Last week, I referred to Bernie Sanders as a “true believer” and acknowledged that his consistent, constant dedication to a cause makes him an attractive candidate to many Americans who have grown weary of politicians who pander, pivot and posture.
But true believers present their own dangers. Their unbending belief in their own inerrancy often results in obstinancy, extremism and occasionally catastrophe — IF their ideas are wrong.
Bernie Sanders’ ideas are, in my opinion, wrong — and they have been proven wrong by generation after generation since they were first fully developed by Karl Marx in 1848. The fable of communism is that a few bad people rise to the top through chicanery and then spend their entire lives exploiting the multitudes of good people who are fooled into thinking life is grand while they are being crushed underfoot by the capitalist dogs.
This us-against-them model has been successfully used in toppling many governments through the years, perhaps most notably in the French Revolution. But what is instructive from history is that the revolution that follows an uprising against the elite is almost always as bad or worse for the common people as what preceded it.
Thus, the Reign of Terror FOLLOWED the French Revolution. Thus the enslavement and murder of millions of Russians FOLLOWED the Russian Revolution. Thus, more presently, the collapse into chaos in Libya FOLLOWED the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime.
There is a reason for that. Very simply, the revolutionary demands of the people are based on an unrealistic model of human experience — which undervalues hard work and overvalues a handout — and this is where Bernie Sanders comes back into the picture, along with President Obama.
It was Obama who told Joe the Plumber in 2008 that “when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” Well, no. It’s good (in the short term) for the person who receives the wealth as a gift, but it’s bad for the person from whom you appropriated the wealth. The problem is that the people who advocate stealing wealth from the rich are playing a numbers game. There are far more poor and middle-income people than rich people, and in a democracy such as ours, power comes from pandering to the poor.
That essentially is the key to Bernie Sanders’ success. His platform of free stuff for poor people, combined with villainizing Wall Street capitalists and bankers, is a powerful panacea. Its main ingredients are “The Communist Manifesto” and the progressive-era philosophy of John Dewey steeped in the anti-war fervor of the 1960s. It was out of that stewpot that Bernie Sanders emerged in 1971, when he surfaced in Vermont as a candidate for U.S. Senate on the Liberty Union ticket.
Returning to those roots allows us to see that Bernie Sanders, the true believer, has not moved one inch from where he stood in 1971, when he eked out 2 percent of the vote. But American society has bit by bit moved inexorably toward socialism, better known as the politics of envy. “Give me whatever I want because I deserve it, and anyway, you’ve got more than your fair share!”
A story about Sanders’ bid for office in December 1971 is instructive about the nature of the underlying beliefs of the now presidential candidate. Written by Greg Guma as a letter to the editor in the Bennington Banner newspaper, it tells of “an informal get-together” at the home of a voter with Sanders and the Liberty Union’s candidate for Congress, Doris Lake.
Sanders, of course, would not have been comfortable as a Democrat in those days, and even today he is considered a sell-out by other socialists because he promises to support the Democratic candidate for president if he doesn’t win the nomination. But today’s Democratic Party is not far from the Democratic Socialist Party that Sanders envisions now or the Liberty Union Party that he championed in the 1970s.
Consider the setting. This was just a few years after the Youth International Party and other anti-war protesters rioted in Chicago outside the Democratic convention. What mattered in 1971 was the war against “the man” — the battle to unseat the “establishment” — the desire to overthrow the racist, sexist, capitalist, oppressive “system.” The anti-Vietnam War movement was the vehicle for spreading that revolutionary message, and it found a receptive audience in draft-age young men such as Bernie Sanders.
Guma was also looking for change, but he found Sanders to be a particularly strident, off-putting revolutionary who cared more about a “people’s” ideology than about the real people in the room with him.
“The candidates spoke mostly about the ‘Movement’ and the corruption of most political activity, stressing the Vermont problems were not their concern,” Guma wrote. “Sanders ended a discussion by telling one person (myself, in fact) that he didn’t want that person’s vote.”
This next quote sums up the “true believer” mentality of Bernie Sanders as well as anything:
“ ‘If you didn’t come to work for the movement, you came for the wrong reasons,’ said Sanders. ‘I don’t care who you are, I don’t need you.’”
Later in the conversation, Sanders said, “Obviously you haven’t been listening to me. Do you know what the movement is? Have you read the books? Are you against the war in Vietnam?”
Rather than take the bait, Guma turned it back on Sanders and said he wanted to know what Bernie Sanders thought as an individual, not as part of a movement.
“You don’t understand,” Sanders said. “It’s the movement that’s important. Are you for it? If you’re not, I don’t want your vote.”
They had a name for that kind of thinking in the old Soviet Union. It was called “the party line.” You were either for the Communist Party’s line of propaganda, or you were out of line.
There is absolutely no evidence that Sanders has ever moved past his rebellious teen-ager stage as represented in the story told by Guma, a progressive, who later went on to write “The People’s Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution.”
In case you are wondering, Guma noted that Sanders never made clear back in 1971 what he was referring to when he talked about “The Movement,” “unless he meant the general principles of revolution popular with a narrow group within the underground movement.”
The underground movement at that time was best symbolized by “The Weather Underground,” led by Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, later friends of Barack Obama in Chicago. Ayers and the Weather Underground participated in bombings against the New York City Police Department in 1970, the U.S. Capitol earlier in 1971, and the Pentagon in 1972. The “Movement” they represented was for the overthrow of the U.S. Constitution.
It is worth asking Bernie sometime if that is the Movement he meant then and supports now. I don’t see how he could ever implement his revolutionary agenda of massive social change without first doing away with the liberties protected under the Constitution. Do you?
But maybe the Movement has already succeeded. After all, President Obama was elected and re-elected on a platform of “fundamental transformation” of a nation that was the richest and free-est in the world. Change that? To what? A nation of well-fed sheep?
But here we are again. Burn me once, shame on you. Bern me twice... well, you know the rest.
Frank Miele is the managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana, and writes a weekly column of conservative commentary entitled "Editor's 2 Cents."