Not ‘Feeling the Bern’

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by Sten Taracks

taracksst@mnstate.edu

In a previous edition of The Advocate, Kit Murray expressed her support for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. She admires his authentic compassionate demeanor and proposals for Democratic Socialism. Indeed, Sanders’ message has resonated with millions of Americans, but I would like to counter Murray with a voice from the other side of the aisle. Like many of us, I’m upset by the tendencies of our nation’s two major political factions, and have searched for alternatives. But not all alternatives are created equal. 

What is bothersome in this election is the mass appeal of populist candidates like Sanders and Trump who, in my view as a Libertarian, are both “outlandish” in their own ways. Trump is not an authentic conservative option, and the socialist belief that bigger government will be better for our future has problems of its own. Hence I strongly encourage Sanders supporters to reconsider their favorite candidate’s vision for America.

Take Sanders’ plan to publicly fund health insurance, which he has called “Medicare for all.”

Such a program would be extremely expensive. According to Tax Foundation analysis, the federal government would need to raise $13.6 trillion in additional revenue over the next ten years, which is more than eight times the proposed 2013 tax hikes. Millions of Americans, not just the rich,”would need to surrender more of their paychecks to the IRS. Sanders has even admitted it himself. Why these plans sound appealing to young adults, who are presumably looking to make their own way in America, is strange to me. Roughly as confusing is how so many self-proclaimed conservatives see Donald Trump as their movement’s savior, even though the brash billionaire has been all over the map politically. At least Sanders has been more consistent. After all, that gives us a clearer picture of his generous plan’s fiscal drawbacks.

But it’s still a mistake to think bigger government would have no significant downside. The Sanders campaign claims Americans would save money on net by not needing to buy health insurance and other services, with the government paying instead. But what good are those savings if costs are obscured by a single payer? No product or service is ever truly free, even when government picks up the tab. As for health care, the cost is largely driven by a person’s behavior, which means in order to truly contain expenses, we need individuals to change their habits. Economic incentives have the potential to stoke those changes. However, the closer we get to socialized medicine, the more those incentives dissipate. Therefore, what we really need is to move in the opposite direction, back to free market medicine and the doctor-patient relationship, both of which has been diminished through the decades.

Plunging into socialism will not authentically heal these problems we bemoan.

Although “Medicare for all” is only one of Sanders’ many proposals, it does jump out at me the most. Perhaps that’s because our current Medicare system along with its entitlement sibling, Social Security — is in a fiscally precarious situation. What makes it sound like such a swell idea to expand these programs when their track record has been so unsustainable? Have you ever considered that it might be a better idea to raise the age for entitlement eligibility, and in turn encourage private citizens to save on their own for health care and retirement instead of trusting government to do that saving for them?

Please don’t think these positions make me a heartless person. I do believe government will need to be there for the very least fortunate among us, but increasing dependence for an ever-larger slice of the population is no way to keep our country afloat. Rather, it is the path to decline; it is no way to remain a strong nation.

My disagreements with Sanders and the socialist movement do not end there, but given that I’m a libertarian-leaning conservative, there is still a bit of room for ideological crossover. Like Sanders, I think America needs to stop policing the world, as neoconservative policies are expensive in both money and lives. I am also closer to the left on topics like gay marriage, crony capitalism and criminal justice reform, though my arguments are somewhat different in the details. Anyone who truly believes in limited government and the preservation of freedom will acknowledge similar stances. Just look at the platform of Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican Senator from Kentucky, who has unfortunately dropped out of the presidential race. He reflects these beliefs far more closely than most of his party. While it was frustrating to watch Paul bow out, do not mistake his loss for the end of the Liberty Movement. Limited government will still present itself as a strong alternative to both socialism and fascism going forward.

These are complex topics to be sure. All I’ve done here is make an admittedly simple argument that some other commentator will probably proceed to rip apart. Honestly, that ripping-apart has happened to me many times over. Pushing a few buttons is unavoidable if you’re going to speak (or type) your mind. But, as Murray instructed while in the process of endorsing Sanders, “speak up for what you believe in and make your ideas heard.” On that we can definitely agree. Members of this democratic republic, even those supporting candidates like Sanders and Trump, should bring their perspectives to the table for evaluation and debate. That’s the only way any of us can ever truly know what we like and dislike among the many political options. And, in the midst of this burgeoning democratic socialist movement, I will remain as one of the voices of restraint.

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