Category Archives: Politics

What IS the Difference Between Democrats and Socialists?

Hillary_Clinton Bernie_Sanders

The DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz was asked a very provocative question from a very unlikely person. The unlikely person was Chris Matthews and the unlikely question was the following:

“You’re chairman of the democratic party. Tell me the difference between you and a socialist”

The reason Matthews asked the question was because of the rising popularity of self-identified socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who is challenging Hillary Clinton to be the presidential nominee of the Democrat Party. Clearly, Matthews along with most people who follow politics, does not believe that Bernie can actually prevail against Hillary (Bernie’s popularity among progressives notwithstanding). Given the tradition of both the Democrats and Republicans to give a prime time speaking slot during their respective national conventions, Matthews asked Schultz if Bernie would receive that honor.

Here is the video of the exchange.

At first blush, the question seems simple enough. Why couldn’t she answer?

But the more I thought about the question, it occurred to me that I couldn’t answer the question either (but in my defense, I’m not the DNC Chair either). I’m sure there must be a difference but unlike Chris Matthews, I don’t believe it’s a “huge” difference.

How does one go about answering this question? No two Democrats think exactly alike any more than any two Socialists or any two adherents to any other philosophy for that matter. Perhaps the better way to determine the differences between democrats and socialists is to compare party platforms.

This raises another problem: which party platforms?

For the Democrats, it makes the most sense to compare the DNC 2012 Platform (the most recent), but what about the Socialists? It seems that most third parties are Socialist in nature. Among these parties are the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Equality Party, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Socialist Action, and Socialist Party USA.

It seems that I have no other choice but to pick one. I’ll compare the DNC 2012 Platform to that of Socialist Party USA (2013-2015). For the purposes of this post going forward, the contents of this particular platform is what “socialists” believe. I will also restrict the range of issues to socioeconomic issues where there is probably broad agreement among those who subscribe to Socialism as the best way to organize society and government.

As I examined the two platforms, I realized that making apples-to-apples comparisons would be more difficult than I expected. To the credit of the Socialists, their platform is much more to the point and easier to understand than the DNC’s. Here’s an excerpt from their economics plank:

The Socialist Party stands for a fundamental transformation of the economy, focusing on production for need not profit. So-called fair trade is meaningless as long as the world economy is dominated by a few massive corporations. Only a global transformation from capitalism to democratic socialism will provide the conditions for international peace, justice, and economic cooperation based on the large-scale transfer of resources and technology from the developed to the developing countries.

• We demand the immediate withdrawal of the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and oppose the creation of a widened Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
• We call for worker and community ownership and control of corporations within the framework of a decentralized and democratically determined economic plan.
• We call for a minimum wage of $15 per hour, indexed to the cost of living.
• We call for a full employment policy. We support the provision of a livable guaranteed annual income.
• We call for all financial and insurance institutions to be socially owned and operated by a democratically-controlled national banking authority, which should include credit unions, mutual insurance cooperatives, and cooperative state banks. In the meantime, we call for reregulation of the banking and insurance industries.
• We call for a steeply graduated income tax and a steeply graduated estate tax, and a maximum income of no more than ten times the minimum. We oppose regressive taxes such as payroll tax, sales tax, and property taxes.

See what I mean? For all their failure to understand very basic economic principles, these Socialists understand economy of words. They have some terrible ideas but at least they know how to organize them!

That was the first 256 words from the Socialist “Economy” plank. What can we learn from the Democrat’s first 256 words about their economic policy?

This is where it becomes difficult to make comparisons. The DNC’s 2012 Platform doesn’t have a single section for economics. Under the heading “Moving America Forward” their platform is divided under categories such as “Putting Americans Back to Work,” “The Middle Class Bargain,” “Cutting Waste, Reducing the Deficit, Asking All to Pay Their Fair Share,” and “Economy Built to Last.”

To the DNC 2012 Platform:

Four years ago, Democrats, independents, and many Republicans came together as Americans to move our country forward. We were in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the previous administration had put two wars on our nation’s credit card, and the American Dream had slipped out of reach for too many.

Today, our economy is growing again, al-Qaeda is weaker than at any point since 9/11, and our manufacturing sector is growing for the first time in more than a decade. But there is more we need to do, and so we come together again to continue what we started. We gather to reclaim the basic bargain that built the largest middle class and the most prosperous nation on Earth—the simple principle that in America, hard work should pay off, responsibility should be rewarded, and each one of us should be able to go as far as our talent and drive take us.

This election is not simply a choice between two candidates or two political parties, but between two fundamentally different paths for our country and our families.

