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.

Brazil Is Falling Under an Evil Political Spell

By Thomas Palley

Brazil is falling under an evil political spell. The leading candidate in the presidential election is Jair Bolsonaro, an extreme right-wing politician. It is as if voters are sleepwalking their way to destruction of Brazilian democracy. Under the spell’s influence, they have become blind to the truth about Brazilian politics and blind to their better nature.

The resurrection of the fascist political tradition

Bolsonaro represents the resurrection of the fascist political tradition. That tradition discards norms of decency, tolerance, compromise and due process whenever they obstruct taking power.

He is an open advocate of racism, sexism, torture, and police execution squads. Those views are paired with a neoliberal economic program which aims to savage Brazil’s welfare state and privatize key state assets. That economic program has won him the support of the business elite, which has been willing to overlook his fascist inclinations as part of the bargain.

Brazil is sleepwalking

Bolsonaro’s popularity is inconsistent with Brazil’s expressed political preferences, which is why it is as if Brazil is sleepwalking. Past polls have shown about 65 percent of Brazilians support democracy.

Even more striking is the fact that former President Lula was the most popular political figure prior to the election. However, Brazil’s corrupt political elite imprisoned him on fake corruption charges and, with Lula barred from the election, Bolsonaro has become the front-runner. That speaks to the blinding power of the evil spell since Bolsonaro is the polar opposite of Lula.

A poisonous political potion, voter amnesia, and shapeshifting

Voters’ zombie condition reflects the poisonous political potion the elite has force-fed them. The feeding tubes have been a parliamentary coup and a dishonest media.

The potion has induced an amnesia whereby voters have forgotten history. They have forgotten how President Lula’s administration oversaw an economic miracle of growth with rising wages and declining inequality.

At the same time, the potion has enabled a shapeshift whereby the Workers’ Party (PT) has been falsely tarred as the party of corruption. The reality is the massive decades long thievery for personal enrichment was restricted to the business elite and political establishment. The PT received a relatively small amount of money, which it used for political purposes to grease Brazil’s corrupt Congress. Sadly, the novice PT government was confronted with the fact that Brazil is ungovernable without such grease.

Economic history rewritten

Worse yet, the long recession has been falsely blamed on the PT. The truth is Brazil’s long recession was triggered by the financial crisis of 2008 that began on Wall Street. President Rousseff advocated modest fiscal stimulus to help recovery, but her political opponents obstructed her and then impeached her for using improper budget accounting procedures that previous presidents had also used on a smaller scale.

A political vacuum and the appeal of authoritarianism

The charge against President Rousseff was technical budget improprieties. The real motive was to regain power and stop the “Car Wash” corruption investigation that implicated most of the political establishment, but not Rousseff.

The political elite regained power through its parliamentary “impeachment” coup. However, it was unable to hide its massive criminal corruption, which discredited it and created a political vacuum Bolsonaro has filled.

With the PT falsely smeared and the political establishment discredited, Bolsonaro’s neo-fascism began to appear attractive. He combines authoritarianism and nationalism. Authoritarianism offers false certainty, while nationalism exploits Brazilians’ loyalty to their country. All that is wrapped in the blanket of social conservatism, which incites the self-righteous and deceives the exploited.

Bolsonaro and the five big lies

Ninety years ago Joseph Goebbels and the Nazis learned the power of the “Big Lie”. Tell a big lie often and loudly enough, and it will be believed. Bolsonaro’s candidacy is built on five big lies.

Lie number one, and the most important lie, is that the PT is corrupt and the same as Brazil’s thieving elite. The reality is the elite has enriched itself, stealing tens of millions from the Brazilian state and people. There is no equivalent behavior by the PT.

Lie number two is the PT is responsible for the long economic recession. The truth is the recession was triggered by the 2008 financial crisis, and deepened by Brazil’s political elite which suffocated President Rousseff’s economic stimulus plans.

Lie number three is Bolsonaro is the candidate of patriotism. The truth is he is the anti-Brazil. Brazil is the country of the “beautiful game” and Pelé, of Samba and Bossa Nova, of Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Those are what have made Brazil a global cultural force. Since the end of the dictatorship in 1985, Brazilians have struggled for social progress and succeeded. Bolsonaro is the opposite of all that. He would destroy tolerance and multi-culturalism, roll-back social progress, and inflict a new dictatorship.

Lie number four is Bolsonaro is the anti-crime candidate. Brazil has a gang and street crime problem owing to narco-trafficking and poverty. The solution is economic recovery and jobs, plus a narco-trafficking strategy. Bolsonaro will worsen poverty by his anti-worker policies. He also wants to kill the gangsters. The reality is many innocents will die, civil rights will be anihilated, and street gangsterism will be supplemented by police gangsterism. Brazil will have both street crime and police crime, making Bolsonaro the king of crime.

Lie number five is Bolsonaro is the anti-corruption candidate. The reality is he is allied with the neoliberal bankers who want to privatize and pillage the Brazilian state. He is an authoritarian, and authoritarianism always breeds corruption and economic inefficiency because it lacks accountability and checks.

The magic question: is that what you really want?

There is an antidote to the spell. Bolsonaro is the anti-Brazil. He is openly racist and tacitly approving of rape; a supporter of torture, extra-judicial killing, and dictatorship; and his neoliberal economic program aims to slash the welfare state. The antidote is to show the real Bolsonaro and then ask Brazilians “is that what you really want from your next president?”

Since the end of the last dictatorship, Brazil has enjoyed three decades of social progress. That history means voters know the answer if only they are asked the magic question.