Bernie Sanders has been around a long time. He outlasted socialism in the former Soviet Union and the American attempt at it with Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. He has seen socialist experiments fail in Cuba and Venezuela, and watched China under socialism as it morphed into one of the world’s leading capitalist nations in all but name.
Despite this, Sen. Sanders insists on playing the role of a pied piper in trying to lead the youth of Generation Z and their older millennial cousins into a yet another grand experiment in creating a socialist paradise. Like me, Mr. Sanders is a surviving baby boomer. Boomers come in three general varieties. There are Vietnam-era vets, former idealists who realized that they would have to work for a living to survive, and a small group of decrepit hippie Peter Pans who never grew up.
Like most of his fellow aging Pans, Bernie retreated to the Neverland of campuses and political activism where they have survived on some form of tenure or government dole. Like the original Peter Pan, they delight in luring the young, innocent and incompetently educated toward a utopian Neverland which they now call Democratic Socialism.
To live in this Neverland, you must not only think happy thoughts; you must also deny that there is such a thing as human nature. Once you have entered this realm, all things are possible if you only keep your eyes wide shut to unpleasant reality.
A majority of experienced American adults have rejected socialism as an operating philosophy because they accept that normal, functioning human beings don’t want to be equal. They do want equal opportunity to be more tomorrow than they are today; that is why the pure socialism envisioned by Marx never has worked and never will. When pure socialism fails — as it inevitably does — the leaders of the movement in any given country generally take one of two courses.
First — and most healthy — is to let it morph into capitalism with a socialist label as in the Nordic countries and most recently China. Those who want to compete, excel and make profits are allowed to do so — albeit with a heavy tax burden on their efforts. That tax burden supports a wide safety net for those who are happy with being equal and those unable or chronically unwilling to work.
This is the version of Democratic Socialism that Mr. Sanders and his fellow Pans are selling. The fact that it creates a permanent underclass of those who cannot or will not compete is conveniently ignored. For those who don’t believe this, I’d suggest a trip to Stockholm or China beyond the skyscrapers of cities like Shanghai and Beijing. In China, even the social safety net has collapsed.
Truly doctrinaire socialists such as Lenin and Stalin rationalized the immediate structural failures of the system by describing the achievement of true socialist goals as a long journey that would demand short-term sacrifices from the proletariat. Along the road to the utopian objective there were always evil counterrevolutionary elements; it is they — not the structural weaknesses of the socialist system — to be blamed for all failures.
In the Soviet Union, they were Kulaks and foreign agents. Fortunately for Stalin, Hitler invaded in 1941, giving Soviet socialism a real enemy to deal with. By the time of Stalin’s death, he had run out of scapegoats; and his successors blamed him. By 1991, these hapless inheritors had run out of people to blame.
In Mao’s China, counterrevolutionary elites were identified running dogs to be targeted during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. By the mid-’70s, several million of these counterrevolutionary impediments were dead. But China was still a mess, and the post-Mao government resorted to capitalism with a socialist face.
In the United States, the bogeyman that prevented the realization of the Great Society was Vietnam. Tragically for creeping socialism in the United States, Vietnam ended and so did the excuses. Stagflation and zero economic growth produced Ronald Reagan.
Bernie and his lost boys, better known as “Bernie Bros,” will likely never get to the socialist Neverland of a Sanders presidency; that is why he is the Democratic candidate of choice for most Republican strategists figuring that most voters in the general election will still have a basic working knowledge of history and won’t buy the socialist line. That may change in a decade or so, but it won’t play in 2020. There is no Tinkerbell beyond the Democratic Socialist wishing star. There is only Pocahontas.
• Gary Anderson lectures on Alternative Analysis at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.
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