Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

Earlier Bernies and the generation gap

Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society/Photo by John Russell Hines
In 1968, Sen. Eugene McCarthy personified the anti-war movement.

Watching the rise of Sen. Bernie Sanders brings to mind past Bernies — Bernie McCarthy, Bernie McGovern — even Bernie Nader. In their day, they were fresh political air destined to re-inflate the saggy lungs of democracy.

Jane Ahlin
Jane Ahlin

Until they weren’t. 

I also think of the older of our grandsons, who was about 5 years old when his mother found him sorting through papers she’d brought home from her law firm. He looked serious. She asked if he was doing some “lawyering,” and whether he might want to be a lawyer when he grew up. He answered, “I don’t know. Can boys be lawyers?”

Bernie Sanders’ presidential candidacy as the personification of the “Occupy Wall Street” crusade from a few years ago is impressive. Yet, rather than the “Bern,” it gives me heartburn. I’m one of those second-wave feminists, enthusiastic to see a progressive woman become president. As my grandson’s question makes clear, perceptions about gender — real or mistaken — limit the way all of us look at possibility and opportunity. (See it before you be it.) 

The ‘good’ over the ‘perfect’

Also — like Hillary Clinton — I’m a pragmatist. I’ll take the “good” that can be gotten over the “perfect” I dream about darned near every time. Looking at Hillary’s résumé — the breadth and depth of her knowledge and experience in high-profile positions on the national and international stage, plus her understanding for the toll that being a public figure takes on private life (yet still finding satisfaction in both) — is unparalleled among presidential candidates. She proved she could work with senators ideologically opposed to her — even the late Southern conservative Sen. Jesse Helms said nice things about her. (Is anybody asking Bernie what happens to his amazing plans for overhauling Wall Street if Republicans retain the House and Senate?) Hillary also has negotiated with representatives of countries hostile to the United States. Good grief, just sitting through 11 hours of congressional interrogation over Benghazi when there was no “there” there shows she won’t wilt or lose her cool under pressure. 

But bona fides don’t seem to count for much next to the passion of “revolution.” 

To be honest, I get that. Having come into adulthood in the late 1960s, I also get the power of the generation gap. The problem is, Bernie Sanders’ candidacy may feel new, but it echoes one-issue candidates from the past. And that doesn’t bode well. When a presidential candidate is identified with one cause, history suggests they both lose — unfortunately, so do the American people. 

McCarthy’s powerful issue

In 1968, Sen. Eugene McCarthy personified the anti-war movement. He was angry over the Vietnam War and young people responded with their own anger (and idealism and impatience). After all, old men in government weren’t being drafted. Instead, old guys sent young guys to do their fighting. For over 50,000 young men, getting sent turned out to be a death sentence. No question, McCarthy’s was a one-issue campaign, but it was a powerful issue. 

Presidential politics were much crazier in 1968 than today. Along with the anti-war movement, George Wallace started a pro-segregation party and took five Southern states in the general election. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. We can’t know whether the eventual Democratic nominee, Hubert Humphrey, would have extricated America from Vietnam faster than the Republican winner, Richard Nixon, but we know that Nixon’s policies of “Vietnamization” and bombing North Vietnam were disastrous. We also know that when the Democrats nominated anti-war candidate Sen. George McGovern in 1972, their party ended up decimated and the country under Nixon ended up with stagnant wages, rampant inflation, and Watergate. (As for Ralph Nader’s spoiler status in the 2000 election, it most assuredly resulted in U.S. initiation of the unnecessary Iraq war with all its fallout.)

“We’re-mad-as-hell-and-we-aren’t-going-to-take-it-anymore” politics can be inspirational, a pressure for change, and downright fun. Historically, however, they don’t often accomplish what was intended.

A writer and columnist from Fargo, N.D., Jane Ahlin also has taught English at Minnesota State University Moorhead.


If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (55)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/09/2016 - 08:45 am.


    I like the idea of pragmatism in general, but the problem with me and people like me is that the burden of Hillary’s pragmatism is fall more likely to fall on us than it is the Wall Street banks who pay her a small fortune to make a couple of speeches.

    When I read about how Hillary has a history of getting along with folks of different persuasions, I wonder, have they been present for the same two and a half decades of history that I have? Have they not watched the Clintons become the most polarizing and divisive politicians in recent American history? If a politician as mild and as gentle, as Barack Obama can generate absolute and unanimous Republican opposition in Congress, what hope can there be for Hillary in that respect at least?.

  2. Submitted by chuck holtman on 03/09/2016 - 09:39 am.

    Meaning no disrespect to the author,

    But I’m quite tired of those – predominantly supporters of Ms Clinton – who dismiss Sanders supporters with caricatured, simplistic straw arguments. If one undertakes to publish an article as to whom one supports and why, one has a duty to understand the best arguments of the other side and to engage them in good faith.

    I’m decades removed from the “revolutionary fervor” of youth. My support for Mr Sanders is based on a multifaceted assessment that ranges from electability, to short-term improvement of the lives of the vulnerable, to the long game for the Democratic party and humanity in general. My 19-year-old daughter supports Sanders not because of unicorns (though, unrelatedly, she is quite fond of unicorns), but based on an analysis certainly more thoughtful than what one will encounter in the opinion columns of our great newspapers. If we wish for an informed, engaged citizenry in the future, we shouldn’t condescend to today’s youth. Not having been steeped in years of establishment framing, they have a perceptivity that many older folks lack.

