Reason Podcast

How Socialist Are the Democrats?

A discussion about the state of the party, as presidential debate season kicks off


Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) gave a long-awaited speech about the meaning and import of his preferred ideological label, "democratic socialism." Also last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) began eclipsing Sanders in some polls, Joe Biden and other presidential candidates stepped up their critiques of President Donald Trump's trade policies, and the Democratic National Committee announced the 20 participants in the campaign's first debate. So what does that tell us about the beating heart of the country's major left-of-center political party?

Lots of different things, argue Katherine Mangu-WardNick Gillespie, Peter Suderman, and Matt Welch on today's Editors' Roundtable edition of the Reason Podcast. The ensuing discussion covers trade, immigration, minimum wage laws, Social Security, and Suderman's new Unitary Theory of Health Care Politics. The podcast also chews on Robby Soave's new book, the awfulness of Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.), and the awesomeness of Martin Scorsese's new Bob Dylan sorta-documentary.

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Audio production by Ian Keyser.

'Rags 2 Riches Rag' by Audionautix is licensed under CC BY 4.0


Relevant links from the show:

"Democrats Are Fighting Over Socialism, and the Socialists Are Winning," by Peter Suderman

"Elizabeth Warren Is Starting to Beat Bernie Sanders in the Polls," by Matt Welch

"Biden Is Turning Trump's Trade War Into a Major Campaign Issue. More Democrats Should Follow His Lead." By Eric Boehm

"Democrats Have Never Been More Pro-Immigration, Thanks to Trump," by Shikha Dalmia

"Perils of 'Democratic Socialism,'" by Ilya Somin

"Bernie Sanders Thinks Medicare for All Would Solve America's Health Care Problems. It Would Make Them Worse." By Peter Suderman

"Iran Will Exceed Nuclear Stockpile Limit in Response to U.S. Sanctions," by Robby Soave

"If Trump Doesn't Want a War With Iran, He Should Stop Pushing Iran Towards War," by Daniel DePetris

"Here Are 5 Times Donald Trump Warned Against Going to War With Iran," by Eric Boehm

"Campus Radicals Against Free Speech," by Robby Soave




NEXT: Young Radicals Against Free Speech: Reason's Robby Soave on His New Book, Panic Attack

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  1. Here’s the Green New Deal”

    1) “Guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States.”

    2) “Providing all people of the United States with – (i) high-quality health care; (ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing; (iii) economic security; and (iv) access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature.”

    3) “Providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States.”

    4) “Meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.”

    5) “Repairing and upgrading the infrastructure in the United States, including . . . by eliminating pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as much as technologically feasible.”

    6) “Building or upgrading to energy-efficient, distributed, and ‘smart’ power grids, and working to ensure affordable access to electricity.”

    7) “Upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification.”

    8) “Overhauling transportation systems in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in – (i) zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing; (ii) clean, affordable, and accessible public transportation; and (iii) high-speed rail.”

    9) “Spurring massive growth in clean manufacturing in the United States and removing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and industry as much as is technologically feasible.”

    10) “Working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible.”

    They intend to achieve all of these goals within ten (10) years.

    1. What is it with high speed rail and these people?
      From what I’ve read on the subject, high speed trains are big energy hogs and aren’t really any more efficient or environmentally friendly than flying.

      1. We’re trying to save the planet, here, Zeb. You can’t let yourself get distracted by facts and logic. Focus on the willingness to sacrifice and your faith in the experts, and, eventually, it’ll all start to make sense.

      2. Hey, when all the cool kids [Seattle, Denver, et al] have one, you gotta have one too. No matter how much it costs or how many people actually use it.

      3. Europe/Japan has them and these people took a vacation once and they were great and fun, so we need them regardless of anything else?

        1. I’m pretty sure that’s what it’s really all about. Those Europeans are just so cool and with it!

          1. European rail is really hit or miss. If you go to Italy, you’ll understand why making the trains run on time was such a big deal.

        2. It’s become abundantly clear that just as Europeans have no clue about how large the US is, Americans too have no idea just how small Europe is.

          1. My grandpappy had to learn real fast.

            1. I assumed Europe was quite large – it took my dad and some of his buddies nearly 2 years just to travel from one end of Italy to the other. Of course they were using tanks instead of high-speed rail, and there were all those German tourists clogging up traffic, but that’s still a long trip.

              1. They would’ve made it faster except Mark Clark was a stupid fuck.

          2. Americans too have no idea just how small Europe is

            ^ This. Partly it’s perception – it seems the opposite because small distances seem very large to Europeans vs. Americans and vice-versa.

            I once nearly caused several English people to faint by declaring my intent to drive from Manchester to Bath in one day! It can take, like, three hours. And when you get there, the place is full of those weird Southerners!

            1. Unfortunately, it’s not just Europe that Americans don’t understand the vastness of. Most Americans (by number) live within spitting distance of a shoreline (ocean, Great Lake or Gulf of Mexico) and have never ventured “inland”. Trains are great when the distance is a few tens or maybe a couple hundred miles, AND when the population densities are mindnumbingly high, but let the population density drop to a reasonable number (< a few score per sq mile), and it doesn't work financially. Like it or not, if we're going to inhabit a country this big and move around even a bit, we're gonna be using personal cars.

              (I"ve ridden on those trains in Europe. Very nice, they're quite proud of them, they should be. But they ain't cheap, even with massive subsidies. And, unless it's an express from Paris to Vienna stopping only in Bern and Salzburg, all the speed in the world doesn't matter – station stops, however brief, are real time killers.)

              1. “Trains are great when the distance is a few tens or maybe a couple hundred miles, AND when the population densities are mindnumbingly high, but let the population density drop to a reasonable number ”

                This is simply untrue. There is no passenger rail system anywhere in the world that can cover it’s operating expenses entirely from passenger fares. Passenger rail can’t function without constant government subsidies.

                1. “”There is no passenger rail system anywhere in the world that can cover it’s operating expenses entirely from passenger fares. “”

                  GroundTruth never made an argument that it could.
                  “and it doesn’t work financially. ”
                  “But they ain’t cheap, even with massive subsidies. “

                  1. He made the comment that trains a great under certain conditions. I they can’t operate economically without subsidies (excluding capital costs) then they aren’t great.

              2. Are you familiar with the history of the United States?

                Railroads were instrumental in the development of countless towns/cities, to imply you can’t inhabit a country this big without personal cars makes no sense at all

      4. Totalitarian Control. Best practice to control a population is to abolish private ownership of cars, transportation and guns and/or self defense.

      5. More public transportation will push people away from privately methods of transportation. This helps the progtards control the movements of the little people.

      6. “aren’t really any more efficient or environmentally friendly than flying.”

        It’s worse than that. Passenger trains aren’t even competitive with cars for energy efficiency even on a per passenger/mile basis.

    2. While accusing a Democratic candidate for president of being a socialist for reasons other than supporting the Green New Deal is entirely possible, I don’t think a candidate can support the Green New Deal without at the very least being open to socialist programs.

      This article breaks down the Democrat candidates by their level of support for the Green New Deal as following:

      Co-sponsors of the Green New Deal:

      Bernie Sanders
      Cory Booker
      Kamala Harris
      Elizabeth Warren
      Amy Klobuchar
      Kristin Gillibrand

      Supporters of the Green New Deal:

      John Delaney
      Jay Inslee

      Beto O’Rourke wants to spend $5 trillion on climate change and be carbon neutral by 2050–instead of just in ten years. Far as I’m concerned, if Stalin’s 5-year plan had been a 15-year plan, it still would have been socialist.

      Joe Biden declared himself for president after that article was published. He’s since announced a Green New Deal Plan of his own. So I’d put him in, at least, the supporters list.

      Adding up the support for each of those candidates, you get north of 80% support from Democrats for Green New Deal Candidates.

      Surely, some of the undecided vote can’t decide which Green New Deal candidate they like best, and we haven’t started adding in Democrats who support Medicare for All, Democrats who support their idea of a Universal Basic Income, etc. They’re a bunch of fucking socialists, and I’d rather vote for the devil.

      1. Something tells me that very few of them have any real intentions of doing much if any of that stuff.
        But it is absolutely terrifying that it gets taken seriously at all by anyone.

        1. That’s what they said about ObamaCare. Right up until the day it passed, Suderman was sure it wouldn’t.

          That’s what they always say about socialists, too. They aren’t really doing to do that stuff . . .

          One of the problems with Socialism is that once you start going down that route, it’s difficult or impossible to stop. The same things always happen for the same reasons.

          Once you decide to set the price of food or electricity below the cost of production, you can pull back as production slides to the level of reimbursement, but if you don’t do that right away–eventually you have to start throwing the producers in jail or nationalizing things. During the electricity crisis in California, Gray Davis threatened to throw PG&E executives in prison if they stopped producing electricity. Luckily, California saw the light and pulled back from nationalizing that stuff. When Chavez did the same thing with food, instead of pulling back, he felt like he had to go through with it. The more he nationalized, the worse it got, but he wasn’t in a position any different from when the Bolsheviks took over or when Castro took over Cuba.

          You don’t get to choose anything other than nationalization and authoritarianism once things go south because of your socialist program. If you do, you end up out of power, and once you’re in a position of power after a revolution, there are few retired revolutionaries. When Maduro falls from power, he either ends up in a foreign country like Idi Amin or he ends up like Ceausescu.

          Few of the socialist revolutionaries after Pol Pot really think they’re going to the wall to transform society. But you don’t need to think it’s going to be that way when you begin. You just need to get the ball rolling, and once you make the decision to keep going past a certain point, all the rest of your decisions are more or less made for you.

          Dread those first steps, the rest of them will be made on autopilot.

          Look at how deeply unpopular Truman was–because of the end of wartime price controls. His decision to pull the rug out from under his own popularity may have been tougher for someone in power than the decision on whether to wipe out the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Doing the hard thing to undermine their own power–that’s not what people in power usually do on purpose.

          1. Its official in every single poll and metric, they are marxists:

        2. Zeb, California is now instituting a state mandate for health insurance under the ACA which will go towards illegal immigrant healthcare. Colorado will introduce an abolish TABOR constitutional amendment question in November.

          The intentions are real.

          1. hey…Obama said ACA wouldn’t benefit illegals.

      2. Don’t forget to account for those Democratic voters who would vote for the worst possible Democratic candidate they can imagine just because : Republicans = EVIL!

        1. People here may think I’m a Republican shill, but the worst Republican to run in my lifetime, McCain, did not come close to securing my vote. That would never happen.

          Didn’t vote for Obama either. I just threw away my vote on whatever loser the LP ran. I think it was Barr.

    3. And here’s why we don’t need high-speed rail:

      # of airports by country:
      China – 463
      European Union – 1,882
      India – 253
      Russia – 594
      USA – 5,054

      Compared to other countries with large land masses, we’re the only one build around aviation. To tear it down and rebuild a rail-based country is as ridiculous as it is mindless.

      Airports by Country

      1. What’s the hold up for electrically powered commuter aircraft?

        Is it the charging times for batteries? Is it weight of the batteries?

        Is it the lack of competition in the industry?

        They can put a Tesla in orbit, but they can’t build a hybrid commercial airplane?

        1. Combustion keeps going in a lightning strike.

        2. Weight is a huge one, so you can only have so much battery capacity on board which means range is pathetic even at more efficient slow, low power settings. Charging time would be too long for anything that needs a turn around time of less than an overnight pit stop. And the batteries still do catch on fire way too often from overcharging, improper cell balancing, minor damage, overheating, etc…
          On the non technical side, the aviation world in general moves at a snail’s pace and everything costs way above the cost of development/production thanks to FAA certification/regulations, the insurance industry and parasite lawyers suing aviation manufacturers into the ground.

          1. In theory, you could just have enough battery power to reach a decent altitude, and run for the rest of the (over land) flight using beamed power via microwaves, while recharging the battery for the landing.

            But you’d lose all flexibility that way, you’d be stuck using defined flight corridors with expensive infrastructure, unless the microwave beamer was located in orbit, which for a long time will be even more expensive.

            Basically batteries are always going to be less energy dense than fuel, because you have to carry around BOTH ends of the chemical reaction, not just one end. Though metal-air batteries have the potential to change that if they ever get them working well.

        3. “They can put a Tesla in orbit, but they can’t build a hybrid commercial airplane?”

          The rocket that put it in orbit was internal combustion, and not by accident.

          1. “The rocket that put it in orbit was internal combustion, and not by accident.”

            Actually, it was an external combustion oxy-kerosene engine.

        4. “What’s the hold up for electrically powered commuter aircraft?”

          The energy density of current batteries is still quite a bit less than gasoline, even more so for jet fuel. Battery technology is improving daily however……..

        5. “What’s the hold up for electrically powered commuter aircraft?”

          The unavailability of fusion reactors that are both small enough to fit on an aircraft and large enough to generate sufficient power to run the aircraft.

          Seriously, it might be possible to build a small 4 seat single engine bush plain that’s all electric and has a decent range, but there is no way you get to commercially viable passenger plains on batteries.

    4. “7) “Upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification.””

      These people are fucking regarded if they think all of that is possible. Never mind the rest of it.

      1. It’s not supposed to be possible, it’s supposed to enable the government take over of everything.

  2. Look, even if Democrats fully embrace socialism, we Koch / Reason libertarians should still support them. Because we stand for #ImmigrationAboveAll, and the Republicans have been taken over by alt-right white nationalists.

    Open borders socialists > Anti-immigration capitalists


  3. I remember back when Democrats took the label “socialism” as a smear.

    Those were the days.

    1. The problem is that there’s no way to know how socialist programs will end up before you enact them. Yeah, we’ve seen what happened in the USSR, China, Cuba, Venezuela, but that’s different because Bernie Sanders, Liz Warren, and other Democrats, well, they really care about people. Maduro doesn’t, and that’s ultimately why people are fleeing Venezuela are fleeing by the millions and those who stay behind are suffering from malnutrition. Have we really seen what socialism can do with a woman like Liz Warren in charge? So, anyway, that’s the problem: We have to pass socialism to see what’s in it.

