Bernie Sanders isn’t a radical: Noam Chomsky is exactly right regarding how mainstream Bernie’s policies really are
The idea that Sanders is an extremist is patently false — it’s the Republican movement that’s radical
by Sean Illing Salon edited by O Society Mar 18, 2019
“Almost everything he [FDR] proposed was called ‘socialist.’ Social Security, which transformed life for the elderly in this country was ‘socialist.’ The concept of ‘minimum wage’ was seen as a radical intrusion into the marketplace and was described as ‘socialist.’ Unemployment insurance, abolishing child labor, the 40-hour work week, collective bargaining, strong banking regulations, deposit insurance, and job programs that put millions of people to work were all described, in one way or another, as ‘socialist.’ Yet these programs have become the fabric of our nation and the foundation of the middle class.”
All Sanders has done is challenge the gospel of neoliberalism, which has systematically gutted our country’s public institutions. America’s economy has been steadily deregulated since the 1980s, when President Reagan first surrendered to the privatization scheme of neoliberalism. What we’re left with now, as Sanders pointed out in that speech, is a system “which during the 1990s allowed Wall Street to spend $5 billion in lobbying and campaign contributions to get deregulated. Then, ten years later, after the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior of Wall Street led to their collapse, it is a system which provided trillions in government aid to bail them out.” In other words, we now have socialism for the rich and free market capitalism for everyone else. This is a perverse inversion of the historical norm, and Sanders is right to attack it.
Noam Chomsky was asked what he thought about Bernie Sanders’s platform. His answer was what you’d expect from someone aware of the nation’s political history:
“He’s considered radical and extremist, which is a pretty interesting characterization, because he’s basically a mainstream New Deal Democrat. His positions would not have surprised President Eisenhower, who said, in fact, that anyone who does not accept New Deal programs doesn’t belong in the American political system. That’s now considered very radical.”
This point can’t be made enough. For all his talk of a “revolution,” Sanders’s proposals are far too modest to be called revolutionary. He’s merely demanding a return to the midcentury norm, to the nation of FDR and Eisenhower and Johnson.
Another critical point is how aligned with public opinion Sanders’ policies are. If you cut through the rhetoric and the white noise, you find that most Americans support what are undeniably socialist programs, like Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare. These programs aren’t understood popularly as “socialist,” but that’s what they are. Chomsky continues:
“The other interesting aspect of Sanders’ positions is that they’re quite strongly supported by the general public, and have been for a long time. That’s true on taxes. It’s true on healthcare…His proposal for a national healthcare system, meaning the kind of system that just about every other developed country has, at half the per capita cost of the United States and comparable or better outcomes, that’s considered very radical. But it’s been the position of the majority of the American population for a long time. So, you go back, say, to Reagan – right now, for example, latest polls, about 60 percent of the population favor it…You go back earlier to the Reagan years, about 70 percent of the population thought that national healthcare should be in the Constitution, because it’s such an obvious right.”
And yet we’re told, repeatedly, that Sanders is the outlier, the extremist. This is patently false, and the result of media-driven confusion about our history and the term “socialism.” The only radical movement in this country the last several decades has been led by the Republican Party, which has shifted our discourse so far to the right that what was once a bipartisan mainstream position is now radical by comparison.
Noam Chomsky: Bernie Sanders Isn’t Radical, He’s Popular! The Public Agrees With Him on Healthcare & Taxes
Noam Chomsky was asked about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and said he considered him more of a “New Deal Democrat” than a radical extremist, as some have portrayed him. Chomsky said Sanders’ positions on taxes and healthcare are supported by a majority of the American public, and have been for a long time.
He added Sanders “mobilized a large number of young people who say, ‘Look, we’re not going to consent anymore.’ If it turns into a continuing, organized, mobilized force, it could change the country—maybe not for this election, but in the longer term.”
Watch: Noam Chomsky discusses the Bernie Sanders campaign. Full transcript below.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, Bernie Sanders is an extremely interesting phenomenon. He’s a decent, honest person. That’s pretty unusual in the political system. Maybe there are two of them in the world, you know. But he’s considered radical and extremist, which is a pretty interesting characterization, because he’s basically a mainstream New Deal Democrat.
His positions would not have surprised President Eisenhower, who said anyone who does not accept New Deal programs doesn’t belong in the American political system.
Eisenhower is now considered “very radical.” The other interesting aspect of Sanders’ positions is they’re quite strongly supported by the general public, and have been for a long time.
It’s true on taxes. It’s true on healthcare. So, take, say, healthcare. His proposal for a national healthcare system, meaning the kind of system just about every other developed country has, at half the per capita cost of the United States and comparable or better outcomes, is considered very radical. But it’s been the position of the majority of the American population for a long time.
So, you go back, say, to the Reagan—right now, for example, latest polls, about 60 percent of the population favor it. When Obama put through the Affordable Care Act, there was, you recall, a public option. But it was dropped. It was dropped even though it was supported by about almost two-thirds of the population.
You go back earlier, say, to the Reagan years, about 70 percent of the population thought national healthcare should be in the Constitution, because it’s such an obvious right. And, about 40 percent of the population thought it was in the Constitution, again, because it’s such an obvious right.
The same is true on tax policy and others. So we have this phenomenon where someone is taking positions that would have been considered pretty mainstream during the Eisenhower years, that are supported by a large part, often a considerable majority, of the population, but he’s dismissed as radical and extremist.
This is an indication of how the spectrum shifted to the right during the neoliberal period, so far to the right contemporary Democrats are pretty much what used to be called “moderate Republicans.”
And the Republicans are just off the spectrum. They’re not a legitimate parliamentary party anymore.
And Sanders —the significant part of— pressed the mainstream Democrats a little bit towards the progressive side. You see it in Clinton’s statements. He has mobilized a large number of young people, these young people who are saying, “Look, we’re not going to consent anymore.” And if it turns into a continuing, organized, mobilized—mobilized force, it could change the country—maybe not for this election, but in the longer term.