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Politics & Policy

Bernie Sanders: Spend Trillions or America Will Turn to ‘Authoritarianism’

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (D., Vt.) attends a hearing to discuss President Biden’s budget request for FY 2022, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., June 8, 2021. (Greg Nash/Reuters)

I have already written against the congealing left-wing conventional wisdom which suggests that, if Democrats don’t get everything they want, then democracy itself has failed. Dan McLaughlin has also weighed in. Alas, this foolhardy notion has already been taken up as a talking point by left-wing politicians. Here’s how Vermont senator Bernie Sanders is attempting to justify the trillions that Democrats want to spend:

It’s on one level disheartening for Sanders to sound like this. He was once a somewhat interestingly heterodox figure, deviating from the Left on guns and immigration. But in his pursuit of and proximity to power, in his two runs for president and now as part of a (narrow) majority in the Senate, he has abandoned his ideological quirks, leaving only the hard-left core of someone willing to mouth talking points from progressive blogs.

On another level, it’s as dishonest as the other left-wing voices who have made this argument. Sanders is not explicitly threatening dictatorship if he doesn’t get what he wants. He’s “just” saying that, if he does not, then some people will conclude that our system doesn’t work, and thereby will be forced to abandon it. Lost on Sanders is the idea of, say, crafting policy on the basis of Democrats’ narrow congressional majorities instead of trying to force a second New Deal or Great Society — whose programs passed with overwhelming congressional approval — on tiny margins in the House and Senate. Or of creating expectations based on those same margins instead of irresponsibly inflating them to exploit the resultant discontent.

And on a third level, Sanders’s second-order threat isn’t even original. When FDR was trying to get his so-called Second Bill of Rights (all economic, all things granted by the state) through Congress in 1944 (Sanders was 2), he engaged in similar demagoguery:

One of the great American industrialists of our day—a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis—recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called “normalcy” of the 1920’s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.

Bernie Sanders apparently either expects so much of the government spending he wants to see that he thinks it will save America from authoritarianism, or thinks so little of America that it is on the brink of collapse if not for the trillions he is seeking. Either way, it’s partisan hyperbole that should be rejected.

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