We here at Lions of Liberty are profiling each presidential candidate and examining the good and bad traits of their political careers. Each article will wrap-up by answering if their candidacy will have a net positive or negative impact on the liberty movement. Check out previous profiles here.
“This guy, he’s a real socialist!”
I’ll never forget my first exposure to 2016 Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders, as my father loudly exclaimed about his political beliefs when Sanders face popped up on our TV screen during an interview when I was a teenager. While my father meant the term in a derogatory manner, Sanders himself would likely have no objection to the description, as he has described himself as a “democratic socialist.”
After over thirty years in the political arena, Bernie Sanders is now poised to take his campaign of democratic socialism to the masses with his run for the U.S. Presidency in 2016. Bernie Sanders was born in 1941 in Brooklyn, New York as a son of a Polish immigrant who fled to the United States to escape the holocaust. Sanders first became politically active in the early 1970’s when he joined the Liberty Union Party in opposition to the Vietnam War. He ran for office unsuccessfully several times in Vermont, which he made his home after graduating college. Sanders finally found success in politics in 1981 after a friend encouraged him to run for Mayor of Burlington, VT, a four-way race he won by a mere ten votes. Sanders would go on to run for Vermont’s open congressional seat in 1988, only to come in 2nd place. Not to be deterred, Sanders ran once again in 1990 against the exact same open and won, becoming the first independent to be elected to the United States Congress in forty years.
After Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords retired from the Senate in 2005, Sanders ran for the open seat. While still running as an independent, Sanders received the endorsement of Democratic Party power broker Chuck Schumer, essentially locking up the election as no Democrat would challenge his Senate run. Sanders remains an independent to this day, he caucuses with the Democrats and typically sides with them on most votes.
Bernie Sanders does deserve his independent label. His positions are a mixed bag, and many of them do indeed fall in line with the ideal of many liberty-minded voters. However, due to the bias in the electoral system Sanders is running for President as a Democrat. Now that he is running for President, we have the impetus to take a look beyond the labels and examine the full scope of his political ideology.
Oddly, Bernie Sanders’ website only lists three categories under Issues – “Income and Wealth Inequality”, “Getting Big Money Out of Politics”, and “Climate Change & Environment.” But today I’ll dig a bit deeper, and check out the full gamut of Sanders’ positions – the good, the bad, and the implications for individual liberty.
Basic support for 2nd Amendment Gun Rights
Right off the bat Sanders earns some points for his support for gun rights. In 1993, he voted for a bill supported by the NRA to restrict lawsuits against gun manufacturers, and he even voted against the Brady Bill. Vermont is a Constitutional Carry state, which means that no permit is required to carry a gun either open or concealed.
It should be noted that Sanders is not great on the issue of guns. In a recent interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe he noted that he has a lifetime record of a D – from the NRA when confronted about his record on guns. He noted that he has supported a ban on assault weapons as well as background checks.
Still, Bernie Sanders is much more reasonable on the issue of guns than any other Democratic candidate and perhaps even better than some Republicans, so I’ll still file this one under “good.”
Opposition to the Iraq Wars and militarism
Bernie Sanders has voted against every single attempt at U.S. military intervention in Iraq, both in 1991 and 1992. He was a vocal opponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He did vote for the “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists” after 9/11, which would be used to justify the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan. But hey, even Ron Paul voted for that, and in principle there is reason for the U.S. military to go after those responsible for the attacks, so the vote is somewhat understandable.
Consistent Critic of the PATRIOT Act
Bernie Sanders has consistently criticized and voted against the PATRIOT Act. He voted against the original authorization of the bill in 2001, voted against every attempt at re-authorization, and has introduced and supported several amendments to curtail its unconstitutional spying powers. Sanders also recently voted against the USA Freedom Act, which essentially codified some aspects of the government’s spying powers into law. One would be hard pressed to find fault with Sanders opposition to all laws authorizing flagrant violations of the 4th amendment by the U.S. government, and should be commended for this.
Vocal Opposition to the TPP
“The TPP Must Be Defeated” reads the headline of a recent Huffington Post article by Bernie Sanders himself, so it’s safe to say he is strongly opposed to the recently fast-tracked corporatist “trade agreement.” Sanders’ opposition to the agreement may originate more so from his support for American unions and minimum wage laws than a principled free trade stance, but he does recognize that there is a reason why this bill is supported by major crony institutions, including major drug companies in the U.S. who stand to benefit from the bill.
In Favor of Marriage Equality
Unlike Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders has also been consistently in favor of equality under the law when it comes to gay marriage, and he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Prior to the recent Supreme Court decision, Sanders stated:
Of course all citizens deserve equal rights. It’s time for the Supreme Court to catch up to the American people and legalize gay marriage.
Ideally government would take no position on marriage whatsoever and allow individuals to enter into contracts with whomever they choose, but so long as the U.S. government recognizes “straight” marriages, the only proper thing for it to do is equally recognize homosexual relationships as well.
Supports Marijuana Legalization, Criticizes Drug War
Bernie Sanders has expressed his support for legal medical marijuana, and has indicated he is at least open to the idea of further legalization. Sanders doesn’t take a fully principled position on marijuana; he stated during a recent Reddit “Ask Me Anything”:
Colorado has led the effort toward legalizing marijuana and I’m going to watch very closely to see the pluses and minuses of what they have don…I will have more to say about this issue within the coming months.
It seems Sanders takes a more utilitarian approach to the issue of marijuana – and presumably to the question of drug legalization as a whole. But he has criticized the overall drug war in the past. He told Time magazine in 2014:
We have been engaged in [the war on drugs] for decades now with a huge cost and the destruction of a whole lot of lives of people who were never involved in any violent activities.
It’s clear that at the very least Bernie Sanders is reasonable on the issue of the War on Drugs, and couldn’t be further from a Drug War zealot. He recognizes the non-violent nature of drug ‘crimes’, and the devastating effects they have on individuals. When it comes to the War on Drugs, Sanders is miles ahead of any other Democrat or Republic candidate, short of only perhaps Rand Paul.
It’s clear from taking a look at many of the very good positions Bernie Sanders takes that he holds some views that very much align with a liberty viewpoint, particularly in relation to other mainstream candidates.
But it’s not all roses when it comes to Bernie Sanders, and now we move on to…
I have to admit I was somewhat surprised by to find that Bernie Sanders held some anti-immigration views, particularly as the son of immigrants. Sanders doesn’t use xenophobic rhetoric that we often hear from right wing opponents of immigration. Rather he seems to oppose expanded immigration on economic protectionist terms.
In explaining his concern for the comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013 (which he did end up voting for), Sanders stated:
It does not make a lot of sense to me to bring hundreds of thousands of [foreign] workers into this country to work for minimum wage and compete with [Americans].
He couldn’t really be more clear about his line of reasoning. I admit immigration can be a tricky issue, as in an a more ideal society property owners would have great powers to restrict who comes and goes on their property, and there are certainly legitimate safety issues to be considered in regards to completely open borders. But none of this is what concerns Bernie Sanders in regards to immigration. Rather he simply doesn’t like the idea of “foreign” workers competing with American workers.
In Favor of Universal Health Care
Bernie Sanders makes no bones about his position on his ideal health care system. In 2009 he told The Nation:
If you are serious about real healthcare reform, the only way to go is single payer.
A single payer system is one where the government pays for all health care costs, completely eliminating market pricing from the equation. This is quite obviously a recipe for disaster to anyone with a vague understanding of economics, let alone the fact that it is completely anti-freedom in concept.
Wants to Force Employers to Provide Leave to Workers
Sanders proposed “Guaranteed Paid Vacation Act” would force employers to provide 10 days of paid vacation for employees who have worked for an employer for at least one year.. He has also co-sponsored a Senate bill that would give mothers and fathers 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a baby. He has sponsored other bills guaranteeing paid sick leave and paid leave to care for sick family members.
