By Richard Girard
“When liberty is mentioned, we must always be careful to observe whether it is not really the assertion of private interests which is thereby designated.”
Georg Hegel (1770–1831), German philosopher. The Philosophy of History, part 4, section 3, chapter 2 (published 1837).
It is the duty of free people everywhere is to speak out against the wrongs they see occurring in their country, even if their position is unpopular. It is however equally important, in the words of Davy Crockett, to “Make sure you’re right, then go ahead.” Pursuing a course of action on the basis of false information, because it fits in with our idealized vision of the world as we think it is, and not how things actually are, is foolish and counterproductive to the desires of anyone who honestly wants a better world for all, and not a Potemkin village to satisfy their own delusions.
Speaking out against the oppression of others, the lies of our leaders, the misrepresentations of the media, and any attempt to stifle honest disagreement and dissent, is a duty we should be taught from the cradle, and be reminded of until we are in our graves. But we must beware of error, of mistakes made through incorrect information, of false suppositions, and of erroneous perceptions. We must also learn to express ourselves clearly to all, so that people do not misunderstand our intentions or the knowledge and beliefs that underlie them. This is one of the reasons why I am a supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont for President of the United States.
Senator Sanders claims to be a Democratic Socialist; all I can say is more power to him. But looking at history the domestic programs that he proposes for our country differ by only the most imperceptible degree from those of the man who was President of the United States when he was born, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. President Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Economic Rights, proposed on January 11, 1944, could serve as the basis for both Senator Sanders’ and the Democratic Party’s 2016 platform, under a banner of “Return to the Future.” These rights include:
- useful and remunerative employment, together with the potential to find an avocation and not simply a job;
- wages that provide adequate food, clothing, opportunity for recreation, and decent shelter for themselves and their families;
- adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
- protection from unfair competition and monopolistic practices at home and abroad, for every business in America, large and small;
- the ability of farmers and ranchers to raise and sell the bounty of their lands at a return which will give themselves and their families a decent living;
- protections from the fears attendant to old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
- a good, quality education, sufficient for the needs of our modern society; an education that is ongoing if needed or desired.
I quote here from John Nichols’ article, “How Socialists Built America,” first published in the The Nation, and reprinted at OpEdNews.com on April 16, 2011:
“Truman had stirred conservative outrage by arguing that the government had the authority to impose anti-lynching laws on the states…[And] proposing a national health care plan…[He] had not [only] won the  election but restored Democratic control of Congress. To counter this ominous electoral trend, conservative Republicans, led by Ohio Senator Robert Taft, announced in 1950 that their campaign slogan in that year’s Congressional elections would be ‘Liberty against Socialism.’ They then produced an addendum to their national platform… charging that Truman’s Fair Deal ‘is dictated by a small but powerful group of persons who believe in socialism, who have no concept of the true foundation of American progress, and whose proposals are wholly out of accord with the true interests and real wishes of the workers, farmers and businessmen.’
Truman did not cower at the mention of the word socialism, which in those days was distinguished in the minds of most Americans from Soviet Stalinism…Nor did Truman…rave about the evils of social democracy. Rather, he joked that ‘Out of the great progress of this country, out of our great advances in achieving a better life for all, out of our rise to world leadership, the Republican leaders have learned nothing. Confronted by the great record of this country, and the tremendous promise of its future, all they do is croak, ‘socialism.’”
The Republicans are past masters of using the politics of fear, whether it is of “creeping socialism,” Sharia law, or dirty, criminal immigrants, they like to confuse reality by playing on voters’ fears of the unknown, the different, and the other, until they vote on a narrow band of issues against their own wider self-interest. The current crop of Republicans in power are not conservatives, they are reactionaries.
