Bruce Thornton, What does the most troubling political phenomenon of postwar America portend for November and beyond?
Apart from the bizarrerie of Trumpophobia, the wide-spread Democrat attraction to socialism is the strangest political phenomenon of postwar America. In 2016, the ascent of Bernie Sanders, the inconsequential senator from Vermont, bespoke a more limited audience comprising mainly millennials for whom politics is a marker of personal identity. Now we’re seeing a slate of primary candidates who all embrace socialist policies far to the left of Barack Obama’s public persona. What does this phenomenon portend for November and beyond?
Certainly the mainstream Democrats who rigged the 2016 primary on behalf of Hillary Clinton are nervous. Old Clinton wrangler James Carville is alarmed: He called Sanders’ supporters a “cult,” and prophesied that if Sanders runs against Trump, it would bring on “the end of days.” Sanders responded by calling Carville a “political hack,” a moniker Carville embraced as superior to being a political amateur and a “communist.”
For other Democrats, Sanders vs. Trump would reprise storied Democrat wipeouts like 1972 and 1980. Nor do polls suggest that socialism’s appeal has increased: 53% of those recently polled by Gallup said they would not support a “generally well-qualified socialist” for president, whereas 90% would support a black, Catholic, Hispanic, female, or Jewish one. The U.S.’s historical, and exceptional, resistance to socialism still seems to hold.
Moreover, the policies being bruited by the primary candidates are preposterously utopian and simply unaffordable. The bill just for the Green New Deal, forgiving $1.5 trillion in student debt, and Medicare For All tops $100 trillion. No proposal for financing the cost has passed the laugh test. Most are variations of the “make the rich pay their fair share” cliché, meaning various tax-hikes that would stop the current record-setting economic boom in its tracks. The reality is, the top 10% of earners just don’t have enough money. We could confiscate outright all the wealth of America’s 707 billionaires, $3 trillion, and still not be able even to fund the federal government’s FY 2020 budget estimate of $4.7 trillion.
Nor can those evil corporations that create jobs and wealth be tapped for more funds. The Fortune 500 wealthiest companies are worth $22.6 trillion, just about enough to cover the fed’s total debt of $22.7 trillion rising as we speak. And of course, then the economy would implode. Nor can raising the corporate tax rate generate the money socialists need to fund their proposals. After all, Trump’s reduction of corporate rates has contributed to economic growth, more jobs, higher tax revenues, and wage-gains for workers. Why would voters want to throw that all away to achieve some vague idea of “social justice”?
The only way to begin to cover the new socialists’ extravagant policies would require taxing more people than just the top half of earners, as we do now, and throwing in a regressive consumption tax at a rate comparable to the average European VAT tax rate of 23%. And it’s questionable even those Draconian, growth-killing levels of taxation could fund even a fraction of the current socialist proposals.
These policies, then, are obviously not the product of reason or mathematics or even common sense. They are instead a narcotic for those in thrall to the doctrine of income egalitarianism, an imagined paradise on earth of the sort found in millenarian cults, an ersatz faith, and a fashion accessory for the badly educated and angst-ridden. That’s why the historical record of socialism’s bloody failures cuts no ice with the true believers. Even if we set aside the most destructive manifestations of collectivist ideologies like Soviet and Maoist communism, the progressive version of socialism that has developed in the U.S. over the last century offers no evidence that supports expanding progressive policies even further.
Indeed, as historian Amity Shlaes has documented in two books, progressivism’s biggest political successes, FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society, have been real-world failures. It’s not just the moral hazard of getting citizens hooked on benefits funded by redistributing wealth from the productive, memorably expressed in Kipling’s line “All men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins.” Worse, these programs are on track to bankrupt the country. Along with interest on the debt, for the time being serviced at atypically low interest rates, these programs are eating up more than two-thirds of the annual budget. An aging population that is living longer and taking the lion’s share of health-care spending guarantees that without reform current spending is unsustainable. It is the height of irrationalism, or a sign of political duplicity, that all the current Democrat primary candidates are proposing policies that will worsen this fiscal disaster.
Just as revealing of irrationalism or simple incoherence is the hypocrisy of millionaire candidates like Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren, beneficiaries of free-market capitalism who bite the hand that feeds them. It doesn’t matter if they’re sincere but just poorly educated, or lacking in self-awareness, or fully aware of their hypocrisy and willing to promise anything to get power. The effect on the rest of us if one of them wins in November will still be devastating.
But establishment Democrats who are terrified of Bernie Sanders have ratcheted up the irrationalism by turning to billionaire Michael Bloomberg. They have already changed rules for participating in debates to accommodate him, and there are rumors that the DNC is attempting to fix the race as it did in 2016 to benefit Hillary Clinton. Their “moderates” Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren having faltered, the goal now is to prevent an unapologetic, Soviet Union honeymooning, serial commie thug admirer, and in-your-face avowed socialist from sending Trump back to the White House.
This is an issue not of principle but of expediency. Smarter Democrats like James Carville know the nationwide antipathy to socialism requires a leader like Barack Obama who can lie smoothly on the campaign trail, and then once elected pursue a Fabian strategy of incremental change, just as Obamacare was the first step towards the full-blown government-run health care now being touted by the Democrat primary candidates.