Let’s be clear: it’s certainly not a bad thing for employers to offer their workers paid time off such as sick leave, maternity leave, vacation time, etc. A large majority of major companies do indeed offer this to their employees at various levels. But just because something is a good idea doesn’t mean it should be forced on everyone. Indeed, many small and start-up businesses may not have the resources to make such guarantees and to force them upon them could potentially mean hiring less employees or going out of business all together.
On top of that it’s a clear violation of the property rights of the business owners. But Bernie Sanders does seem to have some confusion on this issue…
Confusion on Rights
Past Lions of Liberty Podcast guest Jan Helfeld conducted one of his famous “Socratic method” interviews with Bernie Sanders, in which Sanders seemed to believe one could delegate a right to others they don’t have. Give it a watch and please let me know if anyone can make sense out of Sanders’s logic:
After Sanders dances around the question of whether individuals should be allowed to use force against other individuals, he finally relents and agrees that they do not. He then goes on to state that individuals are able to delegate the right to do so to governments.
There’s some extra fun at the end as Sanders grills Helfeld on “who finances the show” before Helfeld asks “Would you like to do the show on minimum wage?” while Sanders storms out of his office.
Thanks to Jan for sending me this!
Favors Higher Taxation for Corporations and the Wealthy
If you like Rand Paul’s Fair and Flat Tax, you will probably loathe Bernie Sanders’ ideas about what constitutes a fair tax system. Sanders wants to raise taxes on the wealthy and on corporations expressly for the purpose of redistributing wealth.
ThinkProgress reports on a recent interview Sanders gave to CNBC’s John Harwood, in which he said he would back a 90 percent top marginal tax rate:
“Harwood brought up that some have likened efforts to combat income inequality to Nazi Germany. Sanders noted sarcastically, “When radical, socialist Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, I think the highest marginal tax rate was something like 90 percent.”
Harwood followed up by asking, “When you think about something like 90 percent, you don’t think that’s obviously too high?” to which Sanders replied, “No.”
Again, Sanders couldn’t be clearer. He believes the government essentially has an unlimited right to tax it’s citizens based on the amount of wealth they generate. He buys into the myth of the 90 percent tax, and has no principled position which would hold him back from any sort of coercive tax system if he could be convinced it was “better for society.”
UPDATE: Gutted Ron Paul’s “Audit the Fed” Bill
I only recently uncovered this video of Ron Paul detailing how Bernie Sanders – after initially supporting his “Audit the Fed” bill, would go on to gut the final version of the bill. I’ll let the Good Doctor explain:
…and the Liberty?
It’s clear that Bernie Sanders is a real mixed bag when analyzing his policies through the lens of liberty. He certainly doesn’t hold any consistent theory of individual rights, and many of his policies would be downright disastrous for the economy, and more importantly the individuals trying to survive in it.
At the same time, there is a lot to like about Bernie Sanders. For one, at least he wears his socialism on his sleeve, and seems to be unapologetic about his views. This is refreshing in politics, and it’s the same quality that endeared so many to Ron Paul. For this reason there may indeed be a chance that Bernie will capture some of the “Ron Paul vote”, as I discussed in a recent podcast.
I’m personally excited to watch Bernie Sanders participate in the Democratic debates, and compared to the rest of the Democratic field one could easily make the cast that Bernie is the best candidate for liberty in the field of Democrats due to his positions on the War on Drugs, government surveillance, corporatism, etc. If he were actually elected President, much of his proposed policies such as taxation and universal health care would have to originate from Congress, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario in our current climate where anything so extreme could actually make it through Congress.
In fact, short of a Rand Paul or miracle Gary Johnson or Jesse Ventura presidency, there might not be a better scenario than a Bernie Sanders presidency with a Republican Congress holding him back from pushing through any of his zany economic ideas. I can certainly think of worse scenarios, and they involve people with names like “Hill” and “Jeb.”
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