    Just as it was a tremendous good thing to elect a black President, so would it be a tremendous good thing to elect a female President. That counts for a lot, but it doesn’t override who that candidate is, what she or he stands for, and what she or he is likely to accomplish.

  3. Submitted by Jim Million on 03/09/2016 - 09:39 am.

    1972 Quandary

    Having just missed the 1968 voting age requirement, I then found myself in 1972 faced with a choice between “darkly insincere” and “ineffectual” (in my view, anyway).

    So, I fulfilled my civic duty by penning my first write-in: “Eugene McCarthy.”

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/10/2016 - 09:24 am.

      Small World

      Eugene McCarthy was on the presidential ballot in Minnesota in 1976. I did not see the charm of Jimmy Carter, and I would not vote for Gerald Ford, so my first presidential vote went for McCarthy.

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 03/14/2016 - 04:06 pm.

        Not sure about ’76

        I really don’t remember, except that neither party choice was mine. I do know I voted for Ralph Nader (I) along the way, and then again wrote him in for 2008 as machine protest. Most people don’t know how pragmatically positioned his philosophy became in later years.

        But, then, most of us do mellow sometime before we rot….or not.

  4. Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/09/2016 - 10:06 am.

    Different times, different issues

    By the author’s evaluation, FDR would fall into the same category. Anti war sentiment during a time of war is most definitely a single issue candidacy that could run the risk of defeat when not enough of the populace is on board. Boomer nostalgia toward their own role in social change during the 60’s is a powerful thing however. Yes you marched in the streets, yes you had sit ins, but how many of you voted? I know my parents, no hippies they, did. Perhaps if some folks focused more on actual political process than on the ostensibly libertarian concept of “tune in, turn on, and drop out” those results may have been different. The difference with Sanders “single issue” if one would like to call it that, is that it touches on all others. Income inequality drives political inequality, it drives social inequality, it drives educational inequality, it drives healthcare inequality. Whatever Clinton may do, she simply doesn’t seem to care about this, and whatever half measures she might negotiate with the right, it won’t address it sufficiently. That’s really the only point that counts in this debate. The status quo isn’t sufficient, any further movement right would be disastrous, and Clinton has shown signs of recognizing this situation. Pragmatism is fine when you’ve got room to maneuver, but three decades of conservatism has erased that space. Better to aim high and miss, then aim low, succeed, and fall further in the hole.

  5. Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/09/2016 - 10:40 am.


    Should we accept as wisdom, the advice of a group of people whose efforts brought us exactly 2 democratic administrations in many of our lifetimes? One of which through policy could more accurately be described as Republican. This, after enabling, through the pragmatic priniciple of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em “, what could be categorized the worst administration since the gilded age, for the folks they claim to represent. Thanks boomers, but no thanks.

  6. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/09/2016 - 11:44 am.


    I’m sorry, but the US missed out on the “first woman” issue a long time ago. It is no longer an amazing thing to be first woman leader of a first world country. Most of the rest of the first world, and much of the second world, has beat us to that.

    Looking to the future, many of us realize that it would be nifty if a woman could be president of the United States, but it’s more superficial than what we really NEED as a country. And many of us, not just youngsters (I’m not a Millenial, rather, on the younger side of Gen X), see Hillary as a continuation of the status quo. We don’t really care if Bernie will be able enact all his ideas, but we’re ready to stand by him as he tries, because he represents a shift forward, a foot in the door.

    Not to be ageist, but it’s time that some Boomers (greatest supporters of Hillary) learn how to pass on the reins. If it gives you heartburn to pass the reins to the Millenials, maybe the first step is to stop ignoring the existence of Gen X. We are pragmatic, too, but we’re ready for positive change, and hugs from Hillary as she goes on to empower Wall Street over people just won’t make anything better. I appreciate that a political opinion without voting is next to meaningless, but maybe more Boomers need to be looking more to the future than the past, and give subsequent generations a boost. Even though the Millenials aren’t taking up the vote in great numbers, the Boomers and Xers can still position the country to best serve its future rather than get misty eyed over the past.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 03/09/2016 - 05:49 pm.

      So well considered…

      I have come to believe Boomers also mostly look to themselves after creating a sub-set of Xers who certainly do more of that same. Many Millenials are children of that evolution.

      So, the challenge seems to come in reforming Xers to think less about themselves and do something more forward looking for their offspring. Seems to become circular…at least very confusing. [I’m purposely cursory here, so please bear with my view from the surface.]

      Maybe we can get started by re-reading “Bonfire of the Vanities” (certainly not by seeing the movie version).

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 03/09/2016 - 11:49 pm.

      Cannot Quite Figure HRC Support

      Maybe this is the last gasp of the Blue whale, as we definitely witness final days of the Red mastodon. So far, HRC support seems to be white professional women (liberal and moderate) and the black voting block going back 50 years. I do not quite understand the support of Latinos at all. This population is conventionally considered to be of “traditional” values: family, church, work. How the Republicans screwed up there is clear proof of their incompetence of communication.

