There’s a lot to like about Bernie Sanders. Authenticity is seductive and he’s got buckets of it. He lacks the borderline crazy that usually accompanies authenticity in politicians. Unlike Ron Paul, Bernie doesn’t seem like his head will explode at any given moment. He speaks with a confident wisdom that only comes from years of serious reflection. He’s an intellectual. He’s an activist. Most importantly, he’d rather not be running for President and appears to mean it.
I even agree with him on policy for the most part.
I’ve always opposed the notion of “too big to fail” and the banking bailouts. Either banks are private and have to be held accountable as private actors OR they are public and have to live under the purview of some elected authority. What we have now are institutions that are sometimes private or sometimes public depending on which is more profitable for them. Bernie is the only candidate willing to challenge this doctrine.
I’ve long opposed the War on Drugs and the incarceration of millions of Americans for non-violent crimes. This mass incarceration has disproportionately affected communities already at-risk from other social ills like blight, poverty, and illiteracy. Bernie is the only candidate even discussing this issue.
On foreign policy I think Bernie’s instincts are solid. Openly promoting war with Iran and other foreign enemies–as many conservatives do–is toxic, incendiary, and unsafe. I suspect I am even farther left on this issue than Sanders, who still pays lip service to the idea that we cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. Either way going to war to prevent it isn’t likely to do anyone any good.
These are three really critical issues on which Bernie beats any other candidate. Yet, I still struggle with the idea of voting for him. I’ve been looking for specific reasons to dismiss him, but haven’t found any. I have finally come to the point of admitting that my objections are purely philosophical.
Sanders holds that economic “rights” are of equal status to civil or political rights. He would say we cannot be fully free if we do not have food in our stomachs, shelter over our heads, and the promise of free education and health care.
I have a knee jerk suspicion of this ideology of economic rights. I wish I could blame it on being raised in a super conservative family who held the free market sacrosanct. I’ve grown to reject most of the doctrine’s I was raised with … even religious doctrines … why not reject market capitalism and embrace socialism too?
Perhaps it’s fear?
For sure, plenty of European countries have made the kind of economic rights that Bernie talks about work without resorting to despotism. The idea that socialism lead inevitably to despotism is a pure canard. However, most despotic movements in the modern age have been predicated in part on the doctrine of economic rights: Nazism, Fascism, Communism, Maoism, Stalinism, etc. It’s not necessarily that economic rights cause despotism so much as that the clamor for economic rights can often be seized upon by would be despots as a way to gain tremendous popularity.
This is NOT what Bernie is doing, but it would explain my knee-jerk suspicion.
But I don’t think that’s all that’s there, I think I actually object to the narrative of economic rights itself. I don’t believe economic rights are the same as political rights, but even if I did, the language of economic rights is too often couched in terms of rich versus poor. Sanders and others promulgate the notion that there are rich people we can go take the money from and use it to fix all of our problems. But life is way more complicated than that. Public policy is even harder. Taking money from greedy people just isn’t a compelling vision for me. It strikes me as a rather easy, unintelligent approach to problem solving.
I wouldn’t object to most of the policies that Sanders would pursue ( the one caveat is tax policy ), but I object to the spirit with which he pursues it. The world is too complicated for ideology. Neither a purely libertarian, nor a purely socialist ideology is going to work for us in the 21st century. I think we have to try hard to transcend ideology itself and recognize that within each ideology there is some small kernel of truth that makes it compelling to some. If we can hear it, we can address it.
I respect that it’s hard to run a campaign with the slogan “It’s complicated.” You can almost see the frowny face and hear the wunt wah. It’s possible that Bernie Sanders has a more nuanced approach behind closed doors. But even as a campaign strategy, I find the we’re going to make the rich pay for it just as small minded as we’re going to make Mexico pay for it.
Bernie Sanders is in many ways the best candidate out there and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone for voting for him. I only hope they do so without adopting his ideology as their new religion.