Why Bernie Sanders Is a Moderate

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           In this Sunday's "Ideas" section of the Boston Globe, Jonathan Schlefer  wonders whether Bernie Sander's ideas are unpalatable to a majority of American voters because of the residual  liberalism that is embedded in the American ethos. He invokes Louis Hartz's The Liberal Tradition in America, for the proposition that our politics are derived almost wholly from the classical liberalism of John Locke.

            The root of Locke's politics, as interpreted and modified by the Jefferson, Madison and  others, is a virtual celebration of extreme individualism in which society is seen only as an aggregation of competing individual interests. Because of our collective inability to see beyond the self, many in the punditocracy and the chattering class dismiss Senator Sander's brand of democratic socialism as unattainable.Not surprisingly, given the often irrational nature of Lockean consensus that Professor Hartz described, a number of the right-wing "liberal" critics have characterized Senator Sander's ideas as un-American.

            Schlefer is correct is his observation that American politics stands in distinct contrast to the communitarian politics of Aristotle. That traditional conservatism continues to find expression in the social thought of the Catholic Church from Thomas Aquinas to Pope Francis.  

            But Schlefer may be too pessimistic. The liberal paradigm of individuals competing against one another equally for the fruits of this earth no longer explains social reality. Because of the lax regulations, loophole -ridden tax laws, and virtually no limit on inherited wealth, with each passing generation, American society has become increasingly unequal. With ever greater concentrations of wealth and power in the 1%, the rest of us are in danger of becoming road kill.

            In a sequel to Louis Hartz's book, I have also argued that Locke's politics unconsciously shape our collective worldview but that the antidote to that which is unconscious is a conscious reexamination of what Americans understand to be the purpose of politics. European liberalism arose in cultural context in which the residual communitarianism of the conservative tradition reminds citizens that they all a part of something more important than our individual selves. Later, the rise of the industrial revolution caused many of the tenets of classical liberalism- especially laissez-faire - to be abandoned as democratic socialism arose to address the issues of economic inequality, poverty and powerlessness.

            By 1912, the ideas that Bernie Sanders espouses were accepted as conventional wisdom in Western Europe. It is testimony to the backwardness of American politics that 20th century ideas, viewed through the prism of Locke's politics, could be viewed as radical.

            As a nation, we need to adapt our politics to address new realities. Otherwise,like the French ancien regime, we may invite something far worse. 

 

        


      Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center have identified 1600 extremist groups that are presently operating throughout the United States. The vast majority of these groups espouse white supremacy, a return to Southern antibellum "states rights," or are hostile to exercise of government authority over their persons and property, particularly by the federal government which many of these rightwing ideologues view as a usurper and tyrannical. Cliven Bundy's continuing dispute with the federal government is a case in point.         

           Chris Swangsgard reported in the Salt Lake Tribune in 2014 that Bundy refused to pay the Federal Bureau of Land Management the $1.35 per month per cow fee that the Bureau  assesses for grazing rights on public land administered by it on behalf of the citizens of the United States. As of 2014, Bundy owed the U.S. taxpayers a sum in excess of $1,000,000 for refusing to pay for permits and for illegally grazing his cattle on public lands, but defended his behavior by insisting that he does not recognize the sovereignty of the United States government. In November 1998, Bundy made the same nutty argument in the U.S. District Court for Nevada.      

             The court decisively rejected Bundy's argument and held "...the public lands in Nevada are the property of the United States because the United States has held title to those public lands since 1848, when Mexico ceded the land to the United States" under Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, that ended the Mexican-American War which was16 years before the territory of Nevada was admitted into the union as a state.

            As a result of that litigation, the court ordered Bundy to remove any non-permitted cattle from BLM land by the end of November 1989 and the presiding judge issued a judgment that provided that, in the event of any future violations of the court's orders, Bundy would be fined $200 per day for each cow without a permit that he refused to remove from federal public lands.

            Since 1998, Bundy has willfully violated the court's orders and he expanded his illegal grazing onto additional acreage of BLM land. In 2013, the court gave Bundy 45 days to remove his cattle and authorized the Bureau of Land Management to impound any cattle Bundy failed to remove. The confrontation reached a crescendo when armed "militia" gathered on Bundy's ranch and aimed semi-automatic weapons at Bureau of Land management agents from a bridge overpass.

           Until Bundy's overtly racist remarks became an additional source of controversy, his expansive interpretation of his private rights - as opposed to his duties as a citizen - were enthusiastically endorsed by the at least two of the current GOP candidates for president.         

           Kentucky Senator Rand Paul excused Bundy's theft of public property and, in a brazen act of demagoguery, accused the federal government of heavy-handedness and proclaimed that the "federal government shouldn't violate the law." Previously, in a 2002 letter to the Bowling Green Daily News, Paul had made a similar ludicrous argument about the U.S. Fair Housing Act when he insisted that it "ignores the distinction between private and public property," and "Decisions concerning private property and associations should in a free society be unhindered. As a consequence, some associations will discriminate."

