Category Archives: Theory and Ideas

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).

The Charleston Shooting Is A Reminder That Man Is Not Inherently Good

CharlestonChurch

The country is still in shock after the mass murder of nine worshippers at a African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. The Charleston shooting shakes us at our very core because these victims were truly innocent. The shooter, a 21 year old racist punk, specifically targeted the church because it was a black church.

This monster still went through with the shooting despite the fact the people at the church were “nice” according to a media report. He went to that church intending to kill people.

Many of the usual chattering heads have speculated he was “mentally ill.” But that’s hard to believe. He rationally thought out the attack and acquired the firearms to do it. I find it hard to believe we’re dealing with a “mentally ill” person as opposed to an evil one.

Many times, we’re quick to dismiss those who commit murder and other terrible acts as “mentally ill.” As a society we literally cannot comprehend someone doing such a thing. We have forgotten that evil exists and that people are not inherently good.

As a species, we continue to think we have evolved past the mere primitive notion that violence solves issues. We believe that in this culture of lawyers, contracts, and instant communication that we have evolved past violence. That’s an absurd analysis.

A modern Germany exterminated tens of millions between 1933-45. The Balkans, before they exploded in their wars of extermination in the 1990s, were a mostly developed region. The massive oil wealth of the Middle East hasn’t stopped that region of the world from having their own religious and ethnic conflicts. If wealth and technological progress are measures of civilization, then I would hate to see what is uncivilized.

Man is a fallen creature and capable of both good and evil. It’s best to view humanity through that lens. We should be wary of attempts to make men “better.” Mass graves from France to Russia to Cambodia are a testament to that fallacy.

There are only two approaches to dealing with evil. You either deter it or you destroy it. You can deter evil by making the consequences of doing their deed so high that is not worth it. You can also destroy an evil person when they act. However, we should not kid ourselves and believe we can “eradicate” evil from the world.

This piece doesn’t have any ideas on how to end racism (short answer you won’t) or what kind of gun control could stop this (short answer not much). Instead what we can do is not be blind to the reality of man. Instead of providing ourselves with the false comfort that people are inherently good, we should open our eyes to the fact that man is capable of both great and evil deeds.

Only by acknowledging the truth in ourselves can we move forward with discussions how to prevent future atrocities like this.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

One of the Original “Liberty Papers” Turns 800

A_Chronicle_of_England_-_Page_226_-_John_Signs_the_Great_Charter

A mere 572 years before the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, 561 years before the Declaration of Independence, and 465 years before John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government was a government-limiting charter which inspired the authors of each of these was the Magna Carta. In June of 1215, a full 800 years ago, a group of land barons had decided that they had enough of the tyrannical rule of King John. Rather than depose the king outright, the barons forced King John to surrender some of his powers, thus creating the concepts British Common Law and the Rule of Law.

The history of the Magna Carta and how it was almost quashed is quite interesting:

There are four copies of the charter still in existence – one each in Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals, and two in the British Library.
The curator of the Library’s exhibit, Dr Claire Breay, told Sky News: “The most important thing about Magna Carta is that it established the principle of the rule of law.

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned or stripped of his rights, or outlawed or exiled, except by the judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. And that clause is really at the heart of Magna Carta’s fame today.”

Those who negotiated the treaty would be astonished at how its reputation has survived eight centuries, because it was annulled after only 10 weeks.
The Pope ruled that King John had been forced to sign it under duress. Yet in the years afterwards, the language in the charter was revised and reintroduced and became part of the cornerstone of English law.

Vicor Hugo famously said “No army can stop an idea whose time has come.” Shortly after King John’s signing of the Magna Carta, the idea of the rule of law had come; the divine rights of kings was no longer universally accepted.

A Sign of the Times – Nebraska Repeals the Death Penalty

"Old Main" NM State Penitentiary

Yesterday Nebraska became the latest state to repeal the death penalty. While this is encouraging as states in recent years have ended this barbaric practice, what is even more encouraging and unusual is the fact that Nebraska is a red state. Nebraska is the first predominately conservative state in 40 years to repeal the death penalty. This isn’t to say that all conservatives were on board with the repeal. Republican Governor Pete Ricketts vetoed the repeal but supporters overrode the veto with the minimum number of votes required by 30 to 19 (conservatives accounted for 18 of the votes in favor of repeal).

Pema Levy writing for Mother Jones elaborates:

Today’s vote makes Nebraska “the first predominantly Republican state to abolish the death penalty in more than 40 years,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, in a statement shortly after the vote. Dunham’s statement singled out conservatives for rallying against the death penalty and said their work in Nebraska is “part of an emerging trend in the Republican Party.” (Nebraska has a unicameral, nonpartisan legislature, so lawmakers do not have official party affiliations.)

[…]

“I think this will become more common,” Marc Hyden, national coordinator of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, said in a statement following the repeal vote. “Conservatives have sponsored repeal bills in Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Missouri, and Kentucky in recent years.”

The article goes on to point out that in the most recent Pew survey that 77% of Republicans support the death penalty. My question is, why? Fellow Liberty Papers contributor Albert Northup made a compelling case earlier this year as to why conservatives and libertarians should oppose the death penalty:

Are you pro-life? Opposed to big government? Do you believe in reducing government spending? Do you support the death penalty? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you may want to re-think your position on the death penalty. As supporters of life, liberty, property, and limited government, I believe that all conservatives and libertarians should oppose the death penalty.

I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps more conservatives will come around to this more logically, philosophically consistent position.

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