      Frankly, I am looking forward to HRC/Trump cage fights. Someone needs to finally take her apart in public so that her philosophical patchwork is exposed to quartz light.
      Neither deserves the White House as far as I’m concerned, never ever.

      Did you notice that Joe Biden has suddenly surfaced on the international affairs circuit, now visiting Mideast venues and their leaders? Why Joe and why now? Has Kerry taken to hospital? Or, does the White House know something the rest of us would like to know? Can’t believe Biden would bother with this walkabout to show his plumage with only 9 months to go.

  7. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/09/2016 - 01:52 pm.

    Clearly for Some of Our Commenters, Here

    The past has nothing to do with the present or the future.

    It’s almost as if they believe they can make their own reality completely divorced from what currently exists,…

    and how things got to be this way,…

    and what it takes to actually accomplish change,…

    and how long it takes,…

    just by really, really wanting things to change.

    Would that it were so.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/09/2016 - 02:16 pm.

      Would that

      Some voters jaded cynicism, wrought by decades of their own failings, not be imposed on succeeding generations. I hate being harsh, because I truly have respect for those who came before, but just because YOU failed doesn’t mean something isn’t possible. Please try to see how condescending, and arrogant that mindset appears from the outside. History didn’t begin, and it certainly didn’t end, with the 1960’s.

      • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/09/2016 - 03:41 pm.

        We Said the Same Thing to Our Parents

        Just as your OWN children will say it to you.

        The question is,…

        are you and your generation willing to overcome the frustration you experience,…

        when instant change proves impossible,…

        and do what’s needed over months and years and decades to accomplish what change you can?

        Or will you just seek scapegoats and fall prey do demagoguery as so many previous generations have?

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/10/2016 - 06:41 am.

          The strangest thing

          Is that you DID accomplish much of what you set out to do. Medicare, Medicaid, civil rights and voting acts, desegregation. This was all accomplished in what, about a decade, of actual focused effort? None of this, like the New Deal before it, was accomplished through pragmatic calculation. It was bold effort, by bold leadership, supported by a bold and passionate electorate. Everything that’s happened since, the erosion of the New Deal and Great Society programs, the rightward push on social issues has come as the result of pragmatic compromise, and by mainly with the support of the same, now timid, electorate. What happened?

          • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/10/2016 - 07:54 am.

            The Things You List Were Accomplished

            by the BEST of our parent’s generation,…

            at a moment in history which allowed them to happen.

            The same “bold leadership” ten years earlier,…

            or ten years later,…

            would have come to nothing.

            The rollbacks that you describe were orchestrated by conservative big business, big finance interests,…

            in a concerted effort to develop “conservative” think tanks,…

            support candidates to their liking,…

            create “the federalist society” to develop alternate readings of the constitution which would favor the 1%, big business and big finance over regular folk,…

            and sway to the media to their cause.

            Yes, the general public, mainly boomers, allowed themselves to gradually be duped,…

            into being divided up and directing their anger at other ethnic groups,…

            “big government,” etc,…

            and systematically misdirected AWAY from seeing the true source of their increasing impoverishment.

            Those “conservative” forces are still very strongly in play,…

            still write the paychecks of much of the “mainstream” media,…

            and own weasel news, lock stock and barrel.

            Although a substantial part of the public is angry at the Republicans for not delivering what they promised (because it was impossible without COMPLETELY destroying our economy and the country),…

            they’re angry at the wrong people and for the wrong reasons.

            Bernie does not appeal to those people since he represents EVERYTHING they’ve been duped into hating and fearing over the past 50+ years.

            I fear there is much work to be done before that visceral hatred and fear of government and all things “liberal” can be overcome.

            Until THAT work is accomplished (or at least substantially begun?), we will not yet have reached the moment in history when someone like Bernie can be effective.

            Sadly, the ground work for FDR and LBJ’s major accomplishments involved the Great Depression, WWII, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the murders of many civil rights activists.

            I do not wish for a return to those conditions, but lacking such things, the long fight and incremental improvements are what’s currently possible.

            A major “liberal” project to overcome the toxic, dishonest and dishonorable thinking which so much of the general public has been force fed and by which they have been infected over the past 50 years needs to be undertaken.

            I repeat my earlier question. If (when?) Bernie fails, are his followers prepared to do what it takes to lay the groundwork for the the NEXT Bernie to succeed?

            • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/10/2016 - 09:09 am.

              Of course we are

              But I think you underestimate the pace of change, and overestimate the power of those forces you fear. I’m 37, liberal hasn’t and never will be a dirty word to me, or most of my peers. Those younger than I, of which there are many, for the most part eschew (for better or worse) those concentrated forces of media and ideology that as you say deluded the previous generation. I say again, don’t confuse the beating down received by our predecessors as the only path. You don’t beat a bully by asking them to stop, you beat them by smacking them in the mouth. This is a lesson too many have forgotten.

  8. Submitted by chuck holtman on 03/09/2016 - 05:59 pm.

    All very well said, Ms. Kahler.