Reactionaries are individuals who deny others their rights on the basis that to permit them to have those rights would somehow infringe on the rights of the reactionary. The slave owners of the antebellum South are one example of this phenomenon; factory owners denying their workers decent working conditions and wages are a second; Kim Davis, the County Clerk in Kentucky who is denying marriage licenses to gay couples is a third. Bertrand Russell, in his essay “Freedom in Society” (Sceptical Essays, 1928), described the maxim of all reactionaries with regards to economic matters: “Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate.” [Emphasis added]
Like Franklin Roosevelt, Bernie Sanders sees the inherent dangers of the “economic royalists” who desire to control our country. Alexis de Tocqueville, in his magnum opus Democracy in America (Volume 2, Appendix 5, “Democracy;” 1840), warned us of the danger posed by these would-be aristocrats: “What is most important for democracy is not that great fortunes should not exist, but that great fortunes should not remain in the same hands. In that way there are rich men, but they do not form a class.” The wealthiest Americans have fought against this advice since before de Tocqueville wrote it. Thomas Jefferson’s “Revolution of 1800” was in answer to this pseudo-aristocracy, led by John Adams, attempting to gain permanent control of our Republic from the majority of Americans.
Like Abraham Lincoln, Senator Sanders also sees the danger to our democracy presented by a return of that “peculiar institution” slavery, and its close relative serfdom.
You think that I am being alarmist? Let me quote to you from Katrina Vanden Heuvel’s December 23, 2008 article, in The Nation magazine, “In the Trenches and Fighting Slavery:”
“Last Friday…a Florida judge rendered his sentence on the state’s most recent slavery case. CIW [Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the people responsible for getting tomato pickers in Florida a 75% raise—RJG] had helped the Department of Justice investigate what Chief Assistant US Attorney Doug Molloy described as one of Southwest Florida’s ‘biggest, ugliest slavery cases ever.’ There was shockingly little coverage of this outrage—even in Florida—where a slavery story should knock Governor Blagojevich right off the front pages. (The dedication of reporter Amy Bennett Williams of the Fort Myers News-Press is a notable exception.)
The Navarrete family had pleaded guilty to holding twelve men on their property from 2005 to 2007. They were beaten, chained and imprisoned in a truck…Two family members were sentenced to twelve years, and four were sentenced…to three years and ten months.
CIW worked with federal and local authorities during the prosecution and investigation as it has in seven Florida slavery cases over the past decade. Prior to escaping, the workers had listened to programming on labor rights on CIW’s multilingual radio station…which encouraged them…to find help if they escaped. Some of the workers who…did escape made their way to CIW for assistance.
While it’s good to see some accountability for the practice of modern slavery…the tolerance for slavery was all too evident in the wake of this trial. For one thing, Molloy told the Fort Myers News-Press, ‘We have a number of similar—and ongoing—investigations…It doesn’t help when people deny that [slavery] exists. That’s…throwing gasoline on the fire.’
…Subway, the largest purchaser of tomatoes in the fast-food industry, agreed to a penny per pound pay raise for tomato workers. CIW had already struck similar deals with McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King after long, hard fought campaigns. While a penny per pound doesn’t sound like a helluva lot, it results in about a 75 percent wage increase for these workers—from $10,000 annually to $17,000—raising their living and working conditions and making them less vulnerable to those who would enslave them. Already, approximately $1 million is being held in escrow for the workers as they begin the second season with the deals in place.
[T]he only thing standing in the way of these workers and their million bucks-plus is the FTGE (Florida Tomato Growers Exchange). The FTGE represents 90 percent of the state’s growers and has threatened members who implement the penny per pound deals with fines of $100,000 for each worker benefiting from the pay raise. FTGE Executive Vice President Reggie Brown testified earlier this year at a Senate hearing chaired by Senator Bernie Sanders that these deals would result in buyers going to Mexico for their tomatoes. He’s dropped that argument since it’s the buyers themselves who are already agreeing to pay the workers the extra penny. But he continues to push a bogus legal argument—as the Miami Herald reported—that ‘they can’t participate because of legal issues with a third party dictating the terms of its workers employment.’ (As Senator Sanders noted at the hearing on Capitol Hill, ‘I gather that McDonald’s and [Taco Bell] have some money to hire some pretty good attorneys. You might want to reconsider the attorneys you are using and rethink this issue’; Sanders also presented Brown with a letter from twenty-six legal professors specializing in labor law, including antitrust dimensions of labor standards, writing that ‘the ostensible legal concerns of the Growers Exchange are utterly without merit.’)”
