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Bret Stephens: Scandanavian left-liberalism is worse than right-wing authoritarianism


Bret Stephens has forthrightly revealed himself as a sometimes-Trumper:

Yet for the overwhelming majority of Americans, life is pretty much the same under Trump as it was under Obama.

The truth of Trumpism is that it’s a morally corrosive and corrupting force, not a politically or economically catastrophic one. It’s a reality Trump’s critics need to internalize lest their criticism become a self-defeating caricature.

Second, the argument understates the radicalism of what Sanders and Warren propose. Theirs is not a painless policy massage in the direction of a kinder, gentler economy. It’s a frontal and highhanded assault on American capitalism. If it succeeded, it would entail devastating dislocations to millions of workers lasting for years. If it failed, it would have devastating effects on the country lasting for decades.

How devastating? In October, Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute tallied the costs of Mr. Sanders’s policy goals. By his calculations, the federal government would double in size. Half the American work force would be employed by the government, Mr. Riedl writes. Government spending as a percent of G.D.P. would rise to 70 percent (in Sweden, it’s less than 50 percent). The 15.3 percent payroll tax would hit 27.2 percent to help pay for Medicare for All. Total additional outlays would reach $97.5 trillion on top of the nearly $90 trillion the federal, state and local governments are projected to spend over the next decade.

At least Sanders is honest enough to call this what it is: socialism. Warren’s terminology is less forthright. Her ambition is no less breathtaking.

Fracking and health insurance — two industries that collectively employ hundreds of thousands of people — wouldn’t be better-regulated or reformed in her administration. They’d be abolished. Much of Silicon Valley, America’s premier growth engine for 40 years, would be turned into a quasi-public utility. She doesn’t have one climate plan. She has at least five, costing in the trillions, which she plans to finance partly with a wealth tax that, as a law professor, she surely knows is unconstitutional. It’s of a piece with the other dishonesties that are such a part of her political persona.

Third, the argument ignores the likely effect that a Sanders or Warren presidency would have on the right.

Chastening? Probably not. Neither candidate is any bit more interested in finding common ground with Republican-leaning voters than Trump was interested in finding it with Democratic-leaning ones. And an assertively left-wing presidency would spark a right-wing backlash that would have all of the fear and rage of the left’s Resistance — but none of its restraint.

Note the move here: compare the short-term impact of Trump’s presidency (as opposed to everything he has tried to do, and everything that would happen in his second term, and of course from the climate denier ignoring the catastrophic effects of his environmental deregulation entirely) with the proposed agendas of Sanders and Warren, none of which would pass a Senate in which Joe Manchin being the median vote is the (for the left) an optimistic scenario in the form proposed. (I also don’t “know” that a wealth tax would be unconstitutional.) But even assuming arguendo that Sanders or Warren would become Prime Minister of the United States with a unified majority government in January 2021, he’s still arguing that a political economy somewhat to the right of Denmark’s would be worse for the country than proto-fascism. Glad we have that out in the open.

At least Stephens, unlike his new colleague who also got her job based on her hatred of the Democratic Party, recognizes that Sanders and Warren are allies with similar proposed agendas. In her new column about how to win the Democratic Party Bernie is going to have to base his campaign around the idea that all other Democrats are terrible, Breunig’s move is to spend several grafs describing some (genuinely) disatasteful things about Joe Biden, and then casually slipping into the plural “opponents,” tying Biden and Warren together although the two have almost nothing in common. Except, of course, being opponents of the “lovely” Bernie Sanders, who is not so much an appealing politician as a literal saint on Earth.

Anyway, if you’re keeping score, he’s the votes potential Dem candidates can expect to get from the Stephens/Douthat/Breunig cultural reactionary wing of the Times op-ed section:

Bernie: 1

Warren: 0

Field: 2

I will be disappointed in the (now highly likely) event that Warren doesn’t get the nomination, and will probably have to be a Bernie supporter after New Hampshire. But one minor consolation is that we’ll be spared a dozen passive-aggressive Bruenig columns about how Donald the Economically Populist [Pro-Life] Dove is better than Warren the Neoliberal Warmonger.

…as a commenter observes, we should also address Stephens’s hilarious argument that a Sanders or Warren presidency would be bad because it wouldn’t “placate” the right. Like, sorry, I was alive during the Clinton administration, and saw Bill drive the entire Republican Party into a conspiracy-mad frenzy despite the fact that he made the 2020 version of Joe Biden look like Eugene Debs. One of the strongest cases for Sanders/Warren is that Republicans will react in a similarly crazed manner no matter who wins. They don’t consider any Democratic presidency legitimate.

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