The New York Times posted a preposterous headline over Paul Krugman’s latest column: “Bernie Sanders Isn’t a Socialist.” But he describes himself as a socialist. Our own Dan Gainor underlined the humor of this sentence with this joke on Twitter: “Paul Krugman isn’t a columnist.”
Krugman admits Bernie identifies as a socialist, but he’s playing the game many of us heard in college — in any decade — that socialists really mean they’re social democrats, so don’t smear them with the S-word:
Bernie Sanders isn’t actually a socialist in any normal sense of the term. He doesn’t want to nationalize our major industries and replace markets with central planning; he has expressed admiration, not for Venezuela, but for Denmark. He’s basically what Europeans would call a social democrat — and social democracies like Denmark are, in fact, quite nice places to live, with societies that are, if anything, freer than our own.
So why does Sanders call himself a socialist? I’d say that it’s mainly about personal branding, with a dash of glee at shocking the bourgeoisie. And this self-indulgence did no harm as long as he was just a senator from a very liberal state.
Senator Sanders does want to nationalize some major industries, health care prominent among them. He also proposes to enact political controls over other key industries, such as media and banking, that would amount to something close to nationalization. He would subject media companies’ business decisions to political control and would have the federal government own and operate banks.
Senator Sanders has expressed admiration for Venezuela. It is simply untrue to write, as Professor Krugman does, that he has not. Then-Representative Sanders went as far as to sign a letter of support for Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez in 2003.
Krugman’s just unhappy that the S-word will be used negatively. He began with the sentence “Republicans have a long, disreputable history of conflating any attempt to improve American lives with the evils of ‘socialism.’” He added “if Sanders becomes the Democratic presidential nominee, his misleading self-description will be a gift to the Trump campaign. So will his policy proposals.”
Krugman thinks “Medicare for All” is a political loser that can’t pass. But he will demand everyone enthusiastically endorse Bernie if wins the party nod:
Just to be clear, if Sanders is indeed the nominee, the Democratic Party should give him its wholehearted support. He probably couldn’t turn America into Denmark, and even if he could, President Trump is trying to turn us into a white nationalist autocracy like Hungary. Which would you prefer?
But I do wish that Sanders weren’t so determined to make himself an easy target for right-wing smears.
“Smears,” like calling Sanders a socialist, like he calls himself.