Slavery exists when you can’t say no to your employer: about the conditions under which you work, the days and hours you work, and you cannot ask for more money or benefits for fear of being fired. The Lord Chancellor of England wrote in the 1762 case before the House of Lords, Vernon v. Bethel, Eden 2:113, “Necessitous men are not, truly speaking, free men; but to answer a present emergency, will submit to any terms that the crafty may impose on them.” In other words, no human being is free if their situation provides no available economic alternative for them.
Ms. Vanden Heuvel continues her article:
“As long as the FTGE continues to be obstructive, you can bet Senator Sanders will be on their case. In addition to his own fact-finding mission in the fields of Immokalee, and the hearing on the Hill, Sanders recently single-handedly blocked tomato growers from getting $100 million or so that they wanted to tuck away into a continuing resolution before Congress recessed for the election. [Emphasis added–RJG]
‘The Senator had a problem with a government bailout for folks who wink at slavery and can’t figure out a way to let other people pay their pickers a penny a pound more for their back-breaking labor,’ Senator Sanders’ press secretary, Michael Briggs, told me.
Sanders has spoken out not only on the pay issue, working, and living conditions, but also about closing a loophole which allows growers to use independent labor contractors and escape any liability for the enslavement of workers who work their fields. McElroy claimed that no ‘legitimate grower’ is involved with slavery, but in fact the Fort Myers News-Press reported that the victims in the latest slavery case worked on ‘farms owned by some of the state’s major tomato producers: Immokalee-based Six L’s and Pacific Tomato Growers in Palmetto.’
Senator Sanders indicated in an e-mail to me yesterday that he’s determined to stay on top of these human rights issues: ‘It is beyond comprehension that in the year 2008 slavery still exists in America. I look forward to working with the new administration and Congress to finally end the scourge of modern slavery in the tomato fields of Florida. I will certainly advocate that every aspect of the businesses of those engaged in or indirectly benefiting from these scandalous activities be gone over with a fine-tooth comb by appropriate federal officials.’”
There is a persistent myth perpetuated by conservatives in America over the last forty years: that all government programs are inherently more inefficient and costly than they would be if they were done by the private sector. The most extreme plutocrats–the disciples of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics–hold it as an article of faith that all government programs with the exception of the government’s military and law enforcement establishments, constitute some form of socialism and by extension a loss of individual freedom.
This attitude exemplifies the great lie about liberty: that freedom and free enterprise are identical. Hannah Arendt (1906–75, On Revolution, chapter 6, 1963) said it perfectly: “When we were told that by freedom we understood free enterprise, we did very little to dispel this monstrous falsehood…Wealth and economic well-being, we have asserted, are the fruits of freedom, while we should have been the first to know that this kind of ‘happiness’…has been an unmixed blessing only in this country, and it is a minor blessing compared with the truly political freedoms, such as freedom of speech and thought, of assembly and association, even under the best conditions.”
The reality is that often times, government is far less expensive in terms of its overhead, and more effective in terms of its operations than any of its private enterprise counterparts. Medicare’s overhead is less than four percent of its cost, private health insurance starts at over six percent. The United States Postal Service delivers letters and packages for far less money and more efficiently than any private firm could ever hope to achieve. Public libraries are evolving into havens of innovation and a place for the public to explore new technology, in addition to their traditional function of depositories for books and other reading materials. Finally privatization has never provided an adequate replacement for first-responders: law enforcement, fire protection and emergency medical services.
