Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has never lied about being a socialist. Where he's truth-challenged is in defining it. Last week's speech at George Washington University was supposed to change all of that. After weeks of preparation, his campaign was convinced Sanders would be delivering the grandest defense of the system since FDR. What it ended up being, most pundits agree, was one big fat snow job.
The conservative commentators called it "a nightmare." Liberal writers were slightly more generous, but some of the reviews still stung. "Deeply unserious" was how The Atlantic described it. "Intellectually dishonest" was former Maryland Rep. John Delaney's take. By and large, both sides' complaints were the same: the picture Sanders painted was a socialist fantasy -- and a disingenuous one at that. When he wasn't outright lying (America is not in a "Great Depression,"), Sanders was busy ignoring the harshest realities of the system -- and the brutal dictators practicing it. As Ramesh Ponnuru argued, "Wednesday's address was a long denial of reality... [he] pretends that socialism has never proved oppressive to freedom, and that capitalism has never led to widespread progress."
Instead, he spent 40 minutes trying to persuade Americans that there was an "oligarchy" of the wealthy and that income inequality is the root of all evil. He ignores the fact, Justin Haskins writes on Fox News that "African-Americans, Hispanics, women and Americans without a four-year college degree are experiencing record-low or near-record-low unemployment." Still, Sanders insists the country take "the next step forward" and guarantee these "basic economic rights" -- which he defines as free housing, health care, retirement, and education. All for just $3.26 trillion dollars a year. Sure, that'll mean sky-high taxes -- but don't worry, he told CNN, most Americans "will be delighted to pay more..."
But it's not just the financial equation that's worrisome. It's the price of personal freedom too. "If Sanders was coy about the details of a 'socialist' economy," wrote one granddaughter of socialists, "he was downright disdainful of the notion that a speech on socialism and authoritarianism should seriously grapple with the long history of socialist movements that have ended in dictatorship." She, like others, noticed that the Vermont senator touched on villains like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, but conveniently ignored Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro, Cuba's Raúl Castro, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, Zimbabwe's Emmerson Mnangagwa, or North Korea's Kim Jung Un. But even as Sanders tries to distance his views from those regimes', the reality is, the entire socialist system is "inherently tyrannical."
A lot of Americans don't realize that, because the polite version of socialism is quickly overshadowing history's horror stories. When pollsters survey the country about socialism (and plenty have), a shocking number still have no idea what it is. Believe it or not, 28 percent think it's about "fulfilling basic needs like healthcare, housing, and a job to everyone." Another five percent believe it means ending poverty. Only 22 percent understood socialism as a system "lacking in civil liberties and political freedoms."
Another thing the country needs to be aware of, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) reminded listeners on today's "Washington Watch" is that this march toward socialism in America has been going on for more than a century. FDR started it with Big Government that's left us trillions of dollars in debt. And then what happens? "You get these massive social programs that wind up doing what Hugo Chavez did. Even in France and England, their socialized medicine is on the brink of failure. In fact, the U.K. government wanted the doctors to take it back over, and they said "[No way.] We don't want to be in charge of the national health system. And now France is saying the same thing. They're on the verge of bankruptcy because of their massive health programs... It all starts with good intentions," Rep. Yoho pointed out, but "it always ends up in a Hugo Chavez or [Nicolás Maduro]."
If there's one thing Bernie's speech did accomplish, it was dividing the 2020 candidates. Most of them understand what a toxic concept socialism can be -- and while they certainly endorse parts of it, did their very best to hide that from the general public. Some, like Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), found themselves in the unusual position of defending capitalism. Others, like former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, laughed at the title of the speech when a reporter read it to him. But in the end, most Americans felt like Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) who responded with a simple, "Huh."
Sanders spent almost an hour defending socialism. But in the end, all his opponents have to do is point one finger toward Venezuela and ask Americans a simple question: "Is this really what you want?"