CNN's Chris Moody recently caught up with magician Penn Jillette in Las Vegas, and got the outspoken libertarian to expand on his prior enthusiasms for Democratic-socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders:
"There seems to be one person in this race who's actually genuine and not crazy. And that's Bernie," Jillette said of Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders during an exclusive backstage interview here at the Rio Hotel and Casino. "He uses the word socialist, which in the United States is what? Sixty percent socialist now? We're a mixed economy. This is all stuff a libertarian probably shouldn't say, but 'socialist' isn't a dirty word. It's a different way of looking at how the government works."
Jillette told Moody he'd likely vote for the Libertarian Party candidate, but that a Sanders administration might be a healthy thing.
"I disagree with him on almost everything," Jillette said. "Bernie Sanders in the White House gives us a chance to say, 'Is this the direction we want to go?' There's supposed to be a certain kind of experimentation with this."
What about the candidate who actually uses "libertarianish" as a self-identifier?
"I'm a little disappointed in Rand Paul," Jillette said. "Because Rand Paul is not libertarian. He's not really a small government guy."
One disagrees with Penn Jillette at one's peril, but I for one am not jumping on the Bernwagon, no matter how comparatively refreshing his popularity is next to Hillary Clinton's. "Experimentation" is better carried out in small, competing laboratories, instead of atop a federal leviathan with 4 million employees and a monopoly on force. Sanders may be a quirky individualist in the context of two-party Washington, but make no mistake: He sees your individuality, and Penn Jillette's, as clay that needs strong federal molding in service of The Revolution.
And no, that's not hyperbole. Here's Sanders this weekend on Meet the Press. Bolding will be mine:
What I understand is that the power of corporate America, Wall Street, the corporate media is so great that real change to transform our country does not take place unless millions of people begin to stand up and say very loudly and clearly that the United States government has got to represent all of us, and not just the top 1%.
No president, not Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, anybody else is going to be able to accomplish that unless millions of people stand up and say, "You know what? You guys are not going to get it all." 58% of all new income is not going to go to the top 1%. We're not going to have incredible, grotesque levels of income and wealth inequality. […]
And by the way, I hope by a political revolution we will be substantially increasing voter turnout.
[Y]ou have to be prepared to mobilize people to take on these big money interests. […] I think we can do it. And I think that's what the bully pulpit is about. And that's what organizing effort's about. And that's what this campaign is about. And we're beginning to do that, Chuck. Every day I read in the paper things that are happening someplace in this country, whether there's spontaneous outbursts of support for us. And that is what we have to mobilize. The bottom line is, unless turnout becomes much higher, we lose. Unless people are organized and politically conscious in a way that does not exist today, we are not going to transform America the way we have to. […]
[W]hat it's about is at a time when so few have so much and when the big money interests have so much political power, the real most important question is, who is prepared to mobilize the American people to stand up to these very powerful and wealthy special interests? […]
I believe what I call common sense gun reform. Plus, a revolution in mental health, making sure that if people are having a nervous breakdown, or are suicidal, or homicidal, they get the care they need when they need it.
Sorry, Bernie, but I don't want to be "mobilized." I don't want a president who views his fellow Americans as potential mob-fodder for a "revolution" to "transform America the way we have to." That conception of citizenship is as expressly anti-individualistic as John McCain's "National Greatness Conservatism."
The fact that I agree more with Sanders on, say, the folly of American intervention in the Middle East, does not blind me to the observation that this is a person whose stated intention is to amass and exercise more government power, and the presidency would give him a unique position to do just that. Ready for life under a Sanders-run Commerce Department, or Federal Elections Commission, or Environmental Protection Agency? You think he's your man to clean up the deadly mess at Veteran's Affairs?
I'm all in favor of political experimentation, particularly in the types of personalities and ideas allowed at the Adult's Table, and so I have mostly greeted the Bernmentum with pleasure. But this is a man who believes capitalism is a Hobbesian "race to the bottom" (on Meet the Press, he accurately answered the question "Are you a capitalist?" with "No. I'm a Democratic Socialist"); who says he would not retroactively endorse a single U.S. trade pact, and who thinks the problem with our entitlements system is that they're not big enough.
As a wise man once said, "I believe in individual rights so much that I don't like any sort of 'what's good for the cause'–type question.…I'm even uncomfortable telling people who to vote for." If people want to self-mobilize into some pro-Sanders "libertarian socialism," well, I'll bring the popcorn. And wonder how many times an experiment needs to be tried before people notice that it doesn't work.