           Not to be outdone, Texas Senator Ted Cruz stated that the ongoing standoff between Bundy and the executive and judicial branches of federal government exemplified the Obama Administration's "jackboot of authoritarianism." In a separate interview on Texas radio, Cruz expressed uncritical support for the heavily-armed thugs who had threatened federal agents and whom Nevada Senator Harry Reid had rightly denounced as domestic terrorists.   

          This past weekend, Bill Morlin reported in Hatewatch that a group of armed antigovernment militiamen and assorted extremists, who included the sons of Cliven Bundy, seized an unoccupied federal visitor's center in Oregon after they failed to convince two ranchers to continue to defy the U.S. government. Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son, Steven Hammond, 46, who were both convicted of arson for starting fires on public lands adjoining their ranch near Burns, Oregon , announced they would report to federal prison this past Monday to begin serving 5 year mandatory sentences and would not seek sanctuary from the local sheriff or the self-styled  militia and "patriot" groups.

            One of Bundy's sons, Ryan Bundy, told the Oregonian that he and other armed patriots were "willing to kill and be killed if necessary." Another son, Ammon Bundy, told the newspaper that he and others occupying the U.S. Fish & Wildlife headquarters were "planning on staying here for years, absolutely. This is not a decision we've made at the last minute."

            Sheriff David Ward, who is responsible for policing the ninth largest county in the United States but has fewer than a half dozen deputies, lamented that, "These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers when in reality these men had alternative motives, to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States."

            In the face of this provocative act of lawlessness and insurrection, the GOP's Presidential candidates have responded with deafening silence or expressed sympathy. "Why in fact do these ranchers feel that way? Let's hear their grievances. I don't condone them taking over a federal building. We have better ways of expressing our displeasure than that," Ben Carson told CNN. "But the fact of the matter is there are legitimate grievances. There's absolutely no reason that the federal government should lay claim to so much land," Carson stated "We need to respect them, we need to use the regular channels for dealing with problems that are occurring." 

            Florida Senator Marco Rubio agreed that the federal government controlled too much land." There is too much federal control over land especially out in the western part of the United States," Rubio stated in an interview with Iowa radio station KBUR that "There are states for example like Nevada that are dominated by the federal government in terms of land holding and we should fix it." But Rubio added a caveat: "You've got to follow the law. You can't be lawless. We live in a republic."

           According to the Washington Post, Senator Ted Cruz stated, "Every one of us has a constitutional right to protest, to speak our minds, but we don't have a constitutional right to use force and violence and to threaten force and violence on others. And so it is our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably, that there will not be a violent confrontation." Of course, Cruz's attempt at nuance omitted a recognition of the obvious - that the occupiers had already committed crimes by threatening to use force and violence and by unlawfully trespassing on government property.  

           The alleged grievances that stoke the ire of Cliven Bundy, his family and the rightwing stem from a shared mythology that views society as merely an aggregation of private interests that are relentlessly and enthusiastically competing against one another in a glorious quest to acquire ever more private property - or stuff in the immortal words of George Carlin. Government - to the extent to which it seeks to curb the excesses caused by that mindset and impose restraints - has thus becomes the enemy.       

             As an early observer of the newly-created republic, Alexis deToucqueville was prescient about the deleterious effects that an individualism run amok could have upon the American project. He noted, "Selfishness blights the germ of all virtue; individualism, at first, only saps the virtues of public life; but in the long run it attacks and destroys all others and is at length absorbed in downright selfishness. Selfishness is a vice as old as the world, which does not belong to one form of society more than to another; individualism is of democratic origin, and it threatens to spread in the same ratio as the equality of condition."

           Cliven Bundy's family and the assorted militia of armed, maniacal supporters who have now seized a federal wildlife preserve in Oregon are low-information, internet-driven anarchists who are unable to grasp the implications of their profoundly anti-social and illegal behavior. 

           Can the same be said for the GOP's presidential candidates who should know better and who have never hesitated to criticize President Obama for his alleged timidity? 

           Why are these candidates afraid to call these criminals what they are - a group of domestic terrorists who should be arrested, prosecuted and, upon conviction, imprisoned? 

          

 

  

 

 

 

          

       

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

  

 

         

       

The GOP and Its Supporters Embrace the Darkside

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          Sinclair Lewis' 1935 novel It Can't Happen was published at a time when fascism was ascendant in Europe. The novel describes Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip, a United States Senator who is elected to the presidency after promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and traditional values. After his election,Windrip takes complete control of the government and imposes a fascist dictatorship with the support of a ruthless paramilitary force, modeled after Adolf Hitler's SS.