Henry Olsen, biographer of Ronald Reagan, Washington Post columnist, and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) attempts to co-opt the New Deal are part of an effort to “transform the nature of America” in “a socialist direction.”
Olsen, author of The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism, offered his analysis on Wednesday’s edition of SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Tonight with hosts Rebecca Mansour and Joel Pollak.
Olsen explained, “Ronald Reagan was supportive of the New Deal’s extension of some forms of social insurance and protections, because he believed that those things helped the average person live the American Dream. He was dramatically opposed to the people who interpreted the New Deal to transform America into a socialist state. In his early speeches in the ’50s, he would say, ‘No thinking person can quarrel with establishing a floor under which people can’t fall, but we should not establish a ceiling over which people can’t rise. That compresses us into uniform mediocrity.’”
Supporting the New Deal does not make one a socialist, Olsen explained.
“People who are trying to latch onto the New Deal have been trying to graft socialism onto what was really … genuinely an effort to try to reinterpret the American promise for modern times, and that does not make you a socialist,” Olsen. “Not every element of the New Deal worked, and I wouldn’t support every element in its full extension.”
During a Wednesday address in Washington, DC, Sanders listed “Social Security, Medicare, veterans health care, roads, bridges, public schools, national parks, clean water and clear air” as socialistic endeavors.
Olsen said, “When he was arguing against Medicare in those early days, [Ronald Reagan] said we genuinely needed to help poor people pay their hospital bills, and he was for that. He was for a federal government program that gave federal block grants to states to ensure that those people would receive the care that they needed. What he was against was a one-size-fits-all program that used a genuine need to impose a uniform program on people whether they needed it or not, and that is socialism.”
Olsen continued, “That is, in fact, what Ronald Reagan said would happen if you passed Medicare, and now Bernie Sanders says he wants to have uniform one-size-fits-all — no private option — healthcare program, and he proudly calls himself a socialist.”
Political infighting between Democrats over socialism is a decades-old phenomenon, stated Olsen. “This is a battle that’s been going on within the Democratic Party since the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. There were people in the New Deal coalition who wanted to use reform to transform America into a socialist state.”
Olsen remarked, “They split off in 1948 to oppose Harry Truman from the left, and what they wanted was to take Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second Economic Bill of Rights seriously and establish government planning and mandated government regulation over all levers of the economy.”
Sanders’s reinterpretation of the New Deal, assessed Olsen, amounts to a prescription for centralized planning.
“So when Bernie Sanders talks about that as his inspiration, as opposed to what Harry Truman spoke about, which is basically sanding off the rough edges of capitalism, then he’s clearly putting himself in with the forces that in Roosevelt’s time fought against the mainstream of the Democratic Party to transform America and create an economy that is regulated according to plan as opposed to a path of ameliorative measures that would increase taxes and spending but would not fundamentally transform the nature of America,” said Olsen.
Olsen described Sanders as “a guy who has wanted to transform America in a socialist direction throughout his career” and “is using words from Franklin Roosevelt to mask over the great divide in the Democratic Party that has persisted for over 75 years.”
Olsen stated, “The light motif of Bernie Sanders’s speech is thou shalt, which is to say that there will be people who will tell us what we should do and tell us to whom we should do it, or do it allegedly for. And that is the heart of non-democratic socialism, ultimately, because to take those as he described them seriously requires economic planning. It requires centralized dictation. If you plan to raise this wage versus that wage or lay off this person and so forth, if you take the idea of rights seriously, none of that can happen without the government’s approval, and that can’t happen in a democratic system. It can’t happen in the West.”
Olsen described Sanders’s worldview as Marxist. “Bernie Sanders’s world is one where the masses are oppressed by an oppressor class. And that justice will be achieved by basically limiting the oppressor class and redistributing the fruits of their ill-gotten gains to the masses. It’s always backward looking.”
Puritanical libertarianism, assessed Olsen, drives many Americans towards acceptance of socialism,
“What we have basically been told as conservatives for the last 20 or more years is that the only answer to socialism is libertarianism,” determined Olsen. “The core of libertarianism is that there is no just — or virtually no just — political demand that can interfere with a market transaction, even if the market transaction is subject to manipulation from other governments, because heaven forbid that we would actually say that there is such a thing as a national interest that would allow us to act.”
Olsen continued, “The fact is, Americans have not bought that for at least 150 years, going back to Lincoln. … When you fall into libertarianism instead of genuine conservatism, you have no answer when people are genuinely suffering [or] when people who lose their aspirations or their opportunities through no fault of their own — to quote Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan — and then if your only choice is libertarianism or socialism, human nature is such that people will choose socialism.”
Olsen concluded, “I just find that completely self-defeating. The free market fundamentalists — people who believe in free markets, because I believe in markets — but people who are so fundamentalist that they think any intervention [or] attempt to regulate or to correct something to make more opportunity possible for people is socialism, those people are Bernie Sanders’s and AOC’s best friends. They are the useful idiots of our day.”
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