February 9, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, February 9, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Rise of socialism's popularity on the Left reveals many unaware of historical failures
By this time tomorrow, we will know a great deal more, that is, about the 2016 U.S. Presidential Race. The New Hampshire primary is today, the nation’s first primary, and as always it holds an outsized importance in terms of the race for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations. It has been that way now for decades, but in 2016 what’s really interesting as voters in New Hampshire head for the polls today are the worldview issues that are at stake, and in particular on the Democratic Party side. The most urgent of those issues is associated with the candidacy of Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who now holds a very real possibility of winning the Democratic New Hampshire primary today and who came within a handful of votes of winning the Iowa caucuses just last week. About 50%, almost exactly 50%, of all of the Democratic voters in the Iowa caucus voted for an avowedly Democratic Socialist candidate. This represents something new and something extremely important in American politics, and it has caught the attention of many. For example, yesterday’s front page of the Wall Street Journal included a story by Laura Meckler and Richard Rubin. The headline,
“How Socialism’s lost sting aids Sanders.”Show Full Transcript
Now before even looking at the article, the headline tells us a great deal. It speaks of socialism’s lost sting. As the reporters tell us,
“Then-Sen. Barack Obama had to spend precious days at the close of his 2008 presidential campaign to defend against charges of socialism after he casually suggested his tax plan would ‘spread the wealth around.’”
The reporters then write,
“Today, seeking the same job in the same party, Sen. Bernie Sanders proudly wears the democratic socialist label and touts a sweeping plan designed to spread the wealth. He calls for a ‘political revolution’ to vastly expand the government’s role in American life and sharply cut the power of Wall Street and the role of money in politics.”
“And he draws voters too young to care about socialism’s Cold War stigma and who came of age during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.”
The reporters point out the anomaly Bernie Sanders remembering that he is so liberal he has resisted joining the Democratic Party now for decades. He isn’t, as a United States Senator, even a Democrat to this day. He has been too liberal for the Democratic Party, and they note he hasn’t changed his views since he was first elected to office a quarter-century ago. They then write,
“Yet he now represents a substantial swath of his party’s left flank.”
Now, to its credit, the Wall Street Journal offers a really insightful and comprehensive article as it looks to the New Hampshire primary and the very real candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders. They recognize that something basic has changed, something ideological, and something foundational. The reporters write,
“What has changed is the Democratic Party, whose voters have moved to the left over the course of both Republican and Democratic administrations, and, like the Republican Party, are responding to a rising populist tide.”
The populist tide here described on the Left is a tide that is no longer embarrassed or, for that matter, stigmatized by the word “socialism,” and that should tell us a very great deal. The reporters go on to make clear that what Bernie Sanders represents is a form of Democratic Socialism, as has most often been found in recent decades in liberal European countries, in particular the welfare states of Scandinavia. After looking at his economic and political proposals, the reporters then make this astounding analysis,
“Socialism appears to carry far less of a stigma than it once did, particularly among young people who form the base of Mr. Sanders’s support. A Boston Globe poll of Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire released Saturday found 31% said the term ‘socialist’ described them; among those ages 17 to 34, it was just over half.”
Reminding us of the generational trajectory, the Wall Street Journal points out that among Iowa caucus Democratic voters under age 30, 84% supported Bernie Sanders, only 14% supported former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and that raises another big issue in terms of ideological and worldview change in the Democratic Party. It was Mrs. Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, who is credited in 1992 and through the rest of the 90s–was credited with moving the Democratic Party to the center as it was then defined, moving the party away from more traditional liberal positions such as those that were espoused by the 1972 Democratic nominee Senator George McGovern, by the 1984 Democratic nominee, former VP Walter Mondale, and by the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.