In his July 13, 2015 AlterNet.org, article, “America Is Ready for Socialism! Massive Majorities Back Bernie Sanders on the Issues and Disdain Donald Trump,” Paul Rosenberg gives us an idea of how ready our country is for the sort of economic justice espoused by Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and embraced by Senator Sanders under their rubric “Democratic Socialism:”
“You can get a strong sense of this from the results of the “Big Ideas” poll commissioned by the Progressive Change Institute in January, which has thus far gotten far less attention than it deserves. (Full disclosure: [Mr. Rosenberg is] a former blogmate with Adam Green, co-founder of PCI’s affiliate, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.) PCI first solicited ideas online through an open submission process (more than 2,600 specific proposals were submitted) and then let people vote on them (more than a million votes were cast). This bottom-up process was then tested out in a national poll. The following all received 70% support or more:
- Allow Government to Negotiate Drug Prices (79%)
- Give Students the Same Low Interest Rates as Big Banks (78%)
- Universal Pre-Kindergarten (77%)
- Fair Trade that Protect Workers, the Environment, and Jobs (75%)
- End Tax Loopholes for Corporations that Ship Jobs Overseas (74%)
- End Gerrymandering (73%)
- Let Homeowners Pay Down Mortgage With 401k (72%)
- Debt-Free College at All Public Universities (Message A) (71%)
- Infrastructure Jobs Program — $400 Billion / Year (71%)
- Require NSA to Get Warrants (71%)
- Disclose Corporate Spending on Politics/Lobbying (71%)
- Medicare Buy-In for All (71%)
- Close Offshore Corporate Tax Loopholes (70%)
- Green New Deal — Millions Of Clean-Energy Jobs (70%)
- Full Employment Act (70%)
- Expand Social Security Benefits (70%)
Later in the article, Mr. Rosenberg writes of the results of a New York Times poll: “Eighty percent of Americans favor requiring employers to offer paid leave to parents of new children and employees caring for sick family members. Even more (85 percent) favor requiring employers to offer paid leave to employees who are ill.”
Of course, not everyone agrees with this. Michael Cantrell quoting “The Conservative Review,” gives a number of statistics about Sweden and its form of social democracy without any specifics concerning their source (“Sweden enjoyed the highest growth in the industrialized world between 1870 and 1936—between 1936 and 2008 the rate dropped down to number 13 out of 28 industrialized nations…”). The article also relies heavily on a book by “Swedish-Kurdish scholar Dr. Nima Sanandaji,” titled Scandinavian Unexceptionalism published by the reactionary Institute of Economic Affairs, but once again these quotes are lacking in specifics on their sources. The subjects Mr. Cantrell seems to be most upset about are publicly supported Pre-Kindergarten (which 77% of Americans support), the fact that home schooling is not permitted in Sweden, and that pharmaceuticals, alcohol, and horse racing are directly controlled by the government. Mr. Cantrell—at least I think it is Mr. Cantrell, he is not good about differentiating where the “Conservative Review’s” thoughts end and his begin—gives a quote that he attributes to Thomas Jefferson, without attributing its origin, which makes me doubt if it is actually Jefferson. Let me give you an authentic, traceable quote of Jefferson’s, which speaks about the type of selfish individual that Mr. Cantrell presents himself as in this article.
“The human character, we believe, requires in general constant and immediate control to prevent its being biased from right by the seductions of self-love.” —Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1816. The Complete Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition; volume 14; page 489; 1904.
Jefferson—as well as James Madison and Benjamin Franklin—would have found far more in common in their political beliefs with Bernie Sanders than they would have Donald Trump, or any of the Republican candidates. Here are a few examples [modernization of words in brackets]:
“The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on. If for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be provided to those excluded from the appropriation. If we do not, the fundamental right to labor the earth returns to the unemployed. . . . It is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state.” –Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1785. The Complete Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition; volume 10; page 18; 1904.
