Bernie Sanders: Away from Democracy

From a recent Washington Post article on Bernie Sanders…

Sanders said….Americans must turn to the federal government to oversee new sectors of their lives. He bristles at the idea that this might be considered an intrusion.

“You’re not ‘turning to’ the government. You’re assuming that the government is some kind of foreign entity,” Sanders said in an interview. “The government, in a democratic society, is the people.”

Sanders’ tack here is pretty disappointing. Faced with the objection, from the right, that his proposals will greatly augment the authority the government has to control people’s lives, he can muster nothing other than the extremely vague assertion that we live in a “democratic society,” and that, therefore, our government is identical to the people. Even when Rousseau proposed this cockamamie idea–that it is OK to surrender ourselves to the body politic because the body politic is the same thing as us–he understood it to be aspirational. Sanders recycles the ridiculous idea, but he makes everything worse by assuming, against all the evidence, that this fantasyland of a “democratic society” has already been achieved, here in 2015 America. That’s a pretty dumb assumption.

It’s a totally inadequate response to the right’s objection, and we should reject it out of hand. Sanders’ proposals will in fact increase government control of people’s lives, and as such, will be precisely the opposite of democracy.

What’s really going on, I think, is that Sanders badly wants to redistribute the social surplus from the rich to the poor, and he doesn’t much care if that gets done by government fiat. It has to be done, that’s the way we know how to do it, so on we go. That’s an understandable position in the current era (though I disagree with it), but Sanders’ doesn’t own it, choosing instead to cloak his Keynesianism in democracy by means of his spurious claims about our “democratic society.”

Sanders’ plan (the actual one, not the purportedly democratic one) is certainly better than a neoliberal alternative, but that is a very low bar. We are capable of much more than the Keynesian Welfare State. We are capable of real democracy. But only if we refuse to consign ourselves to the vain hope that this time, at last, everything will be better if we can just elect the right candidate to the presidency.

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