When critics attacked MSNBC for being a left wing version of Fox, its progressive defenders (who are dwindling in numbers these days) used to point to a very specific but important distinction. Sure, MSNBC has an editorial point of view, but their opinions are based on factual statements whereas Fox News’ editorial viewpoint is backed up by RNC talking points. After all, how many times have we heard Fox News anchors and hosts uncritically repeat statements now proven to have been false, like “Obamacare is a job killer?” MSNBC may reach a conclusion you don’t agree with, but they don’t just make up their own facts, right? Right? Enter Chris Matthews, stage left.
Frankly he is a host whose show I used to watch at great length before, partly because I appreciated his ability to cut politicians off who want to give a 10 minute answer filled with their talking points without really answering his question. However, when he transfers that onto guests who aren’t running for office, the optics of it are that he is a bully who won’t let people speak. Moreover, while I understand that in this day and age we have moved away from the Walter Cronkite “just the facts ma’am” news reporting into opinionated punditry, his unabashed shilling for Barack Obama during his 2008 surpassed any and all bounds of reason. Whether it was calling Obama’s Iowa Caucus victory “Lexington and Concord” or his now notorious remark that Obama gives him a thrill up his leg, he has had numerous memorable moments where you wonder if he has taken his medication that day.
It seems that in this particular Democratic primary, he has not chosen Hillary Clinton, the object of his derision in the last primary, to defend as much as he has chosen to make Bernie Sanders his punching bag. One such attack occurred when Matthews had the DNC Chairperson on his show when he insinuated that a politician like Bernie Sanders doesn’t belong in the Democratic party because he calls himself a democratic socialist. While we have not been big fans of Ms. Wasserman-Schultz on this site, in this case she did the right thing by refusing to get into the fray to suggest Bernie Sanders doesn’t belong in the Democratic Party because as DNC Chair, she needs to at least appear neutral and impartial. The exchange was widely reported in corporate media and as a result seen far outside of Chris Matthews’ audience.
When Chuck Todd invited Matthews on his Beltway respected “Meet the Press” Sunday talk show program, Matthews made it even more clear that the purpose of the exchange was to elicit a statement that Bernie Sanders did not belong in the Democratic Party and doubled down on a statement that is completely and utterly false. In his view, “[i]t is always harder to explain being a liberal or a progressive, it is a lot harder than being a right wing or a left wing. You’re actually somewhere center-left, and it is a little bit harder to define. It is about a record in this country for 200 years of being for Social Security, Medicare, Civil rights. It is about interventions in the market, but not getting rid of the markets. [Democrats] accept the power and the efficiency of the capitalist system. Socialists do not, there is a fundamental difference.” This is a 100% untrue statement and it is straight out of Sean Hannity’s playbook.
At some point in the past five decades, every single western European country has been governed by a Socialist, Social Democratic or Labor party and not one of them has abolished market economics. Not one. There are no examples. If you are wondering why that may be the case, it dates back to the late 50s when the German Social Democratic Party, a leader among socialist movements in the western world due to the party’s age as well as Germany’s relative size, signaled a change in policy and abandoned what were seen as outdated concepts. The Social Democrats adopted a new program at their 1959 Party conference which rejected its previous Marxist class struggle in favor of a “people’s party strategy” which will not emphasize class but try to appeal across the socioeconomic spectrum, where it abandoned both nationalization of the means of production as a goal and accepted market economics, limited the role of government to curing the excesses of capitalism, like the concentration of wealth at the top and the endemic poverty that it creates as a result. in the western world, every single like minded party and movement has long since accepted these tenets. You may wonder what about Communist Russia and Maoist China, but those eastern movements split from western Socialists even earlier, approximately in the late 19th century, when westerners abandoned violent revolution and committed themselves to capturing power only at the ballot box, while socialist in eastern countries like Czarist Russia where there were no hopes of competitive elections kept it and then continued on their own course. The eastern movements are more familiar to American audiences because Russia morphed into the USSR, our cold war enemy, but it is removed from anything that democratic socialists have been advocating by over a century.
So to bring this back to present day America. Regardless of whether it is reputable MSNBC personality Chris Matthews, or some right wing troll on the internet telling you that Bernie Sanders wants to end the free market, that statement is in the same league as the Obama birther conspiracy. It is utterly discredited, has zero evidence to support it, and relies entirely on prejudices that society may have amassed, in Obama’s case our long and tortuous history of racial discrimination, and in Sanders case our decades outdated Cold War paranoia. Bernie Sanders has never advocated that we abandon our capitalist system and I guarantee you that he never will. That’s why he wants a tax on Wall Street speculation to finance his programs like tuition free public colleges Mr. Matthews. Do you actually think we would have a stock market from which Bernie’s government would collect tax revenue if he was in favor of ending capitalism? Just like you gave Debbie Wasserman-Schultz the benefit of the doubt that she didn’t have an “intellectual problem,” I too will give you the same benefit that a man of your intelligence is smart enough to see how ridiculous your argument becomes after just minimal scrutiny. We are left then with the inescapable conclusion – that you in fact intentionally lied and misrepresented Bernie Sanders’ economic views on a subject that you know to be inflammatory to the American people. Shame on you for lying to the American people and for engaging in the kind of fear mongering character assassination that you have criticized others for.
In 2015 America, the difference between a democratic socialist and a democrat explains the rise of Bernie Sanders – democratic socialists are interested in regulating the market so as to insure the economic gains of capitalism are shared across all socioeconomic swaths of society and not just those at the top, while Democrats are interested in paying lip service to the idea, but not actually doing anything about it. The Democratic Party of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama engages in massive trade agreements across North America like NAFTA, massive agreements across the Pacific like the TPP, all of which result in enormous gains in corporate profit at the top but in losses of high paying jobs to the middle class here in America, which if they are replaced, are in the service sector and mostly pay way below the jobs we have lost. The Democratic Party of today works with Republicans to remove restrictions on banks becoming “too big to fail” which leads to asset bubbles and massive recessions, and when those same banks are exposed to have committed massive fraud, not a single one of the fraud’s architects is jailed. These positions do not represent the rank and file of the Democratic Party is, nor the democratic leaning independent voters of America. They are looking for a candidate who will actually convert the Democrats’ rhetoric into actionable policy and actually follow through. If there is one thing on which Bernie Sanders’ supporters and critics can agree, it’s that Bernie Sanders means every word he says on the campaign trail.
Here is a piece of unsolicited advice to Chris Matthews and the Democratic elites out there who are telling Bernie’s supporters that he and his ideas aren’t welcome in the Democratic party – be careful what you wish for!. Bernie’s support is deep among Democrats, and with every vicious lie such as this one, you are making it more difficult for all Democrats to come together under one nominee – this rings true for both Clinton / Biden supporters if Bernie wins, and for Sanders’ supporters if one of the other candidates does. If your divisive rhetoric splits the party, the Republicans will stop worrying about electing the person who can appeal most to the center, because you will have driven a wedge among people on the left. So next time you want to say Bernie’s ideas have no place in the Democratic Party, contemplate a Ted Cruz presidency first.