Today’s New York Times has a surprising column in which David Brooks says that while he’d vote for Elizabeth Warren over Trump, he wouldn’t do so if the Democratic candidate were Bernie Sanders. As he says at the beginning of his column, “Now I have to decide if I’d support Bernie Sanders over Trump.”
Click on the screenshot below to read:
The reasons? He sees Sanders installing an authoritarian socialist government, not a democratic socialist one.
I quote from Brooks:
We all start from personal experience. I covered the Soviet Union in its final decrepit years. The Soviet and allied regimes had already slaughtered 20 million people through things like mass executions and intentional famines. Those regimes were slave states. They enslaved whole peoples and took away the right to say what they wanted, live where they wanted and harvest the fruits of their labor.
And yet every day we find more old quotes from Sanders apologizing for this sort of slave regime, whether in the Soviet Union, Cuba or Nicaragua. He excused the Nicaraguan communists when they took away the civil liberties of their citizens. He’s still making excuses for Castro.
To sympathize with these revolutions in the 1920s was acceptable, given their original high ideals. To do so after the Hitler-Stalin pact, or in the 1950s, is appalling. To do so in the 1980s is morally unfathomable.
Well, as far as I know, Bernie has backed off those positions, and it’s a certainty he would be unable to reinstate regimes like Soviet Russia or Communist Cuba in the U.S. Is that really a worry? Brooks thinks so:
I say all this because the intellectual suppositions that led him to embrace these views still guide his thinking today. I’ve just watched populism destroy traditional conservatism in the G.O.P. I’m here to tell you that Bernie Sanders is not a liberal Democrat. He’s what replaces liberal Democrats.
. . . [Traditional] liberalism believes in gaining power the traditional way: building coalitions, working within the constitutional system and crafting the sort of compromises you need in a complex, pluralistic society.
This is why liberals like Hubert Humphrey, Ted Kennedy and Elizabeth Warren were and are such effective senators. They worked within the system, negotiated and practiced the art of politics.
Populists like Sanders speak as if the whole system is irredeemably corrupt. Sanders was a useless House member and has been a marginal senator because he doesn’t operate within this system or believe in this theory of change.
He believes in revolutionary mass mobilization and, once an election has been won, rule by majoritarian domination. This is how populists of left and right are ruling all over the world, and it is exactly what our founders feared most and tried hard to prevent.
. . . Sanders’s leadership style embodies the populist values, which are different: rage, bitter and relentless polarization, a demand for ideological purity among your friends and incessant hatred for your supposed foes.
Brooks claims that Sanders, once in power, would impose a crushingly authoritarian regime, and is merely dissimulating in the campaign and in the debates:
These days, Sanders masquerades as something less revolutionary than he really is. He claims to be nothing more than the continuation of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. He is 5 percent right and 95 percent wrong.
. . .For the past century, liberal Democrats from F.D.R. to Barack Obama knew how to beat back threats from the populist left. They knew how to defend the legitimacy of our system, even while reforming it.
Judging by the last few debates, none of the current candidates remember those arguments or know how to rebut a populist to their left.
I’ll cast my lot with democratic liberalism. The system needs reform. But I just can’t pull the lever for either of the two populisms threatening to tear it down.
This seems to me to be more than a bit overheated. After all, the President is checked by Congress and the courts, and the Supreme Court would never go along with Sanders’s wishes. Nor would the Congress, unless it becomes filled with people like AOC and has a Democratic majority in both houses. (I admit that I am scared of the young authoritarian liberals in Congress, like the “squad”, who seem to be to be nearly as authoritarian as Brooks fears.)
But is Brooks journalistically hyperventilating in his Sanders-phobia?