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Welcome back, Bernie; now please stop calling yourself a socialist

3 min read

Let me get all my caveats out of the way as I hastily don my flak jacket.

I like Bernie Sanders.

After seriously considering Hillary Clinton, I voted for Sanders in the 2016 Oregon primary.

When Hillary won the nomination, I enthusiastically backed her, and was just a bit peeved that Bernie refused to back out sooner.

That said, I’m still a fan, if only because he almost singlehandedly shifted our focus from hidebound “New Democrat” principles to a flavor of progressivism that’s been largely time-tested and embraced by other Western democracies. 

One thing that’s always irked me, though, is his insistence on using the term “socialist” — even if he does consistently preface it with “democratic.”

In my opinion, it’s bad branding.

And this is a plea as well to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has done extremely important work in educating our country on marginal tax rates, public works spending, and the sheer absurdity of a vibrant democracy going out of its way to mollycoddle billionaires.

Please, please, please stop calling yourselves socialists.

Because, well, you’re not.

But Donald Trump, who’s never met a lie he didn’t like, will do his best to conflate the Democratic Party with the Politburo for the next year and a half. And because he has hordes of dumbass toadies at his beck and call, this message will continue to ripple like pr*sidential moob flab from now until November 2020.

And that’s not helpful.

Can you call yourselves what you really are? 

You’re social democrats.

You’re not Venezuela, Cuba, China, North Korea, or the former Soviet Union.

You’re Denmark, Norway, Sweden — even Germany, France, or Canada. Thriving and functional democracies all.

Here’s a good thumbnail description of the difference between true socialism and social democracy, from a March 2016 Atlantic article by Marian Tupy. Note that, in some respects, true social democracy is actually a more purely capitalist system than the version we practice, in that crony capitalism is generally eschewed:

Sanders is not a typical socialist. Sure, he believes in a highly regulated and heavily taxed private enterprise, but he does not seem to want the state to own banks and make cars. Considering the negative connotations of “socialism” in America, it is a bit of a puzzle why Sanders insists on using that word. It would be much less contentious and more correct if he gave his worldview its proper name: not “democratic socialism,” which implies socialism brought about through a vote, but social democracy.

In a social democracy, individuals and corporations continue to own the capital and the means of production. Much of the wealth, in other words, is produced privately. That said, taxation, government spending, and regulation of the private sector are much heavier under social democracy than would be the case under pure capitalism.

Capitalism means different things to different people. To many people on the left, unfettered capitalism implies individual greed, vast income inequality, and lack of government protections for the poor. Capitalism is often confused with “crony” capitalism—an odious nexus of corporate and political power that crushes the worker and cheats the consumer. Close linkages between big business and the government have existed before (e.g., fascist Italy, national-socialist Germany, Peronist Argentina, etc.). However, most academics do not refer to such systems as exhibiting “crony capitalism,” but “corporatism.”

In other words, Donald Trump and his cabal are corporatists (and, importantly, authoritarian by inclination), while Bernie and AOC are social democrats (or, if you prefer, compassionate capitalists).

Sadly, I see ourselves being drawn into the GOP’s dishonest web, and it doesn’t help if we’re framing their disingenuous arguments for them.

Welcome back, Bernie.

But, please, words means things. Don’t fall into their trap.


Yo! Dear F*cking Lunatic: 101 Obscenely Rude Letters to Donald Trump by Aldous J. Pennyfarthing is now available at Amazon! Buy there (or at one of the other fine online retailers carrying it), or be square.


But wait, there’s more! The Fierce, Fabulous (and Mostly Fictional) Adventures of Mike Ponce, America’s First Gay Vice President is also available at Amazon! You can get two great political humor ebooks for less than the price of the coffee you’ll be spitting out on your tablet when you read them!

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