What kind of disrupter would President Sanders be?
One thing virtually everyone should be able to agree upon: President Donald Trump has been a disrupter, both for the Republican Party and the country. If elected president, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has a small lead in both Iowa and New Hampshire polls, would likewise be a disrupter — which is precisely why his supporters back him.
Being a disrupter could be either positive or negative, depending on whether and how a voter thinks the country needs disrupting. Avid Trump supporters wanted him to disrupt Washington – i.e., “drain the swamp” – and put America first.
Avid Sanders supporters also want him to be a disrupter, and he almost certainly would be. Like Trump, Sanders would disrupt the Democratic Party, the government, the economy and foreign policy.
The Democratic Party: It cannot be said often enough: Bernie Sanders is an independent who identifies as a democratic socialist, not a Democrat.
While he “caucuses” – i.e., affiliates and votes – with Senate Democrats, he has little or no loyalty to the party or its traditions. Nor do many of his left-wing followers, who do not think the Democratic Party is progressive enough.
To be sure, a President Sanders would need Democrats in Congress to pass his agenda, and they might temper some of his most radical policy impulses. But as president, he would reshape the Democratic Party more in his image, just as Trump is reshaping the Republican Party to reflect his values and priorities.
Some Republicans – the “Never Trumpers” – have resisted that reshaping, and we’d likely see similar resistance from the small number of more traditional Democrats who still believe in a market economy, a strong military and a federal government with some limits on its power. Call them the “Never Bernies.”
The Government: As a socialist, Sanders believes not just in big government, but an activist big government. That means a government that collects much more in taxes, and redistributes that money to people across the economic spectrum, providing “free” (i.e., taxpayer-funded) health care, college tuition, greater Social Security benefits and perhaps a universal basic income.
But the activism wouldn’t stop with social programs; today’s progressives demand conformity. Simply tolerating different viewpoints, practices and lifestyles with which a person disagrees wouldn’t be enough; affirmation would be required.
Thus the size and power of the federal government, and the money flowing through it, would vastly increase, casting on the ash heap of history the Founders’ and the Constitution’s vision of a limited government.
The Economy: Of all the disruptions that would follow from a Sanders presidency, his goal of replacing free markets with managed markets and bureaucratic control would be the most traumatic.
The United States has always had a market economy. But the government doesn’t “create” free markets; markets naturally happen when people are free to buy, sell and enter into voluntary contracts. In a socialist economy, individual interests are replaced with collective interests, which are determined by politicians and bureaucrats.
While this country has been taking small steps in that direction for decades, Sanders would abandon any pretense of a free market system and accelerate government management and ownership of the means of production.
Foreign Policy: Initially, the United States embraced an isolationist foreign policy, primarily to avoid being drug into the incessant squabbles that have dominated European history. But after World War II, the U.S. took the lead in promoting democratic values and peaceful alliances, backed by the world’s greatest military.
President Trump has pushed back against the “endless wars” that seem to come with being the world’s policeman. But he still sees a role for U.S. influence and intervention. Sanders, not so much.
As he wrote in Foreign Affairs, “We need to rethink the militaristic approach that has undermined the United States’ moral authority, caused allies to question our ability to lead, drained our tax coffers, and corroded our own democracy.”
Though he concedes that military force may be necessary, he sees climate change and inequality, not China and Russia, as the real security threats, and he proposes to address these challenges with diplomacy and foreign aid.
Sanders’ vision may seem like a radical agenda — because it is. He boasts of a “revolution,” not one conducted with guns and bullets to protect our freedoms and liberties. But one conducted with taxes, laws and penalties that would likely diminish our freedoms and liberties.
But that is exactly the kind of disrupter his most avid followers want.
Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.