We Democrats offer America the opportunity to move our country forward by creating an economy built to last and built from the middle out. Mitt Romney and the Republican Party have a drastically different vision. They still believe the best way to grow the economy is from the top down—the same approach that benefited the wealthy few but crashed the economy and crushed the middle class.

Democrats see a young country continually [snip]

Sounds like a whole lot of nothing right? This is a typical political speech in which lots of words are spoken but nothing of substance is being said. “[H]ard work should pay off, responsibility should be rewarded, and each one of us should be able to go as far as our talent and drive take us.” Wow, how absolutely earth shattering! Who doesn’t agree with the statement above?

The DNC 2012 Platform goes on like this the rest of the way, short on specific policy proposals but long on flowery prose. To the extent there is something I can sink my teeth into: the wealthy don’t pay enough taxes, the undefined middle class needs more subsidies and tax breaks (the middle class being the largest voting bloc), and we’ll keep the Republicans hands off of Social Security and Medicare.

Maybe I need to scrap the idea of comparing platforms. What do Democrats believe these days?

I would love to be wrong, but I’m quite sure that much of the Socialist Party USA Platform would resonate with rank and file Democrats and “Occupy” Democrats in-particular.

“We call for a minimum wage of $15 per hour, indexed to the cost of living.” Many rank and file Democrats agree with this; Seattle has already passed a $15 per hour minimum wage.

“We call for a steeply graduated income tax and a steeply graduated estate tax, and a maximum income of no more than ten times the minimum. We oppose regressive taxes such as payroll tax, sales tax, and property taxes.” This almost certainly resonates with the Occupy Democrats. Could such a plank make its way on the 2016 DNC Platform?

“We call for a full employment policy. We support the provision of a livable guaranteed annual income.” Any serious objections from Chris Matthews on this one?

“We call for increased and expanded welfare assistance and increased and expanded unemployment compensation at 100% of a worker’s previous income or the minimum wage, whichever is higher, for the full period of unemployment or re-training, whichever is longer.” Certainly those who support Bernie Sanders would be on board; Hillary supporters maybe not. To extent there is disagreement, it’s only a matter of degree.

“We oppose the court-created precedent of “corporate personhood” that illegitimately gives corporations rights that were intended for human beings.” Democrats (and probably some Republicans) around the country are shouting “hallelujah” and “amen” reading this statement.

It seems to me that there isn’t a great deal of daylight between Democrats and Socialists on socioeconomic issues. Is it any wonder why the DNC Chair couldn’t answer the question?

The only reason Democrats and progressives don’t call themselves socialists is because the term probably doesn’t do well in focus groups.

Socialists or Democrats?

Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton?

To quote Hillary: “What difference at this point does it make?”

John Oliver Takes on Mandatory Minimum Sentences

For those of you who don’t have HBO and are unfamiliar with Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (very much in the same vein as The Daily Show only uncensored) the segment below is a must watch. While John Oliver is certainly of the Left, he definitely has a libertarian streak on social and criminal justice issues. In this segment, Oliver takes on the travesty known as mandatory minimum sentences (i.e. zero tolerance policies with even more severe consequences).

Donald Trump: Corporatist Bully (Re-post)

I originally wrote the following post in the very early days of the 2012 presidential campaign. At the time, Donald Trump was threatening to enter the race but decided not to do so. A little over four years later, Trump has decided to run in an already very crowded 2016 Republican primary. I have friends and family members who are intrigued (who ought to know better) with the Donald. The reason I decided to re-publish this post is to remind readers why a President Donald Trump would be no friend of limited government or liberty.

I do not like Donald Trump. I don’t dislike him because of his wealth; he probably earned most of his wealth honestly. Some dislike Trump because he is a self promoter. I don’t dislike Trump for this reason either. Many successful individuals are great at self promotion and developing a successful brand (a very good attribute to have to have a successful political campaign).

No, the reason I really dislike Donald Trump – even putting aside his becoming the new face of the Birther movement in recent weeks, his support of the auto bailouts, raising taxes, his anti-free trade proposal that would place a 25% tariff on all Chinese products, and his support for single payer universal healthcare – is quite simply that he is a corporatist bully.

For those who don’t quite understand the difference between a capitalist and a corporatist, I highly encourage you to read Brad’s post “Mercantilism, Fascism, Corporatism — And Capitalism.” This distinction is an important one. Donald Trump is the poster child for what many on the Left as a greedy capitalist; a caricature of everything that is wrong with capitalism as preached by the Ralph Naders and Michael Moores of the world.