But Michael Bloomberg? The guy who thinks the worst presidential candidate ever should be considered for his vice president? The eighth richest man in the U.S.? How well will that sit with the “woke” socialist class-warriors? Not even their skills at cognitive dissonance can rationalize that level of hypocrisy. This is the party that, with “maverick” John McCain’s help, passed the McCain-Feingold bill that violated the First Amendment by restricting donations to candidates, a bill that fortunately was overturned in the Citizens United case. Since then undoing that decision has been a staple of Democrat campaign rhetoric, ostensibly to keep plutocratic money from corrupting our elections.
Now some are turning to a plutocrat worth $62 billion who can literally buy if not the election, at least the candidacy. It’s no coincidence that eight mayors who have endorsed Bloomberg run cities that have received grants from Bloomberg philanthropies. And it doesn’t hurt that Bloomberg has been generous to Democrats, spending $110 million in 2019 on Democrat Congressional candidates. And that’s just a sample of his politicized charity––$2.3 billion in 2018 alone–– documented by the New York Times, which concludes that his philanthropy “has also secured the allegiance or cooperation of powerful institutions and leaders within the Democratic Party who might take issue with parts of his record were they not so reliant on his largess.” And don’t forget, with his $60 billion, Bloomberg can also afford to run slews of campaign ads night and day, like his $11 million Superbowl ad supporting gun control with a misleading statistic, or his latest calling out Bernie Sanders for his supporters’ thuggish tweets that threaten violence against the Berne’s opponents.
And it’s not as though Bloomberg is so eminently qualified to do anything other than make a whole bunch of money. As mayor of New York he was the beneficiary of Rudy Guliani’s policing tactics like stop-and-frisk that reduced violent crime and rescued the city from its Death Wish and Taxi Driver dystopian squalor. Bloomberg looks good only when he is compared to current mayor Bill de Blasio, he of the reverse Midas touch who is not smart or principled enough to stick with a policy that reduces murders of the mostly black and Latinos he claims to champion.
But that policy success, no matter how much a consequence of not squandering a political inheritance, has been repudiated by Bloomberg himself as “racist” during a groveling, cringe-inducing apology before well-heeled black “leaders.” He’s also had to disavow some crude and exaggerated, yet essentially true, statements about black crime and its black victims he made in a speech, and insulted black and Latino men by saying they “don’t know how to behave in the workplace.” Such displays of contrition are patently a tactic for attracting black votes, and bespeak a lack of integrity. If Bloomberg sincerely believed a policy that has saved thousands of black lives was “racist,” we would have heard about it long before he decided to run for president.
Instead, it has been Exhibit A in his res gestae that supposedly qualify him to be president. Without it, what else does he have? Regulating the size of soda portions? Hectoring citizens about their salt intake? Threatening to gut the Second Amendment? The “woke” base will like these technocratic intrusions on our freedom, and won’t be troubled by Bloomberg’s praise for China’s autocrat Xi Jinping, or his claim that Xi is “not a dictator” but is accountable to his people. But while their class envy might give a pass to a mere millionaire like Bernie, an entitled, multi-billionaire, ex-Republican, and obvious opportunist is beyond the pale.
Moreover, Bloomberg is now feeling the ire of “woke” women after the Washington Post last week published an exposé of his history of crude sexual jokes––so many that an employee put together and circulated a 34-page booklet including some of them–– and allegations of discrimination against women that has created a “hostile environment, artifacts of a workplace employees said was saturated with degrading comments,” the Times writes, and “a culture of sexual harassment and degradation.” He also told a female employee to “kill it” after learning she was pregnant. And yes, evangelical pro-abortion Dems will not be deterred by the hypocrisy of condemning Bloomberg for honestly saying what they have enthusiastically supported doing for years. If Bloomberg gains enough traction to threaten Bernie, will we see the Salemite MeToo# packs––whom Bloomberg has criticized in public–– swarm him as they did Brett Kavanaugh? Elizabeth Warren has already called on Bloomberg to release two women from non-disclosure agreements so she can learn the lurid details they are hiding.
It is a flashing neon sign of how irrational the Democrats have become that some are pinning their hopes on a billionaire with a long record of opportunism and crude, misogynist behavior that they’ve spent more than three years condemning Trump for. But the specter of a President Sanders frightens them with visions of just how much more socialism will be hated after it is inflicted on Americans, half of whom already despise progressivism, socialism lite.
But the really troubling issue is the continuing allure of a politico-economic system that fails on both counts: growing the economy and protecting individual freedom. We can relish the discomfort of the Democrats who are being squeezed between a radical, noisy base and a more Fabian “moderate” strategy of inflicting socialism on us by the political equivalent of slowly raising the temperature of a pot of water with a frog in it.
Right now, no Democrat in the race poses a realistic challenge to Donald Trump. But anything can happen in this crazy political world, as Trump’s improbable election in 2016 proved. We shouldn’t let overconfidence fueled by the progressives’ egregious hypocrisy and buffoonery abet the party of socialism in duplicating that political earthquake.