What is most noteworthy about all three of those Democratic nominees is that they were very liberal and they were defeated–McGovern and Mondale by absolute landslides. But what’s even more interesting is that Bernie Sanders is far more liberal, far more radical in his political views even than McGovern and Mondale. We’re looking at a revolution in American politics whether or not Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, even whether or not he wins the New Hampshire primary today. We are looking at a mainstreaming of the very idea and ideology of socialism, and that should tell us something, something very important about America in the year 2016. And as we’ve said, what’s remarkable here is that former Secretary of State Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, was actually credited with moving the Democratic Party in the opposite direction, away from big government, away from ever-escalating tax rates and towards more centrist positions. But now, Mrs. Clinton finds herself, having been considered even more liberal than her husband, out of sync with the Democratic Party that is lurching very much to the Left. As the Wall Street Journal reporters write,
“Growth of the party’s left wing has taken a toll on Mrs. Clinton, who for years was tagged as an ultra-liberal but must now prove her credentials as a progressive and explain her long ties to Wall Street.”
Later the reporters write,
“Mr. Sanders’s surprising success—and Mrs. Clinton’s travails—highlight how far the party has moved leftward since her husband, former President Bill Clinton, steered it to the center in the early 1990s.”
But what’s really at stake here, as is reflected in the headline in the Wall Street Journal, is not just one party’s move to the left, as significant as that would be. It’s the fact that the word “socialism” has as the Wall Street Journal’s headline said,
“…lost its sting”
–at least among many younger American voters. We have to ask the question, what’s going on here? In most parts of the world where it was tried, socialism was one of the great failures of the 20th century; and socialism in the United States, perhaps especially in the United States, has since the midpoint of the 20th century carried a very important stigma and “sting” indeed. It was associated not just with a failed economic system, it was associated with the communist tyranny of especially the USSR, and it was associated with a form of state expansion and state coercion that was understood even at the midpoint of the 20th century in United States to be incompatible with the American ideal of freedom. The Democratic Socialism that is advocated by Bernie Sanders is indeed reflected in many European and Scandinavian countries, but we need to note that most of them have been cutting back on their welfare states for years because they simply cannot bear the economic burden of what they have promised through successive generations of socialist governments.
Margaret Thatcher, the late former Prime Minister of Great Britain, spoke to the failure of socialism when she said,
“The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of someone else’s money to spend.”
That’s exactly what’s happening in Scandinavia. Oh, there’s one other footnote about Scandinavia that’s also important. Most of those nations are very economically dependent upon oil and oil economy. Their exporting and international sale of oil is what is, at least for now and up to this point, helping to buttress their socialist governments and their welfare state system. Socialism has always gained traction by offering something for nothing, by promising economic equality, but by basically representing a massive coercive transfer of wealth. Many, if not most, of the young people who seem to be attracted to Bernie Sanders and want to join his political revolution are unaware of the basic contradictions that are at the very heart of socialism. Furthermore, they’re also unaware of the fact that the worldview behind socialism doesn’t include room or respect for very basic American conceptions of freedom and liberty. Most, though not all, experiments of socialism have been based on an inherently and explicitly secular worldview as well.
It should tell us a very great deal about the intellectual tumult of our times that an economic system and a political ideology, including the word socialist with all those historic ties to Karl Marx and Marxism, is now gaining such traction on the American college and University campus among students, among America’s young.
Writing the “On the Left” column for Investor’s Business Daily in recent days, Catherine Rampell writes,
“Socialism Isn’t A Bugaboo For Millennials.”
“Why are so many young’uns feeling the Bern?”
“I see two main reasons.
“The first is that, to millennials, Sanders’s socialism is a feature, not a bug. Much of the current conversation about Sanders’s ‘democratic socialism’ is predicated on whether Americans can look past this supposedly toxic label. But millennials love Sanders not despite his socialism, but because of it.”
She then goes on to explain that,
“‘Socialism’ has never been a dirty word for the current cohort of youth, who either didn’t live through the Cold War or don’t remember it.”