    My latest thought is that perhaps votes should be weighted on a sliding scale by the age of the voter, in proportion to the amount of time the voter’s age group will labor under what is wrought of the vote. (And I don’t speak out of self interest, as such an approach would devalue my own vote.)

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 03/09/2016 - 05:30 pm.


      I like your consideration of those outcomes, while also imagining the chaos of social convention created by any process to create and install the scale. Seems we face a fair degree of coming chaos regardless, so we may as well work through positive chaos, if there is such an effective beast.

      As I recently suggested, old people should not make lasting decisions for future old people.
      This was in reference to Social Security and Medicare reform, proposing those decisions be more properly made by the 30-50 segment, those who will fund the changes and live under those standards.

      How do we rally current Millenials and Xers to create meaningful yet respectful reform for their futures?

      • Submitted by chuck holtman on 03/11/2016 - 08:34 am.

        It seems another benefit of weighting votes

        would be to prompt greater participation by the younger cohorts. First, it would communicate that society values their engagement and would convey a sense of empowerment. Second, like traveling when the dollar is strong, there would be a natural inclination to use one’s voting power when it carries the most weight.

        I’m starting to like the idea.

  9. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 03/09/2016 - 02:45 pm.

    The author makes so many misrepresentations here,

    …I’m not going to take her bait. Suffice it to say that by trying to fit Mr. Sanders into her own numerous mental boxes, she shows her profound ignorance of his candidacy, not to mention his supporters.

    Thanks for the offer of the Clinton pablum, but we’ve already eaten.

  10. Submitted by Jeff Michaels on 03/09/2016 - 04:47 pm.

    Real reason for Gene’s anger

    Gene McCarthy was certainly angry about the Vietnam War. But his real anger was directed at Lyndon Johnson for the way LBJ treated him at the 1964 Democratic convention. Once Bobby Kennedy took himself out of the running to be LBJ’s vice president that year, the politically aware Texan knew he would have to do something to generate interest at the Atlantic City convention.

    He did that by promoting speculation his vice presidential candidate would be one of three people: Connecticut senator Thomas Dodd, McCarthy or Hubert Humphrey. LBJ strung them along to create suspense for the convention. McCarthy knew he was not going to be picked and never forgave Johnson for the way he was exploited. He was upset by the war but a greater motivation was the opportunity for pay back. And he paid Johnson back big time in the 1968 election.

    It is a history lesson very, very few people know and it certainly gives credence to those folks who believe all politics is personal.

    • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/10/2016 - 07:00 am.


      I don’t know if the anecdote about McCarthy and the vice presidency was true, but McCarthy did have a reputation as a somewhat touchy politician, always somewhat unpredictable as to what he would choose to be offended by. In these days when rampant speculation consumes multiple cable tv networks for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it’s kind of sweet to imagine for ourselves a world when one rumor floated by one politician amounted to anything.

  11. Submitted by Louis Johnston on 03/09/2016 - 05:02 pm.

    Eugene J. McCarthy Centennial Celebration

    The Eugene J. McCarthy Center at St. John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict is celebrating McCarthy’s 100th birthday.  Please check our webpage,, for updates.  All are welcome!

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 03/09/2016 - 05:54 pm.

      Saw this…

      Hope they don’t insult his spirit through some sort of revisionism.
      He was one man who remains just as is, as was.

  12. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/09/2016 - 06:12 pm.

    How sad, that this discussion has descended into a generational blame game, instead of dealing with the pressing issues involved in picking a Democratic opponent to the worst bunch of GOP presidential candidates I have seen in my long lifetime.

    I’d like to see the U.S. join the developed world and be “brave” enough to elect a woman as president. But Hillary Clinton, who is my peer, is too conservative in her policy positions and in her general approach to it all: “pragmatism” rather than really pushing for solutions from the left.

    I have real problems, for example, with her willingness to go only as far as a federal minimum wage of $12 within the next four or five years! That’s pro-business, and doesn’t even go as far toward some kind of wage fairness as a number of local Chambers of Commerce would go.

    I have real problems with her resistance to eliminating the “carried-interest loophole” in the tax laws, that lets billionaire managers of private equity (leveraged buy-out) companies pay only capital-gain rates on their management fees. Here, too, she favors the ultra-wealthy (e.g., the head of Blackstone partners earned seven hundred million dollars a year [sic] for two recent years, and paid only 15 percent in taxes on it; pensioners who take a required minimum distribution from their IRA have to pay up to 39 percent in taxes). Seem fair?

    There are other progressive issues on which either nobody is asking her the right questions or she has a less-than-satisfactory answer. She doesn’t dream anymore. At all. Bernie’s folks do, and the ultra-wealthy fear the movement that’s supporting him: he’s a successful, long-term, work-across-the-aisle politician who sees the problem as clearly as Elizabeth Warren and other progressives do. Hillary’s 1990’s conservative-Democratic stance just doesn’t interest a lot of us. Even her peers.

    • Submitted by Henry Fischer on 03/13/2016 - 05:28 pm.

      Carried interest

      Hillary Clinton proposed eliminating the carried interest loophole in 2007 and has never changed her position. Her votes in the Senate were very close to Elizabeth Warren throughout her Senate time.

