Bernie Sanders: Nothing to Fear Except Fear Itself

By Thomas Palley

Cross posted at the author’s website.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Eighty-seven years ago those were the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his 1933 inaugural speech. Today, they resonate with Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, which confronts a barrage of attack aimed at frightening away voters.

Fear is the enemy of change and the friend of hate. That is why both sides of the political establishment are now running a full-blown campaign of fear-mongering against Sanders.

The Democratic Party establishment likes the economy the way it is and wants to prevent change. Donald Trump and the Republicans have made themselves the party of hate. Both therefore have an interest in promoting fear, which explains the strange overlap in their attacks on Sanders.

The roots of our discontent

Let us backtrack a little. After the financial crisis of 2008 we escaped the threat of a second Great Depression, but we failed to address the root causes that have promoted wage stagnation and economic insecurity. The results of that failure have been twofold.

On the economic front, the US has had another stock market boom and an economic recovery that has ameliorated but not remedied past injuries to working families.

On the political front, economic distress and discontent has been exploited by Trump to push his conman agenda which uses hate to blind people to his economic swindle.

Economics: Sanders is an FDR Democrat

Sanders’ economic policies aim to tackle the deep causes of economic and political discontent. That threatens the establishment, which is why he is being red-baited by both Republicans and Democrats.

Far from being red, Sanders’ economic program is straight out of the American mainstream. It echoes FDR’s New Deal which saved American capitalism in the 1930s.

A higher minimum wage, stronger unions, green infrastructure investment, free public education, higher taxes on the wealthy, and reining in corporate power are programs which would have been supported by Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. They are the type of programs the Democratic Party used to advocate before its inside take over by Wall Street.

“Medicare for All” is being especially targeted by the fear-mongers, who have libeled it as socialist. There are four major approaches to healthcare: private health insurance (which includes Obamacare); private insurance with a public option; single-payer insurance (i.e. Medicare for All); and a national health system such as in the UK. All are consistent with capitalism. Moreover, Canada unambiguously shows single-payer delivers better healthcare for ordinary people than private insurance. That holds for healthcare costs, access, and well-being.

Politics: Sanders is an American constitutionalist

The economy is significantly a political creation. Our rotten politics have contributed to making the economy we have, and our rotten politics obstructs us from changing it.

Without political reform change will be near impossible, which explains Sanders’ call for a political revolution. The influence of money in politics must be reduced, which is why it is critical the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United be reversed.

But Sanders is no revolutionary. His political program harks back to the framing of the US constitution.

A fundamental concern of the founding fathers was excessive political power, be it via monarchy or plutocracy. Two hundred and fifty years ago the problem was monarchy. Today, the problem is plutocracy.

Excessive political power is now exercised via corporate political lobbying, payola for politicians, and the corporate controlled media. No clearer proof can be given than the fact that billionaire Trump heads the Republicans, and billionaire Bloomberg aspires to head the Democrats.

Red scare and the politics of fear

Both Democrats and Republicans are now engaged in a campaign against Bernie Sanders aimed at frightening voters and preventing change. Ironically, the fear-mongering of the Democratic establishment is even more dangerous than that of Trump and the Republican Party.

We need change to beat hate and restore shared prosperity, but the Democratic Party elite aims to block change by torpedoing Sanders. Worse yet, if they fail to sink Sanders, their “red scare” tactics will have played right into the hands of Trump who plans an even uglier more dishonest red scare campaign.

In these dangerous times, the words of FDR can help inoculate us against the politics of fear. When it comes to Bernie Sanders, there is nothing to fear except fear itself.

Thomas Palley is an American economist who has served as the chief economist for the US–China Economic and Security Review Commission. He is currently Schwartz Economic Growth Fellow at the New America Foundation.

For MLK Day: Rainbow Economics (from March 1988)

As part of our 45th-anniversary celebrations, we reprinted an article from the D&S archives in each issue over the past year.  Our November/December issue featured “Rainbow Economics: Evaluating Jackson’s Platform,” by former D&S co-editor Timothy A. Wise (now of the Small Planet Institute), from the March 1988 issue.

You can see the full reprint here.

The 1988 Jackson campaign and the Rainbow Coalition was a bridge between Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign for economic justice and the multiracial coalition of Bernie Sanders’ current presidential campaign.

This passage from the article could have been talking about Bernie Sanders’ current primary campaign:

On March 8, the “Super Tuesday” primaries take place in 20 states, including every Southern state except South Carolina. Based on his popularity in that region, the Rev. Jesse Jackson is likely to emerge from Super Tuesday a leading vote-getter.

Progressives need to make up their minds about the Jackson candidacy, yet the platform he will take into the Democratic Party convention is a mystery to most. The mainstream media treat the Jackson candidacy with indifference. His front-runner status is considered a mirage, his speeches to enthusiastic crowds go unreported, and his comments at debates receive cursory mention.

In the wake of the October stock market crash, the economy may be the crucial issue in the campaign. It’s time to look behind the charisma and rhetoric at the economic program Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition are presenting. That program, while not a direct challenge to capitalism, nevertheless offers specific policies that address some of the more oppressive features of the U.S. economy.

In fact, Sanders was famously endorsed Jackson’s 1988 campaign, one of the few prominent politicians to do so.  Here Sanders announces his endorsement: