Democratic socialism? Me, worried? Nah.

I’m lucky enough to be the citizen of two amazing countries: Canada and the United States. I was born in Canada and spent my first 35 years there. I’ve spent the last 30 in the US.

While I value my American identity, every time I hear Americans talk about Canada it makes me want to hit them upside the head. The reality is that Americans know S.F.A. about the way Canada works.

This is especially true when it comes to issues like healthcare, guns, foreign policy, the place of religion in the public sphere, education and the role of government. Canada is a truly a different country than the United States.

Democratic socialism has become yet another topic on which I realize many Americans display a stunning level of ignorance. We’ve had Democratic socialism (or to be more technically correct “social democracy” – there is a difference) in Canada for… 80 years now. While we’ve never had a Democratic socialist federal government, the Democratic socialist party in Canada, the New Democratic Party (NDP) has at one point been the official opposition. The NDP has run numerous provincial governments from one end of the country to the other for decades.

And yet Canada hasn’t fallen under the ‘socialist yoke.’ It hasn’t fallen into the communist orbit. The Canadian economy (aside from all the bumps and hiccups suffered by any economy) is doing just fine, thank you very much.

So I think it’s important to explain to my fellow Americans that much of the nonsense about Democratic socialism emanating from talking heads on various cable-TV networks is just sound and fury that signifies nothing.

(By the way for all those of you were wondering, I am not a Bernie Sanders supporter. For my tastes, Sanders is too old, in bad health and not a very effective legislator considering all his years in public office. I believe it’s time for Sanders and Biden and people of that generation to get the hell out of the way. Enough already.)

The List

1. Democratic socialism is NOT communism. It’s not even socialism.

Democratic socialism has about as much to do with communism as Martin Luther King had to do with the Ku Klux Klan. Democratic socialists do not believe in one-party or authoritarian rule or that the government must own the means of production. They believe in democracy and fair elections. In Canada, for instance the NDP has won and lost political power on the provincial level many times. No NDP government has never refused to give up power when defeated in an election.

Democratic socialism is not what is practiced in Cuba or China or Vietnam or Mongolia or any of those other places where political freedoms are forbidden.

(I feel that I should also point out, however, that many nations that wholeheartedly believe in capitalism like Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Singapore also severely restrict political and personal freedoms. The urge to limit freedom seldom has much to do with the way the economy is run.)

2. Democratic socialism does not mean the end of capitalism

In a Democratic socialist country like the ones you have in, oh, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland (you know, all those countries that rank at the top of every poll about having the best healthcare, education, standard of living etc.) as well as France, Germany and the UK, the government does play a greater role in what is known as a mixed economy.

For instance, Sweden is thought of worldwide as a Democratic socialist country with a strong commitment to social programs like universal healthcare and an elaborate social safety net. But it also has very strong individual property rights and very little product market regulation. (Also known as the Nordic Model.)

Under Democratic socialism, unrestrained capitalism is tempered. Social democracy prefers progressive and humane reforms to capitalism. Wealth is distributed more equitably through a fairer taxation system to support ideas like improved healthcare, better education, literacy, and childcare.

You don’t have to have a Democratic socialist government to live in a Democratic socialist country by way. It would be a stretch to say that Boris Johnson is a Democratic socialist, but the UK has many elements of Democratic socialism like universal healthcare, childcare programs to help parents, pensions, and unemployment benefits.

3. The difference between any form of socialism and classical liberalism is economic equality

Both systems have their roots in the Enlightenment but socialism, which is very contextual, demands that economic inequality be included in any measure of a society’s structural health, along with personal freedoms advocated in liberalism.

4. The United States already has Democratic Socialism!

Surprise! If you live in the United States, you already live in a country strongly influenced by Democratic socialism. Where would we be without programs like Social Security, Medicare and public K-12 school education? Several US cities have elected officials who ran on Democratic socialist platforms.

Older, far-right Americans who complain about the kind of socialism espoused by Bernie Sanders would scream loudly if their Social Security check didn’t arrive on time. Then again, Americans have cornered the hypocrisy market on this issue.

5. We have nothing to fear but fear itself

Let’s be blunt. Even if a Democratic socialist like Bernie Sanders was elected president, the United States would not turn into Sweden or Norway overnight. It might, however, find ways to promote economic stability for more Americans like an improved minimum wage or, God forbid, universal healthcare.

Again, don’t hold your breath. This is America were talking about.

Why Bernie Sanders Should Fear a Contested Convention

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. [Photo by Gage Skidmore]

Wednesday night’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas provided fireworks in several ways.

First, there was the audience of almost 20 million people making it the second most-watched presidential debate for either party of all time. Second, was the evisceration (there’s really no other word to describe it) of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, especially at the hands of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Third, there was the open hostility between Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg – they were one step away from being invited to take part in an MMA contest.

There was also another revealing moment. Initially, it was overlooked by most US commentators and talking heads. Surprisingly, Canada’s national network the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) picked up on it right away. (There are reasons for this that I will mention below.)

Towards the end of the debate, the candidates were asked by host Chuck Todd for their views on how to handle a contested convention. Should the candidate with the highest delegate count be awarded the nomination even if they had not reached the 50% +1 mark or should there be a second ballot if no one has enough delegates to win on the first ballot?

Not surprisingly, only Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (considered the current front runner) supported the notion of a candidate with the most delegates being given the nomination. Every other candidate on the debate stage voted for the second option – a contested convention.

Why did the CBC pick up on this moment when it was initially overlooked by US media? Contested conventions are a regular occurrence in Canadian politics. Most recently, Andrew Scheer, the current – but about to be former – leader of Canada’s Conservative Party, was not the favorite going into his party’s convention nor did he have the most delegates. He won the leadership after the first ballot.