  13. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/09/2016 - 09:40 pm.

    What is socialism

    According to Senator Bernie Sanders, democratic socialism is everything he is proposing and nothing he is not. Or, to make it more visual, it is what Denmark is having… and that surely sounds sooo goooood.

    According to Merriam-Webster, socialism is “…various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.” Obviously, since abandonment of private ownership for “means of production” is at the core of the definition and nothing else is even mentioned, no modifier added to the term is capable of changing its meaning. And if one would honestly look at the history of socialism, in the true meaning of the word, an obvious conclusion would be that it doesn’t work. It did not work in the Soviet Union, it did not work in China and Cuba, and it did not work in Venezuela (yes, the permanent lack of toilet paper in the stores constitutes a failure of the system).

    Of course, the standard liberal response to this abysmal track record is that all those examples were wrong socialisms. And sure enough, Bernie Sanders himself said that he doesn’t believe “that government should take over the grocery store down the street, or control the means of production.” But since it is clear that allowing a corner grocery store to stay in its owners’ hands rather than being nationalized is a total contradiction to the socialist ideas, one has to admit that beloved by liberals “democratic socialism” practiced in Western Europe has nothing really to do with socialism (a term is actually an oxymoron because not a single real socialist country has ever been democratic and vice versa).

    Now that we know that the term “democratic socialism” is a misnomer, let’s look at Denmark, an ideal country that America should try to emulate, according to Sanders. Denmark is – gasp – a monarchy and has a government-supported state religion and church of which 80 percent of Danes are members (who pay on average 1% of their income to this church). It has fewer than six million people with 90 percent of that population being of Danish descent (it is interesting that liberals, who value diversity so much, picked one of the most homogeneous countries in the world as their ideal). It spends just over one percent of its GDP on national defense and it doesn’t need to spend more since it is covered by NATO (read: America, which is why it spends almost three times more in terms of percentage of the GDP than Denmark) protection. All Danes pay 8% minimum tax – regardless of income – while there are only two tax brackets after that – 6% and 21% (which is way less than Americans pay) so to compensate for that, there is a 25% flat VAT, or sales tax in layman’s terms, meaning that, again, everyone, whether rich or poor, pays this tax when buying anything; clearly, the Danish system is relying on taxing the poor much more than the American one. And – surprise – it does not have an established minimum wage. In other words, Denmark is like the whole other (very different) country… and a beautiful one too – I was fortunate to spend three days there.

    But let’s imagine for a moment that it is possible for America to become Denmark. Unfortunately, Scandinavian countries, including Denmark, are having difficulties lately (, and that is no surprise because even parts of socialism don’t work despite its looking very attractive and fooling many people.

    Socialism’s famous principle was “From each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution.” Ironically, Western democracies are basically trying to use an even more implausible communist motto, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” in their desire to make everyone equal thus often giving people money for nothing. But many people, if given a choice, would choose not to have a job if they can get by; unfortunately, societies need people to work to move forward. This disregard for human nature, that kills true socialist societies relatively quickly, is killing the West slowly, mostly because government mismanagement, rampant in the Soviet Union, is mitigated to a certain degree in the West by free elections.

    Senator Sanders advocates a higher minimum wage and free college education but forgets to mention that there is no evidence that higher minimum wage helps poor people (consider that there is no correlation between minimum wage and poverty level) and that in order to get free tuition in Europe people have to pass vigorous entrance exams that many of those who cheer Sanders and his ideas would not pass. Unfortunately, young people who adore Sanders and have positive views of socialism do not know what it really is because they were born after the USSR ceased to exist, and schools, where curriculum and textbooks are written by left leaning college professors, do not explain that either. Neither do they want to know because believing in fictitious Denmark paradise is much easier… But real life is not a fairy tale and takes hard work to succeed.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/10/2016 - 12:58 pm.

      Here is Where You Lost Me

      “Now that we know that the term “democratic socialism” is a misnomer . . .” Democracy is a system for choosing leaders. Socialism is an economic system. Socialism no more contradicts democracy than capitalism equals, or leads inevitably to, democracy.

      • Submitted by chuck holtman on 03/11/2016 - 08:30 am.

        Well, actually,

        Capitalism (at least after a fairly short time) cannot coexist with democracy, as we see well today. In other words, in a society the distribution of economic power and the distribution of political power always will align with each other. The concern about socialism isn’t that it would preclude democracy; indeed it would be very congenial to democracy (if it indeed were socialism and not state capitalism like the Soviet Union). The concerns about socialism are simply that it wouldn’t result in an economy that serves the public very well (though nor does capitalism) and that a socialized economic system installed prematurely (i.e., before the productivity and clan-destruction of capitalism has created the basis for economic sufficiency and mutual trust) will promote cronyism and corruption. Of course neither Sanders nor anyone else is advocating socialism. He, and others (like me), are just arguing that on the simplified continuum between no collective economic control on one end, and socialism on the other, we’d be much better off (economically, politically, socially, environmentally, etc) sitting measurably further toward the socialism end of the spectrum.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/11/2016 - 01:13 pm.


          I was referring to the wisdom that surfaces in right-wing circles that free market capitalism will inevitably produce democracy. Just open up the markets and the authoritarians will wither away, to be replaced by good old Jeffersonian democrats.

