Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders Minus War, Weed, and Surveillance Is Just a Shouty Statist

In order to achieve "unity" with Hillary Clinton, the democratic socialist drops most everything that made him interesting


Grumpy Californians. ||| Matt Welch
Matt Welch

Day One of the Democratic National Convention was an extended, multi-act drama centered on one main question: Will the passionate Bernie Sanders supporters, after coming so hard at the queen, hold their noses and unify behind Hillary Clinton?

Sanders revolutionaries helped chase Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Shultz away from the podium, made noise at a series of raucous demonstrations throughout Philadelphia, booed their own party's candidate with much more gusto than anti-Trump Republicans managed in Cleveland, received a tongue-lashing from fellow traveler Sarah Silverman and some heavy sub-tweeting from a captivating Michelle Obama, then finally got the hard sell from the candidate himself.    

But lost in the will they/won't they hubbub was a curious vanishing act. In order to make his peace with the interventionist, nanny-state presumptive nominee, Bernie Sanders had to drop or at least de-emphasize almost everything that made him interesting to at least some libertarians.

Here were some words missing from Bernie's speech last night: "War," "foreign policy," "Iraq," "Libya," "military," "defense," "surveillance," "Snowden," and "marijuana." He did talk about drugs, but only along the lines of "The greed of the drug companies must end." Turns out when you strip out the only areas in which Sanders is skeptical of government, all you have left is an insatiable desire to change people's behavior and spend other people's apparently inexhaustible supply of money.

"We have begun a political revolution to transform America," Sanders said, "and that revolution – our revolution – continues."

Sadly, as reinforced both by his speech yesterday and the pet issues of his hardcore supporters in Philadelphia, the beating heart of that revolution was never about the areas where the Vermont senator overlaps with libertarianism. It was about income inequality, a $15 minimum wage, banning fracking, and opposing all trade agreements—remember, Sanders has never endorsed one even in retrospect, believing falsely that international trade is a "race to the bottom."

Much hay was made at the convention yesterday about how the Democratic platform is the "most progressive" in the party's history. But almost all of the Berniefication of the platform came in the form of boosting Washington's role in the economy, not pruning its involvement in wars foreign and domestic.

"We have come together on a proposal that will revolutionize higher education in America," he crowed last night. "It will guarantee that the children of any family this country with an annual income of $125,000 a year or less–83 percent of our population–will be able to go to a public college or university tuition free. That proposal also substantially reduces student debt." As a Clinton delegate from California described Bernie fans to me at a bar last night, "They think they can get everything for free!" And now that fabulism is baked right into the party platform.

The grim fact remains that Hillary Clinton has never felt any pressure to tack leftward this season on issues of civil liberties and war. A Democratic Party emboldened on economic meddling and unrestrained in warmaking is a recipe for statism unprecedented in recent history. A Bernie Sanders who's mum on war and weed is just a prophet for bad ideas.

Related: What we saw at the Democratic presidential debate in Brooklyn.