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Advisor John Hart

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Bernie Sanders and the End of Sneaky Socialism

July 10, 2015

Every presidential campaign season has surprises. Two early surprises are the unexpected surges of billionaire entertainer and sort-of Republican Donald Trump and Vermont socialist-who-comfortably-caucuses-with-Democrats Bernie Sanders. One poll had Trump leading the GOP field in North Carolina while Sanders is surging in New Hampshire and Iowa, where the Clinton campaign is predicting Sanders will win.

So far, Trump has received a disproportionate amount of coverage thanks in large part to his bombastic comments insinuating that Mexico’s foreign policy involves sending its rapists to America. Trump, of course, is a legitimate story that has been approached thoughtfully by people like Peggy Noonan and others. The story is Trump has exploited a vacuum created by a party that is struggling with how to celebrate legal immigration while defending the rule of law.

But Sanders matters on a deeper and more consequential level for Democrats and the country. Whereas Donald Trump is a disruptive entertainer, Bernie Sanders is disrupting an entire party’s identity. While Republicans are struggling to express their faith in capitalism and the American idea (with some difficulty on immigration), Democrats are struggling to hide their faith in socialism and skepticism of the American idea.

When the New York Times devotes more than a thousand words to making the case that Sanders isn’t a big story, you can be assured he’s a big story and very troubling to Democrats.

For conservatives, the rise of Sanders provides a powerful “See, I told you so” moment. The fact is European socialism has been the mainstream in the Democratic Party for a very long time.

To the horror of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders has drawn large crowds as his economic populism has taken hold of the Democratic Party’s base | Photo: AP

For instance, when Senate conservatives led by my old boss U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) were fighting to prevent the passage of Obamacare in 2009 we offered not only a superior alternative – a form of which will one day become law – but a warning that Obamacare was designed to usher in the socialist utopian fantasy of single-payer government-run health care. Incidentally, it was Hillary Clinton’s failed push for government-run care in 1993 that inspired Coburn to run for office, and caused the Left to be more careful about wearing socialism on its sleeve.

We argued that the real aim of Obamacare wasn’t merely to correct deficiencies in the private health insurance market. Rather, its goal was to subtly but systematically dismantle the private health insurance market so government could take its place.

At the time, Democrats scoffed at what they viewed as right-wing conspiracy talk.

President Obama said our concern that the left was building a Trojan horse for single-payer care was “illegitimate.”

But as the Weekly Standard and sites like Breitbart catalogued, this was – and is – precisely what the left was up to.

“The fact is European socialism has been the mainstream in the Democratic Party for a very long time”

As early as 2008, liberal bloggers like Ezra Klein were openly describing what they called the “sneaky strategy” left wing groups were employing to gradually dismantle private health insurance. Occasionally, high-ranking Democrats including then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would openly admit that was the plan.

As the Las Vegas Sun reported in 2013:

“What we’ve done with Obamacare is have a step in the right direction, but we’re far from having something that’s going to work forever,” Reid said.

When then asked by panelist Steve Sebelius whether he meant ultimately the country would have to have a health care system that abandoned insurance as the means of accessing it, Reid said: “Yes, yes. Absolutely, yes.”

Fast-forwarding to 2016, the rise of Sanders shows that Tom Coburn was right. Socialists exist. They are everywhere. And in large numbers. In fact, they’ve been here all along. They look like you and me. They’re here to take away your freedom and give it to the State. And they call themselves Democrats.

Of course, not all Democrats are Sanders’ socialists. But about half of them are. As the Federalist’s David Harsanyi explains in this must-read piece, Democrats view socialism as favorably as capitalism – 43 percent of Democrats have a favorable view of both economic models. Given these numbers, Sanders’ popularity isn’t a fluke and shouldn’t be surprising.

Now, Sanders isn’t likely to win the Democratic nomination. The New York Times has that correct. But Democrats are disturbed by his rise because it means the days of stealthy, sneaky socialism are over. Sanders is giving economic liberals their coming out moment which terrifies Democrats who know the country isn’t ready for a big swing on cultural and economic issues.

To his credit, Sanders is giving Democrats and the country the debate it deserves. America hasn’t had a big capitalism vs. socialism debate this century and it is long overdue. In the 20th century, we had Churchill, Reagan and Thatcher artfully refuting Sanders’ (and Karl Marx’s) views on ending “income equality.” They called socialism “shared misery.” Meanwhile, economists like Milton Friedman would periodically destroy the sentimental socialism of people like Phil Donahue. And we had case studies. It was hard for socialism to take root in America when murderous regimes like the Soviet Union were giving socialism a bad name.

Today, the case studies aren’t as stark but the principles are the same. Greece’s socialist economic policies, which Sanders is defending, shows what happens when a national government treats under-spending and under-taxation as moral evils to be corrected. The poor and elderly suffer the most. Thatcher nailed this long ago when she said, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

Sanders, to the dismay of many Democrats, is bringing this debate into the open. Bring it on, Bernie. This is what 2016 should be about.

This article originally appeared at OpportunityLives.com.