Read: Bernie Sanders is the Democratic front-runner
For most of his career, Sanders—who identified as an independent but who caucused with Democrats—was treated like a curiosity and even a bit of a crazy uncle by Democrats, who considered the label socialist to be a smear.
The most prominent socialist in America, Sanders has gained a following, and in 2016, he challenged Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination. He eventually lost, of course, but not before winning roughly 13 million votes and 23 primaries and caucuses against Hillary Clinton, who got 17 million votes and won 34 contests. He electrified Democratic audiences in ways she could not, drawing a crowd of nearly 30,000 in Portland. The hashtag “Feel the Bern” exploded in popularity in 2016. Sanders particularly inspired the younger generation, drawing far more votes in the primaries from those under the age of 30 than did Clinton and Trump combined.
The 77-year-old Sanders is now a front-runner for the 2020 Democratic nomination, with The New York Times declaring that his leftist ideas on health care, taxes, the environment, and other matters are defining the race.
“Those ideas that we talked about here in Iowa four years ago that seemed so radical at the time, remember that?” Sanders said during a return trip to the state earlier this month. “Shock of all shocks, those very same ideas are now supported not only by Democratic candidates for president but by Democratic candidates all across the board, from school board on up.”
“In 2016 Iowa helped begin the political revolution,” he continued. “Now as we move to 2020 our job is to complete that revolution.”
Read: Will the left go too far?
He’s not kidding, and he’s not alone. Among the freshman class of House Democrats, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—now the second-most-famous democratic socialist in America—is the unquestioned star among the base. According to Dan Balz of The Washington Post, Ocasio-Cortez is “the titular leader of a progressive grass-roots movement pushing the party to the left.” (The mere mention of her name elicits spontaneous applause on programs like The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.)
Another prominent member of the freshman class of House Democrats, Ilhan Omar, recently dismissed former President Barack Obama—who not that long ago defined the progressive wing of the Democratic Party—as too right-wing. “We don’t want anybody to get away with murder because they are polished,” she said, “we want to recognize the actual policies that are behind the pretty face and the smile.”
To more fully grasp the leftward lurch of the Democratic Party, it’s useful to run through some of the ideas that are now being seriously talked about and embraced by leading members of the party—ideas that together would be fiscally ruinous, invest massive and unwarranted trust in central planners, and weaken America’s security.
- The Green New Deal, a 10-year effort to eliminate fossil fuels “as much as is technologically feasible” that would completely transform the American economy, put the federal government in partial or complete control over large sectors, and retrofit every building in America. It would change the way we travel and eat, switch the entire electrical grid to renewable energy sources, and for good measure “guarantee” high-paying jobs, affordable housing, and universal health care. It would be astronomically costly and constitute by far the greatest centralization of power in American history.
- Medicare for all, which would greatly expand the federal role in health care. Some versions would wipe out the health-insurance industry and do away with employer-sponsored health plans that now cover roughly 175 million Americans. This would be hugely disruptive and unpopular (70 percent of Americans are happy with their coverage), and would exacerbate the worst efficiencies of an already highly inefficient program.
- Make college tuition-free and debt-free, with the no-debt promise including both tuition and living expenses—a highly expensive undertaking ($50 billion a year or so just for the federal government)—that would transfer money from less wealthy families whose children do not attend college to wealthier families whose children do. It could also have potentially devastating effects on many private, not-for-profit colleges.
- Increase the top marginal tax rate to 70 percent from its current rate of 37 percent for those making more than $10 million, unwise in the 21st-century economy and far above the average top rate for OECD nations; and impose a “wealth tax” that would levy a 2 percent annual tax on a household’s assets—including stocks, real estate, and retirement funds—above $50 million. It isn’t even clear whether a tax on wealth rather than income would be constitutional, but that almost seems beside the point.
- Abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which upholds immigration laws; protect “sanctuary cities” (local jurisdictions that don’t fully cooperate with federal efforts to find and deport unauthorized immigrants); and take down existing walls on the southern border, walls which Speaker Nancy Pelosi has referred to as “an immorality.” These policies signal that Democrats don’t really believe in border security and are mostly untroubled by illegal immigration.
- Eliminate the Senate filibuster, pack the courts, and put an end to the Electoral College. The effect of these would be to weaken protections against abuses of majority power.
- Reparations for African Americans to provide compensation for past injustices like slavery, Jim Crow laws, and redlining. (Senator Elizabeth Warren believes Native Americans should be included as well.) Reparations would pose countless practical problems and create unintended consequences, as David Frum argued in these pages.
- Opposition to any limits on even third-trimester abortions, and opposition to the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, legislation clarifying that babies who survive attempted abortions must receive medical care. Abortion is a very difficult issue that requires empathy on all sides—but for many of us, this stance of Democrats is morally incomprehensible.
- Increasing antipathy aimed at Israel, one of the most estimable nations in the world. Two freshmen Democrats, Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, have embraced the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement targeting Israel, and House Democratic leaders faced a fierce backlash in their efforts to condemn the anti-Semitic remarks by Omar, who has a record of anti-Semitic comments and who most recently accused supporters of Israel of dual loyalties. (The Democratic House, unable to pass a measure that focused solely on anti-Semitism, eventually passed a resolution condemning “hateful expressions of intolerance.”)