Well, let’s wait just a minute. She’s writing the “On the Left” column; she seems to be a supporter of Bernie Sanders; she’s glad all these young people are “feeling the Bern” as they say; but she admits that one of the reasons, indeed the main reason, that among so many young people socialism has lost its stigma is because they didn’t live through the Cold War, or they don’t remember it. That is a very important admission. Rampell also argues that for Bernie Sanders, socialism is a part not only of his ideology, but his appeal. As she writes, what we’re looking at here is the fact that for many young people, his socialism has the ring of authenticity contrasted, she says, with the inauthenticity that many young people associate with Hillary Clinton, whose shape-shifting in terms of her form of liberalism is noteworthy between her Senate campaign, her role as Secretary of State, her role in the 2008 Democratic Presidential Race, and now, not to mention the fact that she still has to be associated to some extent with the policies and the presidency of her husband, policies now generally repudiated by his own party.
Clash of worldviews on the Left puts Hollywood and young voters at odds with feminists
Next, there are at least two other interesting worldview angles as we go into the Democratic voting in the New Hampshire primary. For example, also in yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, reporters Erich Schwartzel and John R. Emshwiller point to the fact that Bernie Sanders is making at least some headway in getting support out of Hollywood. We have noted the impact of popular culture–Hollywood specifically–on the larger cultural process of change, and in particular, on America’s political dynamic. What’s noteworthy and very important is that Hollywood leans left, not just a little bit, but massively so. It leans left in general support of the Democratic Party; it leans left in support of Democratic causes, and it leans left in the 2016 race in terms of a great deal of its political affinity. But long before Senator Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton had locked up massive financial support from Hollywood. Her husband did the very same thing in 1992, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton split Hollywood support in 2008. But in 2016, even as Hillary Clinton had locked up most of Hollywood’s money early in the campaign cycle, Bernie Sanders has the political attention and many of the hearts in Hollywood. As the Journal reported yesterday,
“Hillary Clinton has richer Hollywood friends, but Bernie Sanders’s entertainment-industry supporters are doing what they can to help him win the Democratic presidential nomination.”
Bernie Sanders may be late to the scene in Hollywood, but he is becoming hot in terms of Hollywood’s heart. Hollywood leaning left is also leaning socialist, at least at heart, even though many of Hollywood’s titans are already committed and have been for some time to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. There is enormous interest in Bernie Sanders and Hollywood now finds its heart and its head torn when it comes to the 2016 Democratic presidential race. The Journal asks a very interesting question, how did Bernie Sanders end up being cool? He’s in his eighth decade of life. He speaks with a strong Brooklyn accent. American young people saying that they prefer the youthful kind of profile of Barack Obama are now turning to a 74-year-old independent Vermont Senator, and they are doing so overwhelmingly. The Wall Street Journal explains it is because Bernie Sanders has “it,” “it” being what is cool or perceived to be cool even as Barack Obama had “it” in 2008 and in 2012.
One Hollywood insider cited in the story said that,
“Though Mr. Obama is a ‘cool-as-a-cucumber speaker’ and Bernie has more of a cranky old man vibe,” she said, “their spirits are similar in that they engage the people.”
But that tells us a great deal about how Hollywood works; and Hollywood’s worldview leaning far to the left is now leaning towards Bernie Sanders, if not Hollywood’s pocket books.
The other interesting worldview angle in terms of the Democratic race today is reported on yesterday’s front page of the New York Times, it has to do with Hillary Clinton, and whether or not feminists are morally obligated to vote for Hillary Clinton rather than Bernie Sanders because she is a woman. Alan Rappeport, reporting for the New York Times, writes,
“As Democrats consider Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for the second time, women are wrestling with a difficult question: whether they have an obligation to get behind someone who is closer than anyone has ever been to becoming the first female president.”
Rappeport then continued,
“And with her opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, outdrawing her in support among young women, Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy has turned into a generational clash, one that erupted this weekend when two feminist icons, Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem, called on young women who supported Mr. Sanders to essentially grow up and get with the program.”
This is a really interesting worldview clash that’s a generational clash. Here you have two titans of American feminism in the 20th century, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and feminist writer and figure Gloria Steinem, arguing that women basically should support Hillary Clinton simply because she is a woman. The point of the cover story is that the older feminism is a form of gender feminism, specifically arguing that women have a moral obligation to support other women. Younger women, on the other hand, including younger feminists, see Bernie Sanders as a more attractive candidate. Again, we’re looking at hugely lopsided numbers in support for Bernie Sanders among younger women.