          After all, isn’t that how it worked in Russia? Or India? Or Singapore?

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/10/2016 - 10:36 am.

      A moment

      Before I read the entirety of your post, I want to point out that political parties of the same name as an actual political stance are not equivalent, nor are political parties of the same name in different countries. Claiming otherwise isn’t a good start to an honest conversation.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/10/2016 - 10:11 pm.

        A concept

        Mr. Holbrook, an economic system where government owes everything is an anathema to freedom because everyone depends on government; as I said, not a single real socialist country has ever been democratic and vice versa.

        Ms. Kahler, I was mostly talking about the concept, not about specific parties…

        • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/11/2016 - 08:42 am.


          You’ve started with the wrong premise. Which is why this quote: “not a single real socialist country has ever been democratic and vice versa” doesn’t make sense. First, the US is a democratic republic, not a pure democracy. Second, the US Constitution defines the US as a democratic republic, no matter who is president and what his or her political affiliations or ideas are (egad, we had a Bull Moose president, and somehow the country didn’t become a large palmate-antlered deer). Third, there has never been any “real socialist” country or “real democratic” country, so you can make no claims about their traits. Finally, democracy and socialism fit into 2 different categories. Claiming that they’re incompatible is like saying that a zoo can’t have elephants because zoos have monkeys.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/11/2016 - 09:44 am.


          You are taking the Merriam-Webster definition of “socialism” as the settled, definitive one. In fact, if you scroll down from the definition you quoted, we see that ” In the modern era, “pure” socialism has been seen only rarely and usually briefly in a few Communist regimes. Far more common are systems of social democracy, now often referred to as “democratic socialism,” in which extensive state regulation, with limited state ownership, has been employed by democratically elected governments (as in Sweden and Denmark) in the belief that it produces a fair distribution of income without impairing economic growth.”

          The term seems to be susceptible to interpretation. The Socialist International devotes more space on its website to discussions of individual rights than it does to government ownership of “everything (not difficult, since “government ownership of everything” is not mentioned anywhere). You might also look at the definition of “libertarian socialist” some day.

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 03/11/2016 - 10:31 am.

        Marketing Success

        Branding seems to be everything, forever. I’ve always chuckled at the assumption one party name is “Democratic” vs “Republican,” to slyly suggest the latter is less the former.

        Think about it.

        Happy Friday to All…

  14. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/11/2016 - 08:09 pm.

    Democracy or socialism

    Mr. Holtman, are you trying to say that America is not a democracy? Election is free and open. You maybe mixing up democracy and total equality in wealth and power but they are not the same things. Obviously, in any democracy there are people at power. Now about “state capitalism” in the Soviet Union. Please read the definition of socialism and it is obvious that it is what it was there – no way out. And as I said, there are no examples in the world when socialism and democracy coexisted. Sen. Sanders calls himself “socialist” so it is difficult to say that he is not advocating it. As for being better off with more socialism, that is what I tried to show in my post: we will not be because collective economic control removes personal incentives. Plus, if you want to move towards socialism, where do you want to stop?

    Mr. Holbrook, the idea “that free market capitalism will inevitably produce democracy” is not a right-wing but neo-conservative (that is why Bush tried it in Iraq) and totally different from what real right-wing people think. Of course, it is a wrong idea… Yes, I believe that Merriam-Webster definitions are settled – that is why they are called definitions and Webster dictionary is one of the most respected. Sure, if you scroll down, you can read “usage discussion” but it does not negate the definition. As for Denmark, I described in my post in depth. Now, Socialist International may talk about anything on its website but again, it does not change the socialism definition. And of course, by reading the Soviet Constitution, one might have thought that it was the freest country on Earth.

    Ms. Kahler, I am afraid I am missing your point. Sure, America is a Democratic Republic (not much different from a democracy for all practical purposes) but it is not socialist. And a Socialist president will not make America socialist just by being a socialist – that is a process. Of course there were socialist countries if one goes by socialism definition and of course there are true democracies, at least in a way absolute majority understand this term; saying that there were no democracies is like saying that there is no gold just because all gold contains minuscule amount of other elements. And finally, zoos have proven that they can have both elephants and monkeys by actually having them; no one has proven the possibility of socialism and democracy coexistence.

    • Submitted by chuck holtman on 03/13/2016 - 12:30 pm.

      Mr Gutman, It seems a feature

      of those who comment from the Right is the inability to distinguish between heuristics (free market, socialism, communism, etc) and the complex actual world. It is your apparent inability to diverge from black and white that causes you, bizarrely, to suggest that I am advocating for “total equality of wealth and power.” And it is this conceptual rigidity that causes those on the libertarian right, supposedly in the name of freedom, to stand for principles that in the real world lead directly to authoritarianism.

      Yes, we have elections. No, we do not have a democracy, for a number of very fundamental reasons. There has never been a socialist or communist society, and there never will be. There will be societies with different tendencies, distributed over myriad realms of economic and social life, as to where prerogatives over capital and over lawmaking will lie as between the individual and the collective.

