Just when I think my fellow Americans are beginning to get their political categories straight, a fellow journalist proves me wrong. For years I have been lamenting the lack of political literacy among American policy-makers, while assuming that even compliant journalists have been educated as to the differences between socialism, social democracy, communism and nazism. I'm wondering how many journalists will read the article in the National Review by Kevin D. Williamson titled: "Bernie's Strange Brew of Nationalism and Socialism”
This is the latest example of a journalistic method that avoids analysis by twisting definitions, or mixing unrelated issues. In the 1970s I identified this tactic in a NYT review of Michael Harrington's Socialism that picked on things such a poor proof-reading to denigrate the book's ideas, and it is still a trusted technique.
Williamson calls Bernie's focus on the outsourcing of jobs to third world countries 'nationalism', a blatant misuse of the word. The Norton Dictionary of Modern Thought defines it as: (1)"The feeling of belonging to a group united by common racial, linguistic and historical ties, and usually identified with a particular territory. (2) A corresponding IDEOLOGY which exalts the NATION-STATE as the ideal form of political organization with an overriding claim on the loyalty of its citizens
Personally, I think it's a shame that Bernie has to pander to his industrial base by criticizing outsourcing, because socialism calls for the international solidarity of workers, who are everywhere exploited. But international solidarity corresponds to a higher level of class consciousness than that prevalent among American workers educated to believe in the survival of the fittest through competition, so I am glad Sanders knows he cannot win an election unless he stands up for American workers.
One of the most iconoclastic characteristics of the Cuban Revolution has been its consistent demonstration of international solidarity, as evidenced by sending troops to fight for the liberation of the African nation of Angola, as well as by being the first to send doctors to the continent's Ebola-stricken countries decades later. After fifty-six years of revolution, most Cubans take international solidarity for granted.
Moving on, the author, devoid of ideological literacy, can only rely on small details to make his point: the bumper-stickers of the attending public are more likely to say "PEACE than the more popular COEXIST. (Actually, he should have said 'the more sophisticated Coexist', but never mind.) This is followed by "'half-literate' denunciations of CORPORATE OLIGARCHY" with nothing to back up his claim.
Williamson does identify a clever ploy by Bernie's handlers: reserve a venue too small for the expected crowd so that pictures will give the impression of an overflow audience. How wicked is that!
Similarly, Bernie calling his listeners 'brothers and sisters' is hardly a typical socialist meme. The writer recognizes this, saying 'you get the feeling that after a couple of beers one of these characters is going to slip up and let out a 'comrade'. Yo Williamson, 'brothers and sisters' is black talk, whereas no part of the American public has embraced the term 'comrade' (maybe the Black Panthers?).
A woman in the audience says her husband has been trying to get her to move to a 'socialist country' such as Norway. "which of course is not a socialist country; it's an oil emirate". Throw in a colorful allusion, however nonsensical. Although Norway exports oil, like the other Scandinavian countries and the rest of Europe, it is and has been a parliamentary social democracy for decades. (The aim of the Troika is to destroy the European welfare state, starting with Greece.)
Then there's the inevitable bait and switch: suddenly you realize that Williamson, while ostensibly still talking about jobs, is now referring to trade deficits, saying ours is relatively the same with Canada as with China, as if that were relevant.
Next he interviews a Bernie volunteer who studied in Germany and wonders why the US can't have a similar system, "that interposes the government between employers and employees -- for example, mandatory paid maternity and paternity leave: I ask myself: 'Why do they have these nice things, and we can't?' I ask him to answer his own question, and his answer is at once familiar and frightening: 'Germany is very homogeneous. They have lots of white people. We're very diverse. We have the melting pot, and that's a big struggle.'"
Sure, it's easier to educate a homogeneous population to the advantages of social democracy than a heterogeneous one; easier to have workers sitting on company boards when they share the same culture and education. Bernie can't hope to "recreate the Danish model in New Jersey or Texas", but that doesn't mean we can't have more equality in the US. Actually, the young man's comment about immigration is also incorrect: Germany has had a large Muslim minority for decades, as has France, about 10% of their respective populations.What this article shows is how difficult it is going to be for American workers
to demonstrate solidarity with workers across the world, and Bernie is to be commended for not renouncing solidarity with immigrants, even though he has to stand up for American jobs. Implying that immigration is a challenge for leftists, Williamson quotes an article in the New Republic demanding that progressives oppose Obama's immigration reforms; but one can hardly call that publication 'leftist'.
(As for being able to identify a leftist or a conservative, an idea which Williamson mocks, I remember following American election results at the Paris Embassy, and looking around at the members of the expat audience, it wasn't hard to figure out which were what.)
Williamson trashes the community in which Bernie is speaking, calling it "the perfect setting for the mock-religious fervor that the senator brings to the stump." Then he criticizes Bernie's pronunciation, using the word 'oligarchy' as an example, accusing him of the "need to tick off every progressive box". But this is hardly surprising given the buyers' remorse Obama has generated. US vs THEM is only a no-no in the minds of so-called 'objective' journalists for whom class warfare is a conspiracy theory.
Back to criticizing the Scandinavian welfare state, the problem is that it is consensus-driven, leading to "crushing conformity that is imposed on practically every aspect of life." Williamson fails to admit that it is also "a stabilizing and moderating force in politics, allowing for the emergence of a subtle, sophisticat-ed and remarkably broad social agreement that contains political disputes". Bernie's politics, however, are the polar opposite of Scandinavian: "He's got a debilitating case of Tea Party envy.”
Williamson fails to note - if he is aware of it - that the Scandinavian states were not born with consensus: they had a haughty upper class and workers had to fight for small gains at the turn of the twentieth century, the welfare state coming into full bloom only after the second world war, as it did more gradually and less systematically in the rest of Europe. As for the countries of Eastern Europe, it has often been pointed out many workers there regret the loss of the protections they enjoyed under the 'Soviet yoke.'
But now comes the coup de maitre: the identification of 'the traditional bogeymen of conspiracy theorists, "from Father Coughlin and Henry Ford to Louis Farrakhan, Wall Street, etc". The radical political language of the 1970s and 1980s spoke of a capitalist conspiracy or a conspiracy of bankers (a conspiracy of Jewish bankers, in the ugliest versions), a notion to which Sanders pays ongoing tribute with the phrase 'rigged economy.'"
Notice how Williamson sidesteps the issue of money in politics: "Bernie swears to introduce a constitutional amendment reversing Supreme Court decisions that affirmed the free-speech protections of people and organizations filming documentaries, organizing Web campaigns, and airing television commercials in the hopes of influencing elections or public attitudes toward public issues." Apparently, Citizens United was all about the innocent making of documentaries and the "hope of influencing elections". A distracted reader might be tempted to agree that corporations are people and thus, as Williamson claims, the court's decision that they are not is the equivalent of repealing the First Amendment.
Finally, the writer returns to his shtick about national socialism, lumping together Venezuela's former socialist president Hugo Chavez, Julius Rosenberg who with his wife was famously executed for passing information to the Soviet Union, and Julius Streicher, a prominent Nazi propagandist prior to World War II! At a time when American workers are becoming aware that European workers have a better deal than they do, in a bid to derail campaigns for meaningful change, conservative writers resort to an old tactic: equating socialism with fascism. It's frightening to think that the average American reader of this screed is likely to buy it hook, line and sinker - and rarely has a popular expression been so appropriate!