“The probable accumulation of the surpluses of revenue beyond what can be applied to the payment of the public debt. . . merits the consideration of Congress. Shall it lie unproductive in the public vaults? Shall the revenue be reduced? Or shall it rather be appropriated to the improvements of roads, canals, rivers, education, and other great foundations of prosperity and union, under the powers which Congress may already possess, or such amendment of the Constitution as may be approved by the States? While uncertain of the course of things, the time may be advantageously employed in the obtaining the powers necessary for a system of improvement, should that be thought best.” –Thomas Jefferson: 8th Annual Message, 1808. The Complete Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition; volume 3; page 484; 1904
“This world abounds indeed with misery; to lighten its [burden], we must divide it with one another.” –Thomas Jefferson to Maria Cosway, 1786. The Complete Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition; volume 4; page 441; 1904
“To provide employment for the poor, and support for the indigent, is among the primary, and, at the same time, not least difficult cares of the public authority.”
Letter to Reverend F.C. Schaeffer, January 8, 1820 (Madison, 1865, III, page 162)
“All Property, indeed, except the Savage’s temporary Cabin, his Bow, his Matchcoat, and other little Acquisitions, absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the Creature of public Convention. Hence the Public has the Right of Regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the Quantity and the Uses of it. All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it.” —Benjamin Franklin to Robert Morris on Christmas Day, 1783, The Writings of Benjamin Franklin. Edited by Albert Henry Smyth; volume 9: p.138; New York, Macmillian and Co.; 1905-7. Taken from The Founders’ Constitution, Volume 1, Chapter 16, Chapter 12. The University of Chicago Press.
From Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln, to FDR and Truman, the ideas of Bernie Sanders come much closer to representing the American ideal than those of Donald Trump, or any of the other poorly educated and ill-informed social Darwinists on the Republican side combined.
Mr. Cantrell shows both his lack of awareness of, and disdain for history and political science from the first sentence of his article:
“Socialist Democrat—redundant—Bernie Sanders has said time and again that socialist policies like those in Sweden should be implemented here in America.”
Democratic Socialist, Liberal, Marxist, Leninist, Stalinist, Maoist: all are semantically synonymous in the limited world-view of Mr. Cantrell. As John Nichols stated so succinctly in his article from The Nation that I quoted earlier: “Truman did not cower at the mention of the word ‘socialism,’ which in those days was distinguished in the minds of most Americans from Soviet Stalinism…Nor did Truman…rave about the evils of social democracy.” I cannot cure Mr. Cantrell of his myopic world-view. God would be hard pressed to accomplish that miracle, as Mr. Cantrell and his ilk seem to wallow in the sins of Avarice, Gluttony, Wrath, and Pride. But I can quote from John F. Kennedy, in his speech to the New York State Liberal Party Convention in 1960, because his position that day matches both Senator Sanders and my own, fifty-five years later:
“If by a ‘Liberal’ they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the People—their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties—Someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, If that is what they mean by a ‘Liberal,’ then I’m proud to say I’m a Liberal.”
If caring about economic justice, our children’s future, and rejection of the failed promise of “trickle-down” economics and the brutal social Darwinism that has ensued because of it is not reason enough; if an end to crushing personal debt for our college graduates, the trampling of our workers’ rights, and the fact that millions of Americans fear illness and old age because the social safety net has been shredded does not give me cause; if an end to violation of our civil rights and liberties by both government and employer, the growing necessity to keep myself safe from the predations of both criminals and law enforcement, and a righteous demand to end the dominance of corporations in our nation’s political, economic and social life sounds a clarion call for a change of view; and finally, if ending the need for an American to work two or more jobs to put a roof over his/her family’s head, feed and clothe themselves, and acquire a decent level of health care in case of accident or sudden illness seems sufficient cause; if these virtues make me a Democratic Socialist, as Mr. Cantrell implies, then I wear that badge with pride, together with Senator Bernie Sanders. I suspect many of you will as well.