But those of us who know better know that Donald Trump isn’t a capitalist at all but a corporatist. Trump doesn’t try to work within a framework of a free market as a true capitalist would, but like far too many businessmen, he uses his wealth and influence to encourage the government to work on his behalf to his advantage (and at the expense of anyone else who would dare get in his way).

In the early 1990’s, an elderly widow by the name of Vera Coking was in the way. Coking’s home that she had lived in for 30 years was on a plot of land that the Donald coveted. The Donald wanted the property so he could add a limousine parking area to one of his Atlantic City casinos. When Coking turned down his $1 million offer to buy the property, the Donald decided to enlist the help of his goons on the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Authority. In 1994, these government thugs filed a lawsuit to take Coking’s property for $251,000 and gave her 90 days to leave her property (if she were to stay beyond the 90 days, men in uniforms with guns would forcibly remove her from her home).

Fortunately, Coking’s case gained enough media publicity to gain the attention and help of The Institute for Justice (think a more libertarian ACLU with a focus on property rights). With the IJ’s help, Coking was able to keep her property. In 1998, a judge made a decision that turned out to be final finding that the Donald’s limousine parking area was not a “public use.”

John Stossel confronted the Donald about his failed attempts to take the widow’s home away; he reprinted this exchange in his book Give Me A Break on pages 152 and 153:

Donald Trump: Do you want to live in a city where you can’t build roads or highways or have access to hospitals? Condemnation is a necessary evil.

John Stossel: But we’re not talking about a hospital. This is a building a rich guy finds ugly.

Donald Trump: You’re talking about at the tip of this city, lies a little group of terrible, terrible tenements – just terrible stuff, tenement housing.

John Stossel: So what!

Donald Trump: So what?…Atlantic City does a lot less business, and senior citizens get a lot less money and a lot less taxes and a lot less this and that.

Earlier in the book (page 25) Stossel gives his impressions of this confrontational interview:

Donald Trump was offended when I called him a bully for trying to force an old lady out of her house to make more room for his Atlantic City casino. After the interview, the producer stayed behind to pack up our equipment. Trump came back into the room, puffed himself up, and started blustering, “Nobody talks to me that way!”

Well, someone should.

Had this case taken place after Kelo, the Donald may well have prevailed. In the wake of the Kelo decision, Neil Cavuto interviewed the Donald on Fox News (7/19/05) to get his reaction.


I happen to agree with [the Kelo decision] 100 percent, not that I would want to use it. But the fact is, if you have a person living in an area that’s not even necessarily a good area, and government, whether it’s local or whatever, government wants to build a tremendous economic development, where a lot of people are going to be put to work and make area that’s not good into a good area, and move the person that’s living there into a better place — now, I know it might not be their choice — but move the person to a better place and yet create thousands upon thousands of jobs and beautification and lots of other things, I think it happens to be good.

Donald Trump is not one who respects property rights (other than his own). “Tremendous economic development” and “jobs” are great reasons to employ the full police power of government to take away someone’s property in the Donald’s world view.

I shudder to think of what a Donald Trump presidency would look like. Imagine the Donald with control of our CIA and our military. The Donald doesn’t have any problem using force to get what the Donald wants.

Now consider President Trump with a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. What sort of Justice would he appoint? Most likely one who would view Kelo quite favorably.

This bully, Donald Trump is the guy who is polling second place in some early Republican primary polls? Wake the hell up Republicans!

Men, Women and Rand Paul

Zuri Davis, Brittany Wilson and Grace Charlton Standing With Rand.

Since the issue is getting a lot of coverage now, I will explain why libertarians are “mostly dudes” and why women are not as statistically likely to support Rand Paul.

Let me begin by explaining why it does not matter.

People are not representatives of the groups to which they belong. We are all individuals in a category of one. Denying differences between broad classes of people, like “men” and “women,” is to deny reality. But it is also a denial of reality and a logical error, to generalize differences between those broad groups to the individuals within them.

The male and female bell curves of any trait encompass wide areas of overlap. They do so for height. They do so for mathematical ability. Other than whatever criteria is used to assign the individual data points to their respective categories in the first place, there is literally nothing true of all men, but not true of any women.

It is therefore almost never accurate or productive to say things like “men think or say or do or feel xyz, but women think or say or do or feel the opposite of xyz (or xyz to a lesser extent).” That is taking differences at the extremes and generalizing them in a way that obscures the wide areas of overlap for the vast majority of traits.

So headlines like “Women Don’t Like Libertarianism Because They Don’t Like Libertarianism” (which I will not link to here) are just insulting and inaccurate.

