Bernie Sanders or David Cameron? There’s no contest
At a time when far too many conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic have revealed themselves to be either snarling authoritarians (Marco Rubio, Donald Trump) or patrician, vacuous hairdos (David Cameron), the search for authentic commitment to individual liberty can sometimes lead to unexpected places.
Spiked are now making the controversial argument that this search leads all the way to Vermont, and to US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Todd Gillespie writes:
Despite being slammed by some as a big-government lefty, Sanders’ track record is more complicated — and arguably more libertarian than has been appreciated. Even libertarian stalwart Ron Paul has come out in support of Sanders’ small-government credentials, shortly after his son, Rand, left the Republican race.
Bernie has espoused positions similar to Rand’s, even joining with him to oppose government surveillance. Last year, Sanders wrote a blistering criticism of the ‘Orwellian’ practice of spying on citizens. He voted against the 2001 Patriot Act and its dreadfully named replacement, the Freedom Act, in 2015 — both of which Clinton supported. He is arguably the only candidate left who takes positions that can legitimately be described as libertarian.
He supports freedom of speech. He backs net neutrality and opposes attempts to censor the internet. In 2005, he introduced the Stamp Out Censorship Act, which sought to prohibit the government enforcing ‘indecency fines’ on non-public media (it failed to pass). Recently, addressing students at Liberty University (a Christian institution whose president has just endorsed Donald Trump), most of whom think very differently to Sanders, he said ‘it is vitally important for those of us who hold different views’ to engage in debate.
Anti-surveillance. Anti-censorship. Pro civil liberties. Pro free speech. All more than can be said of many American conservatives, who ostentatiously flaunt their love of the Constitution – by which they mean the Second Amendment, while conveniently overlooking the First and Fourth Amendments.
Sanders’ right-wing critics write him off as a big-state socialist. But a better label might be ‘libertarian socialist’. Yes, he has a vision of centralised government spending funded mainly by tax hikes on big business, but Comrade Bernie also envisages having a private sector with greater employee ownership. He has introduced legislation several times to increase government funding for centres that would provide training and technical support for the promotion of worker ownership and participation. He introduced the Rebuild America Act 2015, proposing an extra $1 trillion investment to renew America’s crumbling infrastructure, increasing airport capacity, improving and expanding railways, roads, bridges and broadband connection. He also wants to end crippling student debt and drastically increase loans to fuel small-business innovation. You can’t accuse him of thinking small.
Of course there is also much in Bernie Sanders’ platform to abhor – the punishing effective tax rates which would be required to fund this social democratic revolution, the increase in the size of government and the stripping away of agency and responsibility from free citizens to make their own decisions and take their own risks, for a start.
But perhaps it is also a sign of the divergence between the American and British political spectrums that I quite often find myself nodding along in agreement when the ornery senator from Vermont opens his mouth to speak. Perhaps when you move far right enough in your British politics (many certainly seem to think I am Thatcher on steroids) you actually break through and register on the far left of the US political scale.
And one thing is certain – if Bernie Sanders were prime minister of the United Kingdom, we would have a far more ideologically conservative leader than we currently have in David Cameron.
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Funny Gillespie calls the Bern a “libertarian socialist”, given that people who actually call themselves that basically use the “libertarian” bit as a polite word for “anarchist”, of which Sanders is in no danger of being any more than the Pope is in danger of becoming a Calvinist.
The existence of those same people, though, at least proves “socialist” and “big government” don’t need to go hand in hand. Though I think they do favour some sort of revolution, and I’m none too sure about that as of yet. I’m also not too sure how “conservative” automatically means “small government”.
What I am sure about is that, like yourself, I’d prefer Sanders to Cameron’s… whatever.
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