Presidential Campaign

Sanders’s ‘socialist’ policies sound a lot like Teddy Roosevelt’s and Reagan’s

It’s true that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has called himself a “democratic socialist” (3:10 in the video); however, he’s clearly stated, “No, I do not believe government should control everything.” While his attempts at breaking up the banks will be attacked as socialism from Republicans and even Hillary Clinton supporters, Sanders is closer to President Theodore Roosevelt than the fabricated meaning socialism has become in our political climate. When Republicans call Sanders a socialist, what they really mean is a man courageous enough to act like Presidents Roosevelt and Taft.

{mosads}When Republicans call Sanders a socialist, they’re ignoring then-Gov. Jan Brewer’s (R) expansion of Medicaid in Arizona, President George W. Bush’s $400 billion Medicare bill and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) enrolling in ObamaCare. The word “socialist” is both a political insult and a way of life for conservatives throughout the United States. According to Pew Research, 52 percent of Republicans “say they have benefited from a major entitlement program at some point in their lives” and 85 percent of Republicans believe that Medicare “has been very good/good for the country.” CBS News finds that 89 percent of Tea Party advocates disagree with President Obama’s expansion of government, but 62 percent of the Tea Party believes that “Social Security and Medicare are worth the costs to taxpayers.” In terms of poverty, Forbes writes that Louisiana, Arkansas, West Virginia and Mississippi (staunchly conservative states that went for GOP nominee MittRomney in 2012) are the poorest states in the nation with “the highest percentages of households earning less than $24,999 annually.”

As a result, Louisiana, Tennessee, West Virginia and Mississippi have the highest number of food stamp recipients in the nation. In terms of the poorest region of the U.S., The Wall Street Journal states that one recent study “points to the South — where a majority (59%) of counties now struggle with both high poverty and inequality.” Although the GOP consistently works to cut government assistance programs, most Southern states have voted for a Republican presidential candidate consistently since 1972. Any expansion of government assistance programs is derided as “socialism” by Republicans, yet many conservatives fail to see the irony in a sign that reads, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!”

With Sanders against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and has made an issue of America’s shrinking manufacturing sector, President Reagan’s policies mirrored the concerns of Vermont’s junior senator. When the auto industry needed government intervention, Reagan stated, “I have proposed an acceleration in the rate of government purchases of motor vehicles.” As for the belief that Reagan kept government away from industry, the Gipper also stated: “The U.S. Government will spend about $100 million more on government vehicles this fiscal year, which, while helping the industry, will also lower the government’s operating costs.” In addition, a New York Times article highlights that Reagan was always willing to utilize government’s influence in order to help business:

Reagan often broke with free-trade dogma. He arranged for voluntary restraint agreements to limit imports of automobiles and steel. He provided temporary import relief for Harley-Davidson. He limited imports of sugar and textiles.

In addition to protectionism, Reagan’s administration bailed out Chrysler and the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company, effectively controlling “over 80 percent of the common stock,” according a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) report.

You’ll never hear the word “socialist” directed at Reagan, but some of his policies, if advocated by a Democrat, would be viewed as “socialist” by Fox News. Reagan was willing to address many of the negative aspects of free trade publicized by Sanders. Speaking in 1981 to auto workers in Detroit, Reagan said: “And this is where I think government has a role that it has shirked so far, that is, to convince the Japanese that, in one way or another and in their own best interest, the deluge of their cars into the United States must be slowed while our industry gets back on its feet.”

Long before George W. Bush’s $700 billion financial bailout that “would effectively nationalize an array of mortgages and securities backed by them” as described by The Wall Street Journal, another Republican used government to address the shortcomings of capitalism. Theodore Roosevelt stood up to banks, Standard Oil and powerful business interests. If Fox News were around during TR’s tenure in office, he’d be called a “socialist,” primarily because, as the Heritage Foundation states, Roosevelt strengthened government control of business:

As [p]resident, he pushed executive powers to new limits, arguing that the rise of industrial capitalism had rendered limited government obsolete.

He took on the captains of industry and argued for greater government control over the economy, pursuing a two-pronged strategy of antitrust prosecutions and regulatory control.

Is Sanders the reincarnation of Roosevelt? Sanders has championed environmental causes, stands up to Wall Street and today’s “captains of industry,” and wants to break up the banks. Similar to Standard Oil and other monopolies during Roosevelt’s era, the top six banks today control 60 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, which is why Sanders feels the need to ensure that no bank is too big to fail anymore. Even Bill O’Reilly had a difficult time in one segment disagreeing with Sanders, and O’Reilly even admitted to Sanders (2:50 in the video), “You know Teddy Roosevelt, did a little bit of what you’re suggesting.”

Roosevelt presided over 45 antitrust actions, while William Howard Taft presided over 90 Sherman Antitrust Act lawsuits, and both Republican presidents weren’t afraid to utilize government power in order to regulate industries. There are many other examples in U.S. history of government intervention in the economy, from President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to President Nixon’s price controls. As for Nixon, few people would ever call him a socialist, but he stated the following in an address to the nation:

Therefore, I have decided that a new system for export controls on food products is needed — a system designed to hold the price of animal feedstuffs and other grains in the American market to levels that will make it possible to produce meat and eggs and milk at prices you can afford.

In contrast, Sanders doesn’t want to implement price controls like Nixon, or nationalize a bank like Reagan or engage in a wide-ranging series of antitrust lawsuits like Roosevelt and Taft.

Vermont’s junior senator isn’t a socialist in the manner that the word is used to demean politicians in America. His economic goals are rational ones: ensuring we don’t end up with yet another financial collapse and decreasing rampant wealth inequality. However, if anyone ever hurls the word as an epithet at Sanders, the policies of Theodore Roosevelt, Reagan and other GOP presidents should instantly come to mind.

Yes, Sanders has called himself a “democratic socialist”; however, this label is entirely different from the term most people ascribe to nationalizing banks or putting government in control of the economy. In reality, it only means an emphasis primarily on reducing wealth inequality, limiting corporate excesses and ensuring people have rights like healthcare. As a senator and representative in Congress, he’s put the philosophy to use within the parameters of America’s economic system, not some imaginary economic world that will eventually be created by his detractors. This philosophy is more in line with Theodore Roosevelt and other GOP icons than Karl Marx — so when Fox News and others refer to his reference of being a democratic socialist, they’ll most likely completely misuse the term.

Goodman is an author and a journalist.

Tags 2016 Democratic primary 2016 presidential campaign antitrust Banks Chrysler democratic socialist George W. Bush Medicaid Medicare price controls Protectionism Richard Nixon Ronald Reagan Socialism socialist Teddy Roosevelt Theodore Roosevelt William Howard Taft

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