Cartoon depiction of Bernie Sanders.

Credit: CreativeCommons / DonkeyHotey.

In the Bernieverse, there’s a whole lot of nationalism mixed up in the socialism. He is, in fact, leading a national-socialist movement, which is a queasy and uncomfortable thing to write about a man who is the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and whose family was murdered in the Holocaust. But there is no other way to characterize his views and his politics.”

Kevin Williamson, “Bernie’s Strange Brew of Nationalism and Socialism,” National Review

Though careful not to call Bernie Sanders “a Nazi” outright because of his Jewish heritage and past, Kevin Williamson, writing in the politically conservative National Review, more than implies that Sanders’ brand of protectionism favoring U.S.-American workers’ rights and jobs, when linked to this self-described socialist political philosophy amounts to his “strange brew of nationalism and socialism…leading a national-socialist movement,” which is a clear and obvious reference to the Nazi party.

Sanders has fought tirelessly for U.S. workers of all backgrounds against their corporate overlords throughout his political life. Williamson, however, not-so-subtly attempts to instill in the readers’ mind Sanders’ own brand of racist National Socialism by stating that Sanders has always been critical of trade policies “with brown people – Asians, Latin Americans,” but has remained virtually silent regarding U.S. trade deficits with countries like Sweden and Canada, demographically whiter countries further along the socialism scale. Williamson continues his accusations of Sanders’ racism, and by so doing, falsely positions conservatives as the true defenders of racial equality:

“That the relative success of the Western European welfare states, and particularly of the Scandinavian states, is rooted in cultural and ethnic homogeneity is a longstanding conservative criticism of Bernie-style schemes to re-create the Danish model in New Jersey and Texas and Mississippi.”

To imply that Bernie Sanders’ style of Democratic Socialism even stands on the same side of the political spectrum as the National Socialism of the Nazi Party of Adolph Hitler shows not only a total misunderstanding of history and political theory, but more importantly, it underscores yet again the dog whistle politics of neo-conservatism. As a Jew myself, I find this extremely offensive!

By acknowledging Sanders’ Jewish background, and in deploying McCarthy-style propaganda scare tactics, Williamson taps into a longstanding anti-Semitic trope. According to Ellen Willis in her chapter titled “The Myth of the Powerful Jew”:

“The classic constituency for fascism is the conservative lower middle class, oppressed by the rich, threatened by the rebellious poor (particularly if the poor are foreign or another race); for this group Jews are a perfect target, since they represent the top and the bottom at once. Oppressed classes like the peasants in czarist Russia have traditionally directed their anger at the Jews just above them in the social hierarchy. Politically, the specter of the powerful Jew functions in much the same way as a foreign enemy: it invites warring classes, races, and political groups to submerge their conflicts and enjoy a heady sense of spurious unity.”

Even before the Cold War and the so-called “McCarthy Period” (named after Wisconsin Senator, Joseph McCarthy), individuals and groups on the political and theocratic Right have flung the term “Socialist” – which in the public imagination was once synonymous with “Jews” — from their metaphoric sling shots into the faces of their political opponents to discredit their characters and dismiss their political ideas and policies, and to sway the electorate toward a Conservative agenda. This continues to this very day.

As destructive and freedom-killing as the Right would have us believe, “Socialism” can be defined as “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole,” where each of us has a stake and advances in the success of our collective economy.

No country in the world today operates as a fully Socialist state, but rather, some of the most successful economies combine elements of Capitalism with Socialism to create greater degrees of equity and lesser disparities between the rich, the poor, and those on the continuum in between.

In reality, Bernie Sanders’ notion of Democratic Socialism advocates for a governmental single-payer quality universal health care system, which includes safe and reasonably-priced prescription and over-the-counter drug therapies; demands that our country protects and enhances our Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid safety nets; advocates for the further nationalization of our parks, forests, mountains, rivers, streams, shores, and off-shore waters, rather than allocating increased corporate mining, drilling, and timber rights; advocates for free and quality education, not only through grade twelve, but throughout higher education and after for everyone who desires and works to achieve their fullest potential; advocates for a government-sponsored program that guarantees our seniors a retirement system that ensures a high quality of life free from economic burdens; advocates for the rights of workers to organize and to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions; battles to eliminate workplace and larger societal inequalities based on race, nationality, citizenship status, age, sex, sexual identity, gender identity and expression, disability, socioeconomic standing, religion, and other social identities; works to ensure that everyone is guaranteed a comfortable and secure place to live; regulates a banking system that forecloses people’s homes through scurrilous business practices; supports effective governmental regulations on food producers to safeguard our food supply and protect against the maltreatment of animals, and on corporations, companies, and individuals to defend our environment; supports severe restrictions on the political process to prevent mammoth contributions by individuals and corporations to buy and own politicians to influence public policy, while locking out individuals and groups unable to amass large political funds; challenges a military industrial complex that marches to the beat of industry, and a prison industrial complex that perpetuates the racial and socioeconomic class inequities pervasive throughout the society; contests and advocates for effective restrictions on the so-called “free market” economic system that enables the creation and enhancement of mega monopolies, outsourcing of jobs, manufacture of defective products, and inhibition in the development of clean renewable energy technologies; fights for equal pay for equal work; and demands a true progressive tax structure where everyone pays their fair share, one that inhibits massive inequities in the overwhelming accumulation of wealth by the top ten to twenty percent of the nation as is currently the case.

The findings of the third World Happiness Report, conducted by an international research team of economists, neuroscientists, and statisticians measured the well-being of residents throughout the world to assist in the development of public policy.

Researchers ranked their data results according to the countries indicating the “happiest” residents in descending order as follows: Leading the way was Switzerland holding the rank of number one, followed by Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Finland, The Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, and rounding out the top ten was Australia. These top countries have universal single-payer national health care systems, and restrictive gun control laws.

I am saddened, but definitely not surprised, that the United States did not make the upper cut, coming in at number fifteen behind Mexico. Therefore, we might do well to look to these countries for some of their “Socialist” policies that sustain high levels of quality of life issues for their residents.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-editor of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).


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