Contested conventions, however, are like mastodons – once extremely common, now extinct. Maybe…

As scientists experiment with the idea of using mastodon DNA to resurrect this lost species, the Democratic Party seems to be experimenting with the idea of resurrecting the contested convention.

Pluses and Minuses

There are pluses and minuses for the Democrats in a contested convention.

It would attract a YUUGGEE TV audience. The four days of the convention in Milwaukee would blow all other programming off the air, even if Pres. Trump tried to counter-program it. There is something about a come-from-behind story that Americans love. The “Comeback Kid” and all that.
If it worked, the Democratic nominee would emerge from the convention with broad name recognition and a full head of steam.

On the other hand…

And this is where Bernie comes in. If Bernie Sanders wants to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2020 he needs to win enough delegates prior to the start of the Milwaukee convention to claim the nomination. If the battle for the nomination goes to a second or third ballot, he will lose.

A large group of dedicated people support Bernie. The reality of the Democratic Party is, however, that about 60% of the party is composed of center-left moderates and about 40% are progressives. So if you took all the delegate support for the Bloombergs, the Bidens, the Klobuchars etc. and put it against the delegates supporting Sanders and Warren, a moderate candidate stands a better chance.

Another important factor is the entrance of superdelegates on the second and subsequent ballots. After 2016, progressive candidates complained that superdelegates had too much power during the initial stages of caucuses and primaries in choosing the party’s representative. As a result, changes were made and superdelegates are no longer eligible to vote in the first ballot.

After the first ballot, however, the shackles are removed and superdelegates (a group of basically comprised of party officials not particularly friendly towards Bernie Sanders and his supporters) can vote. Superdelegates would comprise about 15% of voters on the second ballot, more than enough to throw the nomination to another candidate. Media reports indicate that some candidates have already begun courting superdelegates in case of a second ballot.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, this way danger lies.

Do not believe for a second that if Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders goes into the convention with the most delegates and then is denied the nomination, that his supporters will go quietly into that good night. They will not. The Democratic Party will splinter like an old piece of wood.

In the run-up to the 2016 election, my wife and I canvassed for Hillary Clinton in our neighborhood. We were not overly fond of Clinton but she was the Democratic nominee, so we supported her. At one home we stopped and spoke to a man playing catch with his son. He called himself a Democrat but said he would not support Clinton. He was a Sanders man. In a bit of bizarre logic, he said rather than vote for Clinton he planned to vote for Trump.

It’s not hard to see this scenario repeated among other Bernie supporters in 2020. The only hope the Democrats have is that some other candidate – a Biden or a Warren perhaps – will have enough delegates support prior to the convention that it is a legitimate question about who should win the nomination.

If it’s Bernie, the Democrats should just give it to him and live with it. The truth is that most moderates will support Bernie because that’s the way they are and getting rid of Trump is their number one priority. Most Bernie supporters will not support the Democratic nominee if they feel that he has been robbed of the nomination. Like the man above, they may just vote for Trump.

A Mind-Numbing Presidency

They almost got me. Almost. To be honest, they did kind of get me for about a year. But I think I’m back.
No, I wasn’t kidnapped, or held hostage… in a manner of speaking. I was a victim of the most mind-numbing presidency in the history of this country.

I’ve been writing columns for about 40 years for newspapers in Canada and the United States, for broadcast on radio, for magazines, for my own blog, or for other people’ s blogs. I prided myself on the fact that I had something relevant to say.

Well, if truth be told, something relevant most of the time.

The Trump presidency, however, has left me reeling. When I decided to write this blog, My Two Countries, I wanted to use it as a vehicle to comment on issues of importance in the two countries in which I hold citizenship, Canada and United States.

Writing about Canada was not so difficult but covering the US became a constant stream of articles about the terrible things that Donald Trump and the people around him were doing. After writing these articles for several months I reached the point where I felt I had hit a wall. Writing about the high crimes and misdemeanors of the current president, which take place on an almost daily basis, is draining. I can only imagine how tough it is for reporters like Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, or cable TV commentators like Rachel Maddow to name just two, to keep their material fresh and relevant.

In the past, when writing about or covering politicians (which I’ve done most of my lifetime) you would get two or three scandals a year during an administration and two or three important policy issues a year that you could focus on. In the meanwhile, other events would occur outside of the realm of politics that lent themselves to commentary.
But the Trump administration is like a constant fire hose of 24 x 7 lies, misinformation, scandal and questionable activities that literally leave your mouth agape. Every day. Sometimes three or four times a day. It was just too much. And so I stopped.

Which, I now realize, is exactly what Trump wants us to do. Just stop and let him do what he wants. To give the devil his due, Trump knows how to manipulate the media and public sentiment. It’s hard to stay angry or astonished or stunned all the time. Yet this is what Trump wants Americans who oppose his… well, I guess you would call it quasi-authoritarian rule… to feel like. Totally numb. That you can’t make a difference. That no matter what you say, it will just be overwhelmed by the next Trumpian outrage.

I don’t know what made me snap out of my stunned silence. It may have been something I read. It may have been the realization that four more years of this presidency could significantly damage this country I love and that we’re running out of time to do something about it. It could be, to paraphrase the great line from that classic movie Network, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.

I’ve come to realize that even if you must point these things out every day it still needs to be done. Our silence is what Trump and his minions crave. Even if we sound repetitive, we still need to say it every day.

Donald Trump is truly a cancer at the heart of the presidency. He is a liar, a philanderer, a cheat, a grifter, a bully, a racist, an ignoramus, a know-nothing, a bigot, a misogynist, and a crook. (Did I miss anything?) And the more we say it the better.