Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Liberal or Democratic Socialist?

“America is Too Liberal to Elect Bernie Sanders”

When I saw this headline in the Boston Globe, I did a double take.  No, a triple take.  Then I read the article and I realized I had gotten sloppy. I have been careful to differentiate small c/big C conservative and small d/big d democrat. But not as careful between small l/big L liberal.  And the difference is critical. 

In that light, the headline is actually spot on.  And the article is a must read. Many thanks to Jonathan Schlefer for clarifying some really important points.

If you are considering voting for Bernie it is a 100% must read.  If not, it is still 75%.

First, let’s take a trip back in history to the days of the Founding Fathers (a favorite topic of mine as you know).  When they borrowed John Locke’s idea of the right to life, liberty and property (otherwise known as the pursuit of happiness) they were talking about individual rights. The definition of small “l” liberal harkens back to the idea that we are endowed by our creator with these inalienable rights.  As individuals. This is how the idea of liberty is defined.  A liberal is someone who believes in individual liberty of this kind.

Let’s contrast this with a small “s” socialist who believes that we should cede some of our individual liberties for the collective good.  Sound familiar, Bernie fans? This is where national health care, tuition-free college, strong social safety net, and so on are derived. 

So to be a true “democratic socialist” as Bernie espouses, he is not a liberal.  He has to be anti-liberal. He has to believe that liberals need to be induced to cede their individual liberty for the common good. They need to pay taxes to support the health care, tuition, etc. of others. They need to pay more for goods to support a higher minimum wage, family leave, etc. of others.

You might think that this is a valuable ethical and moral tradeoff.  You might think it is progressive. You might think it is democratic.  You might think it is the way of the future. You might think it is exactly the kind of position you want in a President. 

But it is not liberal. At least not the small “l” kind.  America was founded on small “l” liberal values and they still run strong in many voters. So Jonathan Schlefer at the Boston Globe may be right that this creates a steep uphill climb for Bernie to scale to win a general election where 100 million people will vote.