      1. I’m definitely becoming a prepper; used to think those people were all crackpots, but that was before Princess LIzawatha and her ilk took the stage. Now I’m pretty certain we’re all gonna starve to death well within the 10 year doomsday timetable.

        1. The reason the framers thought we might need the Second Amendment right to keep our powder dry was not because they were against crime or big on hunting and target shooting. They had to fight a revolution like that themselves. They really knew what they were doing. I was in LA during the riots in 1992. 1,100 buildings were burned, and Koreans were targeted specifically.

          When you see the left dehumanizing people, especially, it’s really disturbing. Whether they intend to or not, they’re painting the opposition as white, racist, homophobic, misogynistic rapists who want to destroy the very earth with their selfishness and capitalist ideology. If present trends continue, this isn’t likely to end well, but the good news is that these trends haven’t continued in the past.

          Generation Y is fleeing the inner cities for the suburbs like their “white flight” grandparents did. This wouldn’t be the first generation that became more conservative and less socialist as they got older. Plenty of the hippies turned into yuppies. Wasn’t it Churchill who said that if you aren’t a socialist when you’re young, you don’t have a heart, and if you don’t become more conservative as you get older, then you don’t have a brain?

          We’ve been through this before. The cost of freedom is eternal vigilance, though. I hope we never need to use the Second Amendment for its intended purpose, but that need for eternal vigilance will always be present. That’s why Cromwell told his men to have faith in God but to keep their powder dry. We may live to seem some incidents, but we saw worse than this in the early 70s. The socialists were a bigger threat than this during the Great Depression and before it, too.

          Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

    2. Gosh, I even remember when Democrats weren’t actively opposed to property ownership and capital accumulation!

      1. They really aren’t now.

        At least not for themselves.

        You? Nah. You don’t qualify.

    3. Nowadays they insist that appending the word “democratic” to “socialism” cleanses it of ill effect. It’s sort of like an overeater who cleans out a buffet table but insists that it’s okay because he washed it down with a diet soda.

        1. National Socialist German Workers’ Party?

    4. It just proves that the democrat party must go. It is nothing but a clearinghouse for marxism, subversion, and at times, outright treasonous behavior. The sooner it goes, and we deal with the enemy within the better.

  4. The democrats aren’t socialist enough.
    They need to be much more open about their dreams of re-education camps, gulags, firing squads, a complete redistribution of wealth, choosing the right dictator, ration stores, etc. instead of keeping silent about these wonderful ideas that have proven successful down through the decades in other socialist paradises like Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela.
    So, be honest and show your true socialist colors, democrats if you want even more idiots to vote for you in the next election.

    1. “proven successful down through the decades in other socialist paradises like Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela.”
      No, not successful. These socialist states never went “all in” in wiping out the kulaks and wreckers; therefore, their socialist paradises have failed. Only those who truly care for people can be trusted to liquidate all those who get in the way of creating the Soviet Man.

  5. the awesomeness of … Bob Dylan sorta-documentary.

    Not likely.

    1. Come now. Is there a musician who’s been as under-appreciated as Dylan?

      1. Sixto Rodriguez?

      2. John Dowland before Sting discovered him?

        Johann David Heinichen?

        1. John Dowland before Sting discovered him?

          Now you’re talking! Take me some “Frog Galliard” any day.

  6. How socialist are the Democrats?

    A fair amount.

    A fair and equal amount.

    Some animals are more equal than others.

  7. Democratic socialist…. reminds me of the general example of democracy being “two wolves and sheep voting of what to have for lunch”. And that’s just “democracy”!

    1. Or Buttplug, Pedo Jeffy and a 10 year old voting on rape laws.

    2. Democracy = Two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for lunch.

      Democratic Socialism = Two wolves, a Lion, and a sheep voting on how to divide lunch among them. 🙂

  8. How socialist are Democrats?

    Lol there’s been one mainstream socialist democrat in basically the history of this country..

    The great irony is that if Democrats were half as liberal as the Right likes to pretend, they’d actually win elections

  9. It’s disheartening to me that a group of people so concerned with the deficit almost completely ignore the substance of Tulsi Gabbard’s platform. Instead of discussing principles or policy we have Matt “uh uh” Welch promoting a smear peice to discredit her religious choice. That’s why he says we should “read past the headline.”

    Tulsi is the ONLY presidential candidate to publicly state she would stop wasteful regime change wars.

    She’s the ONLY candidate on record that she would not prosecute whistle blowers, and would pardon Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.

    Now I don’t agree with a lot of her policies, but endless wars and 1st amendment protections should be major issues for Libertarians that need to be discussed openly. I expected more from reason. I was suspect after their half-assed reporting on Venezuela, but after listening to this podcast, dedicated to disseminating democratic candidates, they’ve proved they’re establishment boot lickers just like the rest of mainstream media.

    If you’re interested in some measured reporting on Tulsi and what mainstream media is doing to her, please check out this link:

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