Misguided Fear of Bernie Sanders From The Center

Thomas Friedman NY Times

Thomas Friedman is again upset that everyone is not firmly in the middle of the road and does not understand why so many voters are opposing the establishment of both parties:

I find this election bizarre for many reasons but none more than this: If I were given a blank sheet of paper and told to write down America’s three greatest sources of strength, they would be “a culture of entrepreneurship,” “an ethic of pluralism” and the “quality of our governing institutions.” And yet I look at the campaign so far and I hear leading candidates trashing all of them.

Donald Trump is running against pluralism. Bernie Sanders shows zero interest in entrepreneurship and says the Wall Street banks that provide capital to risk-takers are involved in “fraud,” and Ted Cruz speaks of our government in the same way as the anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist, who says we should shrink government “to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” (Am I a bad person if I hope that when Norquist slips in that bathtub and has to call 911, no one answers?)

Simon Maloy responded to his column:

Thomas Friedman is terribly perplexed. The New York Times columnist asks “Who Are We?” this morning, a question prompted by his chilling realization that some of this year’s presidential candidates are doing quite well despite not believing in the same things as Thomas Friedman. This disturbing rebuke of Friedmanism has left the man unnerved and unsure, grasping for any sort of anchor as the world he observes from inside taxi cabs and airports stops making sense…

The rap on Sanders, per Friedman is that he’s too hard Wall Street “fraud” and insufficiently celebratory of entrepreneurship. Bernie is “right that Wall Street excesses helped tank the economy in 2008,” Friedman allows, but “thanks to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, that can’t easily happen again.” Oh, well, if it’s more difficult now for the engine of wealth inequality to nearly destroy the global economy with its “excesses,” then what is Bernie’s problem? As for entrepreneurship, Friedman thinks Bernie needs to talk it up more because “we’re not socialists.” (If you’d like to read Sanders extolling the virtues of entrepreneurs and small businesses and explaining the threat Wall Street poses to both, I’d direct you to this interview and this debate.)

Yes, if Friedman had wanted to write about how those angry on the right are misguided in supporting either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz I would agree. Unfortunately Friedman himself is misguided in his evaluation of Bernie Sanders. Sanders’ goal, despite the Democratic Socialist label, is to reform and repair our capitalist system, not replace it with Socialism, following years of abuse by Republicans (along with DLC neoliberals or New Democrats such as Bill Clinton).

Of course we should not be surprised when people have a misleading view of Sanders’ views in light of the distortions from the Clinton campaign and red-baiting by her surrogates. The reality is that Sanders has repeatedly expressed support for the role of entrepreneurship while criticizing the “casino capitalism” we now have. As I have discussed previously, there was no Red Dawn in Vermont when Sanders was mayor of Burlington. Inc, Magazine even found the Burlington to be the best city in the Northeast for a growing business when Sanders’ director of community and economic development succeeded him as mayor.

There has been a lot of similar expressions of shock by centrists since Sanders’ victory in the New Hampshire primary, where, incidentally Sanders’ margin of victory among moderates was almost identical as it was among liberals. Robert Reich, the Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, had this to say about the of misinterpretation of the primary results:

You will hear pundits analyze the New Hampshire primaries and conclude that the political “extremes” are now gaining in American politics – that the Democrats have moved to the left and the Republicans have moved to the right, and the “center” will not hold.

Baloney. The truth is that the putative “center” – where the Democratic Leadership Council and Bill Clinton’s “triangulation” of the 1990s found refuge, where George W. Bush and his corporate buddies and neoconservative advisers held sway, and where Barack Obama’s Treasury Department granted Wall Street banks huge bailouts but didn’t rescue desperate homeowners – did a job on the rest of America, and is now facing a reckoning.

The “extremes” are not gaining ground. The anti-establishment ground forces of the American people are gaining. Some are so fed up they’re following an authoritarian bigot. Others, more wisely, are signing up for a “political revolution” to take back America from the moneyed interests.

That’s the real choice ahead.

Reich also recently wrote that, “Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate to create the political system we should have, because he’s leading a political movement for change.” Unfortunately some centrists such as Friedman fear change, no matter how badly it is needed.

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    Mike Hatcher says:

    It is always sad for violence to occur anywhere. It is probably a little more unnerving when it is so near by. I hope you, your family, and friends are safe after the tragedy of the Kalamazoo shooting. I noticed a shot against Bill Clinton in this article. While I was no fan of either his behavior or policies, I always credit him for his willingness to balance the budget for a couple of years working with Newt Gingrich. It gives me hope that it can happen, and I hope to see the day that that is the rule rather than the exception.   I have come to understand that the US carrying some debt can have some benefits. Giving people the ability to purchase the safety of government bonds for example,  but IMO the current national debt is way too big and the propensity for both parties to spend with seemingly no restraint is sickening.  Along with expanding government debt is the relentless push towards more government power at the cost of individual freedom. I treasure the crumbs of success against these two forces. Bill Clinton's balanced budgets was one of those crumbs,  I hope Apple is able to stave off the government as it asks for not just the info on one phone but for the power to plunder all information on all phones.

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