In a speech about Democratic Socialism, Senator Bernie Sanders brilliantly redefined the old buzzword ‘freedom’. Frequently, we have seen this screeched by the right with ever-increasing volume whenever they want to silence disagreement. Such a term makes the heels click; it brings people into line. Typically, when the right uses the term ‘freedom’ it is best translated as ‘shut up’. On a deeper level, it has come to mean corporate and right-wing freedom to say and do as they please with impunity. Freedom has long been, as Keith Olbermann once said, a brand name. Something that a politician says when they want to get away with its opposite. Freedom is slavery.
Dad Rebrands: Bernie and Freedom
As part of his speech, Bernie, who is known affectionately as America’s Dad, said the following
Ask yourself: are you truly free if you cannot afford to go to a doctor when you are sick, or face financial bankruptcy when you leave the hospital? If you cannot afford the prescription drugs you need in order to stay alive? Are you truly free when you spend half of your limited income on housing and are forced to borrow money from a payday lender at 200% interest rates? [What about] f you are 70 years old and forced to work because you lack a pension or enough money to retire? Are you truly free if you are unable to go to a college or a trade school because your family lacks the income?
He goes on, but you get the idea. For all the screeching of ‘freedom’ from what is an increasingly radical right-wing, the reality of the situation is that everything that Bernie said is true for essentially half of the US population. This reality exposes the great lie that is ‘freedom’, at least as it is used by the right. Freedom does mean ‘shut up’. It does mean ‘know your place’. Freedom does mean ‘I get to do what I want and you get to STFU’. Freedom for the right people. As the late St George Carlin said ‘It’s a big cub, and you ain’t in it’.
Bernie’s Solution: The Second Bill of Rights
Channelling the spirit of FDR, Bernie went on to define what he called the new Bill of Rights. After briefly outlining the political rights that the US Constitution supposedly guarantees, Dad said this
That is why today, I am proposing a 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights.
A Bill of Rights that establishes once and for all that every American, regardless of his or her income in entitled to:
- The right to a decent job that pays a living wage
- The right to quality health care
- The right to a complete education
- The right to affordable housing
- The right to a clean environment
- The right to a secure retirement
Speak it, Brother. Defining what we may see as ‘the basics’ of life – healthcare, education, housing etc as rights is brilliant framing. This is truly transitional thinking, even if the idea is an old one. Sanders is tapping into the American (and indeed Western) tradition of rights while extending the definition to cover more things. Lest we think this is merely pie in the sky (which is how the media will portray it), he referenced in the speech policies that his campaign has, and continues to release on these issues: Medicare4All, tuition free college etc. He has thought about this and has very specific policy ideas to achieve his goals.
Forewarned is Forearmed: Dad Pre-Responds to his Critics
In a useful act of foresight, Bernie pre-responded to the withering array of non-attacks that will doubtless be peddled by the liars in the media. First, he quoted harry Truman’s brilliant definition of socialism
Socialism is their [the oligarchs’] name for almost anything that helps all the people
That is a great line. From unions to social security to basically anything that helps someone making less than six-figures per year; it was all socialism. Sanders took this line and ran with it, eviscerating the contemporary oligarchs and their hypocrisy on socialism when he said
President Trump and his fellow oligarchs attack us for our support of democratic socialism. [However],they don’t really oppose all forms of socialism. They may hate democratic socialism because it benefits working people, but they absolutely love corporate socialism. In 2008, after Wall St.’s greed, recklessness and illegal behavior created the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression, Wall Street’s religious adherence to unfettered capitalism suddenly came to an end. Overnight, they became big government socialists and begged for the largest federal bailout in American history.
Is there anything this man cannot do? Even acknowledging that that appeals to hypocrisy (which this is) are not sound arguments, the point about their hypocrisy still stands. They may have the right to complain about Democratic Socialism, but I am not obligated to take them seriously. Comrade Bernie (a term of endearment) has put what I said in a previous post about Conservatives and socialism in the crystalised and succinct form: they do not hate socialism, in fact they love corporate socialism. The takeaway from this is that socialism itself is not the problem, it just has to go to the right people.
Conclusion: Bernie as Political Genius
This speech from Bernie, of which I have analysed a tiny fraction, is brilliant and should be seen as a model for the new left. Sanders is concise, clear and policy driven. His framing of ‘economic rights’ and his questioning of the great buzzword ‘freedom’ is political genius. Substantive counter-arguments to his position are not immediately obvious. Which is why the corporate media will bitch about ‘how will you pay for this?’ – even though that never comes up about the military budget, the bailouts and the subsidies.
Forward, Dad: give these oligarchs what for!