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" file:///Users/deen/Documents/Bernie Sanders's Politics of National Socialism | National Review Online.webarchive and think nothing of it.[tag]
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 homo-geneous. 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.)
Moving on, 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."
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