by Conrad Black
There is something seriously disconcerting about the sight of the leading declared Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, embracing the most imperishable charlatan in American political history, the supposedly reverend Al Sharpton. This most improbable clergyman, although he is only 64, is so worn down by what Dr. Johnson called the “disingenuousness of years,” he now looks like an ambulatory waxwork dummy. He has been exposed countless times for scams, falsehoods, and incitements to violence. Of all prominent African-Americans, only Louis Farrakhan is more odious.
Now that Sanders is the front-runner, with the possible exception of Joe (Hamlet) Biden, it is time to start taking a closer look at him. I’ve always been curious why he would have worked for a time on a Stalinist Kibbutz after the 20th Communist Party Congress where Stalin’s infamies and atrocities were publicly denounced by Nikita Khrushchev. Sanders apparently was a renegade Communist as a youth, regarding Khrushchev as a mealy-mouthed compromiser. It was eccentric that he spent his honeymoon in Moscow, but that, I suppose, is the business of no one but the then-newlyweds.
Our country has seemed benignly incurious about a man running officially as a socialist with a broad Brooklyn accent and hailing from the formerly rock-solid Republican state of Vermont, (“As Maine goes, so goes Vermont,”—the only states to vote against Franklin Roosevelt in 1936). To see Bernie Sanders and listen to him for a few minutes, it is clear that there is a story to his career that is likely to be unusual and interesting. For young people, he seems to hold that odd attraction of elderly Marxists that Herbert Marcuse had for glamorous youthful acolytes in the 1960s such as Joan Baez and Angela Davis.
Sanders proclaims four revolutions must take place—in health care, taxes, the environment, and justice.
It must be said that his ideas about justice are very commendable. Although the president has favored penal reform and acknowledged that the country has far too many incarcerated people, Senator Sanders is the only prominent presidential contender who has gone hammer and tongs after serious reform of the prosecution system and has expressed outrage at the North Korean criminal conviction levels in American courts. Only he mentions that the United States has six to 12 times as many incarcerated people per capita as the prosperous democracies that are its nearest analogues: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. For this, he deserves great credit, and it is clear that he has given a lot of attention to the subject, and his proposals for reform are thoughtful, including the right to vote of prisoners.
On all his other revolutions, he is a broken record from the days of the gramophone; elderly, repetitive, and clichéd. He gives the socialist message—buy the votes of the people without money by taking it from people who have earned it. He will forgive all student loans: $1 trillion. Obviously something has to be done about student indebtedness, and much of the total quantum of these loans has to be considered bad debts, but an outright gift of $1 trillion is just irresponsible vote-buying.
As anyone who watched any of the Town Hall meeting with Sanders on Fox News on Monday would have noted, Sanders has absolutely no idea of the cost or funding methods for his universal health care plan. Like everyone on the Left, he bandies about the phrase “single payer” as if it were a silver bullet. It isn’t, other than in the sense of being a self-inflicted wound.
The single payer is the government, federal or state, but under a unitary system and the government pays all doctors on the basis of number of appointments and formulaic relative complexity of treatment. It is arbitrary and challenges the free market in that no distinction is made for results, thoroughness, or special circumstances that attach to most medical conditions. The doctors essentially are public service employees. There are customarily no user fees, so hypochondriacs and lonely people turn waiting rooms into therapeutic or social occasions, and the experience of single-payer countries is generally one of unacceptable waiting times for many treatments. In his Town Hall meeting with Fox, Sanders was good at emphasizing the shortcomings of the present health care system for the 25 percent of people who have no public or private plans, but he simply ducked and dove when costing arose.
His proposed environment revolution is just the standard argument of leftists who have crowded onto the conservation bandwagon of 40 years ago after the rout of international Marxism and espouse the destruction of traditional industry as a method of assailing capitalism while masquerading as saviors of the planet. He hasn’t quite gone the distance with La Pasionaria Ocasio-Cortez and Beto and declared that if we don’t abolish the combustion engine, civil airliners, and bovine flatulence in the next 12 years, we will all be dead. Since his environmental fervor is based on hostility to capitalism and not on any rational ecological argument to support what he proposes, it is just another spasm of soak-the-rich posturing.
His tax returns were released 25 minutes before the town hall meeting began on Monday and revealed that he paid the low-ball tax rate of 26 percent last year on a handsome income of $561,000, and that he donated a princely 3.4 percent of his income to charity. Having railed and voted against the Trump tax cuts and reforms, he took full advantage of them.
I can’t blame him for not paying more than he was required to do to an administration he opposes, but he could have donated the quantum of the tax holiday he received to the charity of his choice. As it is, he looks like a hypocrite. He shows by his own behavior that he understands the vitality of capitalism as the only system that conforms to the universal human desire to have more. He adheres to the same motivation himself, yet he is a socialist and calls for the seizure of other people’s incomes to spread around among the underachievers and create a permanent majority of mediocrity.
Four years ago, Bernie Sanders was the scrappy underdog, the candidate of the little guy, fighting gamely against the Clinton machine. Now he puts on the airs of the vindicated prophet of the Left, full of irritated complacency. Now he is a havering, geriatric windbag, and his affinity with Al Sharpton is natural, possibly even sincere. Yesterday’s dark horse is headed for the last round-up.
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