Two-thirds of libertarians are men.

I know math is supposedly hard for us ladies (hey, like libertarianism!). But by my calculations that means female libertarians are not exactly unicorns. They are 33 out of every 100 libertarians.

And I am one of them.

My mother and sister may not call themselves libertarians, but their political views are virtually indistinguishable from mine. I have a female second cousin who is a libertarian. I have worked in a small town in a ten-person office, unrelated to politics, where one other woman was a libertarian, and yet a third voted for Gary Johnson in 2012. My social media feeds are filled with libertarian(ish) women like Julie Borowski, Libertarian Girl, Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Shikha Dalmia, Cathy Reisenwitz, Veronique de Rugy, Lucy Steigerwald, Cathy Young, and more.

So I am not really perceiving this massive shortage of libertarian ladies.

But if I had to guess why there are not as many women as men who are libertarians, two answers seem intuitively compelling:

  1. Women as a group (not as individuals) are more likely to prefer belonging to in-groups and acting under established norms. They are less likely to be comfortable in out-groups or as outliers to established norms. Similarly, for example, women are only 36% of atheists.
  1. Women as a group (not as individuals) are more likely to have moral hierarchies that focus on empathy and connectedness, over liberty and autonomy.

(I hope since I am a libertarian, and since I spelled it out up above, it is clear that I recognize these things are not true of all women.)

So, no, Jeet Heer, it is not because libertarianism reflects nostalgia for a time when white men were freer, but women and minorities were less so.

We libertarians are more futurist and optimistic than such cynicism admits.

Various women commenting on Rand Paul’s “gender gap” have intuitively landed on one or both of the same explanations as I posited above. Mollie Hemingway pegs libertarian discourse as “high systemizing and low empathizing.” Julie Borowski notes:

Most libertarian women that I have met are very different than your “average woman.” I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wasn’t intimidated by a lot of them. They’re strong and independent. They don’t give a *beep* what you think about them. Mess with them and they’ll kick your butt. Basically, they do what they want.

In order to speak out about “unpopular/marginal” ideas, you need to have that kind of personality. If you have a great desire to be liked, ha, don’t get involved in libertarianism. Or at least hide your views. If you post about it on Facebook, get ready to get defriended or uninvited to Thanksgiving dinner this year.

But what to Do About It?

First, do not succumb to handwringing. Libertarianism does not need an even split of men and women to be a worthwhile political philosophy. Neither liberalism nor conservatism are split evenly either.

Ideas should be judged on their merits, not by quotas.

Second, there is nothing we can do to make women (as a group, not as individuals) more comfortable being outliers, “going it alone,” or belonging to fringe groups. As libertarianism becomes increasingly mainstream, however, more women (and men) will be comfortable venturing into our territory and supporting candidates like Rand Paul and Gary Johnson.

Third, what we can do to nurture the process along is get better at explaining how our political philosophy is about empathy and fairness. Yes, we oppose minimum wage hikes because we care about the property rights of business owners. However, we also oppose minimum wage hikes because we understand how they hurt people, and hurt poor people most of all.

Too often we fail to defend the moral high ground when by rights it should be ours.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Quote of the Day: Neoconservatism vs. Traditional Conservatism Edition

Jason Lewis wrote an opinion piece in the Star Tribune reminding readers that the foreign policy approach of Rand Paul (and even more so, his father Ron Paul) has more in common with 20th century Republicans than his contemporary rivals. Lewis opened his article with anti-war quotes from Ronald Regan, Robert Taft, Dwight Eisenhower contrasting with quotes of neocons Sen. John McCain, Sen. Tom Cotton, and Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Lewis writes:

The backlash against the Kentucky senator has been swift and unanimous — at least from the ranks of fellow would-be nominees for president. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s over-the-top rhetoric, suggesting Paul is “unsuited to be the commander in chief,” is only the beginning. The Cheneys (Dick and Liz, that is) have said Paul is “out to lunch” on foreign affairs. […]


But the neoconservatives who have taken over the GOP are also running against party tradition. Indeed, the defining characteristic of 20th-century Republicanism could be defined as a wariness of war-minded leaders — from Woodrow Wilson to Lyndon Johnson. […]


Perhaps it’s time for all of today’s gung-ho Republican candidates and commentators criticizing Sen. Paul to explain once and for all why the GOP heroes of the past were wrong and how it is that big government abroad can ever lead to small government at home.

Traditionally speaking, I think Lewis is right: Rand Paul is the only Conservative Republican running for president so far.

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