      Where do I want to stop on the move toward socialism? At the place where a thoughtful and engaged citizenry determines that the advantages of “capitalism” (motivation, productivity, entrepreneurial creativity) and the advantages of “socialism” (preference autonomy, social cost internalization, distributional equity, better risk sharing) are in balance.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/13/2016 - 05:03 pm.

        The world is complex but it is made of relatively simple blocks, just like everything is made of a limited number of Periodic Table elements and without understanding the basics it is impossible to understand the complicated things. Now speaking of democracy, will you please define it and explain why America doesn’t have one…Yes, if one goes by socialism definition, there were plenty of socialist societies so I can say that Sanders’ supporters are ignoring the definition just because they do not like how those societies look like. As for letting citizenry determine where to stop, how did it work in Venezuela? And how can 17 year olds that Sanders wants to vote be “thoughtful” if at that age the risk liking is far ahead of critical thinking.

        • Submitted by chuck holtman on 03/14/2016 - 08:32 am.

          To take a shot at it,

          I would define “democracy” as a form of governance where there is consensus on a foundational set of values that, alongside geography, defines the society, and (a) those with the capacity to be adequately informed and to exercise critical autonomy in forming views, from behind the Rawlsian veil of ignorance, on the policies that best give expression to those values, have an equal opportunity to participate in the public discourse and select political representatives; (b) those who do not have that capacity, or choose not to exercise it, do not participate; and (c) the society is committed to increase the proportion of the former to the latter.

          If you think that definition of democracy is anywhere in the ballpark, and still find it plausible to suggest that we have one, there isn’t much left to say.

          Thank you for the exchange. I will have to take my leave from this thread now.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/13/2016 - 04:01 pm.

      Please Clarify

      I hate to belabor the point, but who declared that Merriam-Webster was the arbiter of correct English usage>

      A friend of mine who worked in journalism in the old days said that her long-time editor used to declare that “Dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive.”

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/13/2016 - 07:38 pm.

        So who is the arbiter of correct English usage? Your friend? Or his editor? There must be a definition for everything so we are able to communicate: if I say that I took a plane to Florida, you pretty much understand how I got there…Otherwise we come to Sanders’ definition of socialism that I talked about in my first paragraph of my first post.

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 03/14/2016 - 01:28 pm.

        Chuckling, RB

        How about OED?

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/14/2016 - 04:42 pm.

          At First, I Thought You Said “OCD”

          Nevertheless, here is what an online dictionary from the Oxford University Press says:

          Socialism: A political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

          . . .

          The term “socialism” has been used to describe positions as far apart as anarchism, Soviet state communism, and social democracy; however, it necessarily implies an opposition to the untrammeled workings of the economic market.The socialist parties that have arisen in most European countries from the late 19th century have generally tended toward social democracy

          • Submitted by Jim Million on 03/15/2016 - 04:08 pm.

            Thank You, RB

            My OED set with the 4pt font has become somewhat opposed to my focal length, even with accompanying magnifier.

            What are your thoughts on “social democrats” or “democratic socialists” and so forth?
            I understand the European groups, but require a bit more delineation with regard to Sen. Sanders. Do like his generally straight talk, must say.

            [Oh, really like the OCD allusion, really do. Still smiling…]

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/15/2016 - 04:50 pm.

              Social Democrats, et al.

              It is hard to come up with a clear definition that doesn’t devolve into “I know it when I see it.” I think social democrats would advocate a less privatized system of health insurance, for example. There would also be support for public ownership of utilities and transportation providers. Other industries, such as manufacturing, would not be government-owned (although the State of North Dakota owns a cement plant and bank that compete to some degree with private enterprise). There is an acknowledgement that the private sector does do some things better, and some things that are too fundamental to be left to corporate whims.

              • Submitted by Jim Million on 03/15/2016 - 10:39 pm.

                Taking Public also as Municipal,

                We have had many examples of municipal (perhaps county, also) power plants and transport, if I correctly recall. And, of course, aside from most employee programs, much health insurance has been Federal, and to a lesser degree, State: Medicare, VA, and so forth, plus state mental health and epidemic facilities for TB, polio, etc., mainly since
                WW II.

                Most large employer health plans have been “self-funded” for many years, including Union plans, with only high “stop loss” reinsurance protection coming from the industry carriers. Even today, with ACA, those plans remain in place. What we’ve done from Washington recently has essentially been some more basic filling, it would seem.

                So, it seems we already are well-seated within a social democracy. Someday perhaps I will find some better understanding of what a “democratic socialist” truly represents. If Sanders means “non-totalitarian” socialism, I understand. The U.S.S.R was effectively totalitarian with a pro-forma nod to democratic elections, for example. In any case, I have a much better understanding of what a European Social Democrat is.

                I’m still wondering how we work an avowed “Independent” Socialist into the Democratic race by simply placing his preferred modifier in the string. I suppose HRC and Party required some credible contest, at least one without significant threat. Seems they may have misunderstood some of this stuff, as well.

                Sure is a very interesting board game this time around the nation…

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/14/2016 - 09:12 am.