The older generation of feminists is absolutely apoplectic that younger women are supporting Bernie Sanders rather than Hillary Clinton. As the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said,
“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”
Now that’s an incredible statement. Here you have former Secretary of State Albright suggesting that women should help other women, as she said,
“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”
And helping other women in this case means helping a woman, Hillary Clinton, to become the first female president of the United States. What’s really interesting is that so many of these left-leaning younger women, more liberal than Hillary Clinton, are more interested in socialism than in gender. What is important for us to note from a worldview perspective is that these younger women aren’t reflecting a worldview that’s more conservative than the feminist who support Hillary Clinton, but actually far more radical, far more liberal. It’s not that these younger women don’t consider themselves feminists and don’t support the general aims of the feminist movement, but these Democratic young women are actually even more committed to an economic ideology, or at least their understanding of socialism, in the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. That’s an astounding analysis and something that we should look at very soberly and clearly as the New Hampshire primary takes place today.
Global unrest has direct impact on 2016 presidential race in the candidacy of Rand Paul
Next, on the Republican side, there’s another very interesting worldview analysis, not so much about one of the candidates today, but about someone who isn’t a candidate, or at least has withdrawn from the race. That is Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul. Senator Paul failed to gain traction among Republican voters, even the amount of traction that had been gained by his father in previous cycles former Congressman Ron Paul. From a worldview perspective, the big question is: what happened? And this is a particularly interesting question as related to Senator Paul.
Time magazine, just 16 months ago, identified him as the most interesting man in politics, and yet he came in just fifth in Iowa. He didn’t even gain 5% of the Iowa Caucus Republican votes. He then announced he was suspending his campaign. The big question is, why? What is the worldview lesson here? Like his father, at least in general terms, Senator Paul has been identified as a Republican who leans libertarian. But what’s really interesting is that the issue at stake in the 2016 race and in his lack of traction, an eventual withdrawal from the race, probably has more to do with international affairs than with domestic policy. What set him apart from other Republican candidates was his marked anti-interventionism. He was very much and is very much opposed to the United States being involved in foreign wars. In particular, Senator Paul took positions that placed him outside the mainstream of his own party in terms of questions about fighting ISIS, Islamic terrorism, and the general issue of what to do in the Middle East.
This is where the story gets really interesting. What happened in the last 16 months? What changed that Senator Paul, who had been identified in a cover story in Time magazine as the most interesting man in politics, now finds himself withdrawing from the 2016 race for the Republican nomination? What happened is Islamic terrorism; what happened, to put it bluntly, is ISIS, and what happened is the recognition of Americans at large and Republican voters specifically of the fact that non-interventionism really isn’t going to work in terms of foreign-policy. It’s not a credible platform in terms of presidential leadership, especially the Republican Party in 2016. Being known primarily for a foreign-policy marked by what one wouldn’t do rather than what a president would do just is out of sync with where the world is in 2016.
The world is a very dangerous place and it’s dangerous for not just the world at large but for America in particular. Americans may want to leave the world alone, but the world is not going to leave America alone. That is a basic geopolitical reality, and it has everything to do with the fact that we live in an evil and sinful world and there is no way that America can just isolate, much less inoculate itself over against these kinds of terroristic threats. The world is a dangerous place not only in terms of ISIS and Islamic terrorism, but in terms of rogue states and any number of huge international issues that may not have been so front and center in the 2012 presidential election, but certainly are now. As a matter fact, as that Time magazine cover story 16 months ago demonstrates, Americans now chillingly very much aware of many of the terrorist threats around us and the threats on the international scene, are not just thinking differently than they might have 16 years ago, they’re thinking very differently than they did just 16 months ago. That also tells us a very great deal about the worldview tumult taking place around, us evidenced in the 2016 presidential race, evident today, we should note, in what’s happening and not happening today in the New Hampshire primary.