While much of the corporate media obsesses over who “won” last night’s 2016 Democratic presidential debate, few are recognizing a much more noteworthy aspect of yesterday’s proceedings. For the first time in a long time, Americans witnessed a substantive discussion on the virtues of capitalism in a mainstream party debate.
After the beginning of the Cold War, questioning capitalism, or even entertaining a serious discussion that did, was reasonably considered by figures in the establishment media and mainstream politics to be career suicide. It was permissible to take issue with particular policies or outcomes of the capitalist system, but saying capitalist economic policies were wrong not just in practice but in essence was a sign of not being responsible, loyal, or even “serious” about politics.
It was certainly something a presidential candidate trying to win would never do, including one running for the nomination in the seemingly progressive Democratic Party. And yet, last night, capitalism briefly got taken out for a walk when Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton debated whether capitalism was right for America.
Debate Moderator Anderson Cooper started the discussion by engaging in what some have called “red-baiting” with Senator Sanders. Cooper pivoted off a Meet The Press interview, where Sanders said he was not a capitalist to paint the candidate as outside the mainstream and raised the issue of electability.
COOPER: Senator Sanders. A Gallup poll says half the country would not put a socialist in the White House. You call yourself a democratic socialist. How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States?
SANDERS: Well, we’re gonna win because first, we’re gonna explain what democratic socialism is.
And what democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of 1 percent in this country own almost 90 percent — almost — own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. That it is wrong, today, in a rigged economy, that 57 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent.
That when you look around the world, you see every other major country providing health care to all people as a right, except the United States. You see every other major country saying to moms that, when you have a baby, we’re not gonna separate you from your newborn baby, because we are going to have — we are gonna have medical and family paid leave, like every other country on Earth
Cooper then looked at the rest of the candidates and asked “Is there anybody else on the stage who is not a capitalist?”
Hillary Clinton responded by rhetorically distancing herself rather far from “free market” capitalism, including the neoliberalism at the heart of her husband’s presidency. Clinton said that while she did support small business, she also believed that as president it would be her job to “rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn’t run amok,” and that periodically capitalism has to be “saved from itself.”
Those statements would put Hillary Clinton well within the reformist tradition of New Deal liberalism – a political agenda that, while capitalist, also fundamentally opposes President Bill Clinton’s “The era of Big Government is over” maxim. If capitalism has to be reined-in and saved from itself, what power but the government can do it?
Although Cooper may have been trying to red-bait Senator Sanders by positing a belief in capitalism as a litmus test for being electable as president, pushing Sanders to define democratic socialism appears to have actually increased Sander’s popularity. It seems that when the public gets a fair hearing of democratic socialism, they might not find it as objectionable as economic and political elites do.
Maybe this is what the capitalists were afraid of all these years.