      Tell me, which countries are true democracies as “understood by the absolute majority.” As far as I know, the only major country with anything close is Switzerland. And, even then, the Swiss find that direct democracy for everything is a waste of time, so they actually practice a representative democracy most of the time, which makes it mostly resemble a republic. I suspect that the “absolute majority” doesn’t exist, either–at least in the context in which you used the term. But, even if you meant what you said, that would indicate that 50% +1 of all people believe that your version of “democracy” is the correct version of democracy, an assertion for which you have no proof. Further, it is interesting that “democracy” as “understood by the absolute majority” is the definition you prefer when challenged as to its existence in the real world, while the definition of “socialism” is inflexible (and inaccurate if you believe that socialism and democracy are mutually exclusive). Your positions seem quite arbitrary–a sign that the facts don’t actually fit your perception.

  15. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/14/2016 - 09:52 pm.


    I guess, I have to admit that for me, as an immigrant from the Soviet Union, democracy is synonymous with freedom (even though those two things are not necessarily exactly the same) and that is what I probably really meant. So even though it is true that there has never been a democratic socialist country, what is even more important is that there has never been a free socialist country.

    Mr. Holtman, first I should say that it is impossible to have a true consensus on anything in any society; in socialist one it may be imposed but in a democracy it cannot exist because all people are different. Neither do I think that society has to be committed to item c of your list. So all in all, I disagree with your definition. But I can assure you that moving towards socialism is moving away even from your definition.

    Mr. Holbrook, your definition is not much different from what I used: you just replaced government with community. Unfortunately, since someone has to manage those means of production, “community” morphs into “government” very quickly unless the whole system dissipates prior to that. Sure, any term may be used to describe anything (I can make an object out of paper and call it a plane but it will not take me to Florida) so real definition still governs and defines what we are talking about. And based on that, anarchism and social democracy are not socialisms and Soviet Union never had communism but a plain old socialism. And so all the old socialist parties’ goal was a true socialism; they just wanted to achieve it gradually and democratically, unlike communists who wanted a revolution.

    Ms. Kahler, in my opinion, democracy and republic are pretty much synonyms and I do not think that it really matters whether a country is a true direct democracy or just a democratic republic, at least from the practical point of view. I also strongly believe that it doesn’t matter for most people (and I mean not 50%+1 but 80%-90%) either (provided they even know the difference) even though I do not have specific statistics to prove it. But, as I said in the beginning, freedom is what truly matters and there wasn’t a free socialist country (nor there was a democratic socialist country). Even though in theory democracy and socialism may coexist, in practice it never happens; and it will not happen either unless the human nature totally changes.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/15/2016 - 12:19 pm.

      In other words, you made up your own definitions based on your understanding and beliefs. Unfortunately, the accuracy of such beliefs and understanding appears to be shaky, at best. If the rules are that everyone gets to make up their own definitions, then we must necessarily take the definition given by each individual as intended. That is, if Bernie says his definition is x, then we must assume that his intentions involve the definition as described by x, while your definition is only your own and has no control over what Bernie’s intentions are. To put it clearly: you’re entitled to your belief, but it has no bearing on reality.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/15/2016 - 04:38 pm.

      There’s glory for you!

      Note that my definition said “owned or regulated”

  16. Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/15/2016 - 11:32 am.

    The “I’m just a caveman…” defense.

    Hilarious. Problem is, Ilya, there are countries IN EXISTENCE, RIGHT NOW, that have both the freedom you love, and the socialism you fear. That you move the goalposts as to what those terms mean around to suit some ill-defined set of personal parameters is meaningless. Then world is as it is, not only as we choose to see it.

  17. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/15/2016 - 09:50 pm.

    How come?

    It is funny how Mr. Holbrook and Ms. Kahler switch the discussion from socialism to definitions. I used official socialism definition and common understanding of democracy. OK, here is Webster’s definition: democracy is “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives” but what difference does it make, as one infamous politician once said (for a different reason, though). Democracy, democratic republic, freedom, anything of that nature is incompatible with true socialism. So I didn’t make up any definitions or used my own beliefs… And even both Mr. Holbrook and Ms. Kahler repeatedly said that there are countries that are socialist and democratic/free, they never brought up a single example – how strange!

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/16/2016 - 09:17 am.

      Oh for the love of..

      Obtuseness isn’t a virtue. Let’s see, Sweden, Chance, Germany, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, the US, Canada, …shall I go on. All embrace aspects of “true socialism” to varying degrees through various public artifices. All are democracies to varying degrees. By your measure none should have survived such flirtations. You know all this already, but instead press on with your artificial definition, secure in the knowledge that your predetermined outcome can never be found. A likewise rebuttal would go something like this, objectivism and the libertarianism it spawned is incompatible with democracy (which is true to be sure), as no true objectivist society exists that is also democratic (in fact none exist at all, but that is irrelevant).

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/16/2016 - 09:31 pm.

        Oh, come on, you are coming back to claim that those countries are socialist even though by the definition they are not as none of them has all (or even majority or even much) of means of production in government’s hands. A plane may have two wings or four but a folded paper sheet is not a plane. But who cares about definitions if you want to consider Denmark to be a socialist country just because you like how it is there and you like the idea of socialism? But even that does not work because they have more and more problems lately as I pointed out. Here is another link you may find interesting:

Leave a Reply