The Morning Jolt

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Bernie Sanders Is Proof that You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during the markup of the FY2018 Budget reconciliation legislation in Washington, D.C. on November 28, 2017. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Bernie Sanders makes his 2020 bid official, demonstrating that no matter what happens in the world, his worldview will not change; billionaires who enjoyed the fruits of the Old Left suddenly find the New Left inhospitable; and our Kyle Smith has a few questions for those who believed Jussie Smollett.

Bernie Sanders, the Unchanging Man

Bernie Sanders is running for president, again.

Bernie Sanders is pretty much the exact same guy that he was four decades ago, running on the same platform. He’s making the same arguments for the same ideas about how America needs a socialist revolution that puts an end to millionaires and billionaires and private hospitals and moves social services from charities to government institutions. He’s always been friendly to leftist critics of America overseas and radicals eager to tear down the existing order and has been at best skeptical of U.S. military actions abroad (except during the Clinton administration) and U.S. intelligence agencies. Becoming a millionaire didn’t prompt him to revise his relentless demonization of millionaires as greedy. The collapse of the Soviet Union, several American economic booms, innovative technological revolutions, the fracking and energy boom, the alleviation of poverty around the world through global trade over the past two generations — none of them prompted him to change much of what he thinks about economics, politics, international relations, or society.

No government management scandal of the past four decades — vets dying while waiting for care at the Department of Veterans Affairs, vast sums on nonfunctional web sites, lavish conferences at the General Services Administration, IRS abuses, Fast and Furious, substandard conditions for wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, endless allegations of cronyism, favoritism, and incompetence — has shaken Sanders’s faith that the federal government is equipped and ready to handle huge new programs that would exercise much more control over the daily lives of Americans.

No country’s experience with socialism, or countries that call themselves socialist, has prompted him to rethink whether the concepts work as well as the advocates insist.

In a 2016 debate, he showed his praise for Fidel Castro in 1985, saying that Castro “educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed their society.” Moderator Maria Elena Salinas asked Sanders three times if he regretted his characterizations of Nicaragua’s authoritarian ruler Daniel Ortega and Fidel Castro. Three times, Sanders dodged, saying that “the key issue here was whether the United States should go around overthrowing small Latin American countries” and finally reiterating his praise for Castro’s regime: “It would be wrong not to state that in Cuba they have made some good advances in health care. They are sending doctors all over the world. They have made some progress in education.”

Back in 2016, Venezuela’s dictatorial president, Nicolas Maduro, said that he supported Bernie Sanders in the U.S. presidential race, adding that the candidate, who describes himself as a democratic socialist, would win if the vote were “free.” (Sanders was uncharacteristically quiet about Venezuelan politics since Maduro came to power, but he offered some criticism of the Maduro regime in January.)

He has his theories about how the world ought to work, and he’s going to stick to it.

The Fear of Being Considered the Wrong Kind of Billionaire

One argument of the billionaire-bashing club that has some merit: Some particular billionaires do have an astonishing ability to set the terms of discussion in America’s public discourse, and this is separate from the billionaire Twitter stormbringer in the Oval Office.

Each day, when you log on or pick up a newspaper or turn on your television or radio, there’s a good chance that what you read or hear is shaped by the decision of some billionaire. Howard Schultz is roiling the Democrats by considering an independent bid for president. Jeff Bezos’s company Amazon got almost every city in America to run around chasing their tales putting together incentive packages for HQ2, and of course he runs one of the most powerful news institutions in the country, the Washington Post. (This isn’t even counting the recent news about his, er, other “incentive package.”) People argue whether Mark Zuckerberg’s grand creation of Facebook is exacerbating American social divisions. Every few months, Elon Musk does something amazing or bizarre, whether it’s launching a car into space or smoking weed with Joe Rogan. Michael Bloomberg is also thinking of running for president, and he periodically throws a couple dozen million dollars into the gun-control movement.

The world has conservative billionaires such as the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, but most of those splashy cover-of-a-magazine billionaires are left-leaning. As I noted in my profile of Schultz, a whole lot of billionaires and big corporations had no real problem with the Obama administration. If a CEO wanted to stay on good terms with the administration and its media- and cultural-elite allies, he talked a good game about going green, building a diverse workforce and inclusive workplaces, and tut-tutted about gun violence and talked about the need for “common sense gun laws” and “universal background checks.” Throw some solar panels on your corporate headquarters, ensure your board had a few minorities, donate to the party, and the Democrats were generally going to be happy to see you.

In other words, left-leaning billionaires were happy to ally with the Democratic party on a wide range of social issues as the party enacted policies that posed no real threat to their wealth and stature (although they may hinder others’ efforts to climb the economic ladder). Throughout the Obama era, it became clear that political, financial, and cultural elites were (deliberately or inadvertently) establishing a progressive aristocracy — where once you had the right credentials and connections, and gave generously to the right causes, you were insulated from any real criticism or consequences of your actions. Nobody gave Tim Geithner grief for botching his taxes, environmentalists grief for their private jets, gun-control advocates flak for their armed security, or voucher opponents problems for sending their kids to private school. Filmmaker Michael Moore used non-union labor and lived to tell the tale; lawmakers insisting anything less than $15 per-hour wages was inhumane thought nothing about having unpaid interns. Apparently, the actions of Harvey Weinstein and Les Moonves were open secrets, but few high-profile feminist activists ever gave them too much grief; crossing them meant making a powerful enemy.

At a certain level of status, everyone agreed to avert their eyes from contradictions between how you live and what you profess.

The new socialism-friendly Democrats may not be willing to maintain this arrangement. Ironically, the part of this hypocrisy that they find most offensive is the part that the Right finds least offensive: being wealthy. Most conservatives don’t care if Al Gore uses a lot of electricity, Bloomberg has armed personal security guards, or that Democratic presidents send their kids to Sidwell Friends. Just don’t use your wealth and power to take away our options.

Even now, those who are quite wealthy on the Left are eager to establish that the threshold for problematic wealth begins just above what they could reasonably expect to earn, barring some unexpected good luck. Elizabeth Warren wants to “impose a 2 percent tax on Americans’ net worth above $50 million and a 3 percent tax on wealth above $1 billion.” Judging from her released tax returns and Senate financial-disclosure forms, Warren and her husband have combined assets between about $4 million and $11 million.

Quite the identity crisis: fake Native American, real multimillionaire.

Like Detective Columbo, Kyle Smith Has Just One More Question

Kyle Smith offers a really good – and fair – list of questions for those who believed the account of Jussie Smollett. The first two:

One: Had you ever heard of Jussie Smollett before the alleged January 29 attack?

Two: Do you think it likely that fans of President Trump had?

ADDENDUM: Charlie Sykes and the editors of the New York Post kindly mention my recent writing, discussing the lessons of Smollett.

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