The best thing about Bernie — need I explain, in the year of grace 2020, which Bernie ? — is how a frosty-haired old coot old enough to have been a high-school classmate of mine fires up kids who never heard of our era’s icons: Leo Durocher, say; or Robert Q. Lewis.
This happens, coincidentally, to be the worst thing about Bernie. A youthful constituency for socialist measures and methods in the Bernie manner is a scary thing to behold. In a less mixed-up political environment than ours, Candidate Sanders might rise, with some exertion, to the level of Marianne Williamson.
That is because of a once generally obvious point — that America needs a socialist president, even a self-billed “democratic” one, the way it needs reparations for the War of 1812.
Mucking up things that run relatively well without government oversight and insistence is the vocational specialty of socialists — such of them as remain among us, dreaming, Bernie-like, of the warm feeling that comes with narrowing the running room for human freedom.
Not that I chew my fingernails over the prospect of U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders’ actually talking Americans into letting him run things. I can’t for the life of me see him winning — though peculiar things happen in the 21st century; e.g., the voter putdown of Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Here is Bernie, all the same, carbonating at the top of various polls in Iowa and New Hampshire while he enjoys the nearly $100 million his campaign received in 2019 mostly from small-fry contributors. Non-liberal columnists — Jason Riley in the Wall Street Journal and Bret Stephens in the New York Times — are assessing the possibility of a genuine Sanders connection with voters who could put him in the White House.
What goes on around here?
We don’t quite know, I think. But we’re learning. At a basic — in other words, a human — level, I confess to respecting my frosty-haired contemporary. Our personalities and tastes wouldn’t have brought us together in our high-school years, but I admire a man committed to telling what he sees as the truth — even the wrong truth. Younger voters — less experienced than Bernie’s and my contemporaries in absorbing the disappointment of politics — take with real affection to Bernie’s way of talking.
If only he weren’t talking, and with his heart conspicuously on display, of enlarging the power of government over human beings in general. The theme — government first, you second — is an ancient one. Plato, in case everyone’s forgotten, was going to let his guardian class oversee the important questions of life. Socialists, in their vanity, imagine themselves as guardians. They know. They have the big picture.
Sanders’ socialism doesn’t take in public ownership of the means of production and distribution; it’s all about big government — “Medicare for All” would be the biggest initiative — signaling government’s belief in its own superiority, its ability to make the right decisions for the incapable.
Under President Sanders, we’re going to receive paid parental leave and a Green New Deal that results in the phase-out of fossil fuels. Really? We don’t need an oil industry? Why didn’t we think of that ourselves? It took good old Bernie — our would-be guardian-in-chief, our philosopher king (in the Platonic mode) to awaken us to the deep needs we obviously hadn’t considered. The I-Know-It-All attributes of the committed socialist are plainly on view here.
Could Bernie the Socialist capture the Democratic presidential nomination? This I’ll say. It might better serve national purposes for the Democrats to go on and pick him so we can have it out, in November, over a major question: To wit, what’s better for the country, a government that decides what’s good for us in all important cases, or one inspired wherever possible to let people figure things out for themselves?
Free-market principles and human liberty — conducive to the kind of boisterous economy we presently enjoy — might benefit from a spokesman/promoter with a higher believability quotient than Donald Trump. That’s a secondary consideration. The primary consideration is blunter: How many Americans, way, way deep down, yearn for Washington, D.C., to run the American show — how many, I mean, outside the ambit of my favorite frosty-haired old coot?
William Murchison’s latest book is The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson.
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