that the man who once rolled with the “Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party” and defended a slew of Marxist dictators throughout the Cold War merely brands himself a socialist, thus handing Republicans a potent line of attack.

After spending a few sentences scolding conservatives for having smeared his favored policy programs as “socialism” over the years, Krugman laments that Bernie plays right into the hands of these “disreputable,” “smarmy,” “dishonest” Republicans.

They were right, though, weren’t they, all those hyperbolic conservatives who warned that corroding economic freedom would lead here? The Democratic Party is on the verge of nominating a man who wants to incrementally abolish capitalism. This time, I’m sure, it’ll be done right.

Only a few years ago, liberal pundits such as Jonathan Chait, now nervously writing about a Sanders nomination, were dismissing the notion that the Democratic Party was moving hard to the left. Like it or not, many of Donald Trump’s policy positions — if not his disposition — would be at least recognizable to a mainstream Reagan-era conservative audience. Bernie makes Barack Obama, the most left-wing president of the modern era, seem like a neoliberal shill.

So the question is: Why would Bernie spend 55 years calling himself a socialist if he was not? Krugman theorizes that it’s just “personal branding, with a dash of glee at shocking the bourgeoisie.”

Though you’re sure this will be the most mind-blowingly absurd statement in the piece, Krugman later takes his game to another level by arguing that Sanders isn’t a genuine socialist because he “doesn’t want” to nationalize major industries or “replace markets central planning.”

First of all, “doesn’t want” and “can’t” are very different things. Bernie “wants” to nationalize industry, or has a history of saying he does, anyway. I know this because in the 1970s, he proudly proclaimed that he favored “the public ownership of utilities, banks and major industries.” Has anyone asked him if he’s changed his mind since then?

Krugman, and others, keep making the false claim that Sanders merely wants to emulate the systems in Scandinavian nations, which have strong private sectors propping up generous welfare programs. But the problem isn’t just that Sanders’ history suggest otherwise; it’s that he openly argues for effectively nationalizing two major sectors of the economy — health care and energy, both of which have played a big role in driving growth — right now. For that matter, there aren’t many economic activities that he “doesn’t want” the federal government centrally planning. Enacting massive regulatory schemes that dictate what you can buy and what you can sell and how much you sell it for is as good as controlling the means of production.

Krugman is right that Sanders couldn’t be Hugo Chávez — who his top speechwriter, also probably not a real socialist, once claimed had created an “economic miracle” in Venezuela — even if he wanted to in his heart of hearts. We still function under a system that protects individual freedom, which remains the core idea of the American Founding even if it’s under increasing threat. But whether or not he could get away with enacting them, no amount of spin or revisionist history is going to make Sanders’s proposals any less radical.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun

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