Bob Ehrlich: Dems Were Sliding Toward Socialism Long Before Bernie


That the present campaign to stop Sen. Bernie Sanders is an all-hands-on-deck enterprise is without doubt. You may accordingly expect the Democratic establishment to continue to use any and all tools at their disposal. Such is a natural response by a political party interested in self-preservation.

A portion of the forthcoming media coverage will focus on the internal machinations of party bosses to manipulate the rules in favor of former Vice President Joe Biden. It will be interesting to watch how the army of “Bernie Bros” reacts to these maneuvers.

Will it be a redux of 2016, when the candidate and his base proved acquiescent to the other big fish in the pond, a former first lady and U.S. senator, or will 2020 witness a backlash from the young, newly aggressive progressives that constitute Sanders’ base? Any reaction short of full acceptance of their (and their candidate’s) plight will assuredly damage Mr. Biden in November.

But the political maneuvering is but a sideshow compared to the realpolitik “come to Jesus” movement that the Bernie candidacy represents. To wit, “the Bern” and his acolytes are the logical (if unwelcome) culmination of the creeping social welfarism/quasi-socialism that has gained a substantial following within the Democratic Party over the last four decades.

This, of course, is a bitter pill for traditional liberals to swallow. After all, New Deal-style liberalism had been around for 80 years without devolving into a more sinister mutation. Accordingly, it is logical to ask, why now?

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The answer lies in an important lesson I learned as a young legislator.

A conservative Democratic leader and mentor of mine (in the Maryland legislature) was always fond of asking bill sponsors about “next year’s bill.” In other words, if the bill at issue would expand the reach and means of government under this year’s bill, was not the legislature just as likely to justify further expansion next year — and the next?

Invariably, the sponsor would deny the allegation — and then seek to do precisely what had been predicted the following year.

For a young legislator, it was a classic lesson in the way government grows, and typically to the detriment of liberty.

All of which brings us back to what has caused the Democratic establishment’s head-on collision with the likes of Sanders-style “socialism.” My conclusion: Next year’s bill has arrived — all at once. Take a look:

  • What began as an “America needs a raise” movement to hike the minimum wage evolved into demands for a “living wage” and then into the “fight for $15.” That this proposal is guaranteed to cost millions of marginal, low-skilled workers their jobs seems lost on the activists. Spoiler alert: Comrade Bernie is talking $20 to $25 an hour on the stump, but that’s next year’s bill…
  • What began as lax enforcement at our southern border has now metastasized into calls for free health care for illegal aliens and the elimination of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Note that these proposals have caught on despite consistent reports of illegal aliens committing violent acts against U.S. citizens. Now, numerous progressive jurisdictions are experimenting with allowing illegals to vote in municipal elections, a notion that was not so long ago — you guessed it — next year’s bill.
  • What began as standard class warfare rhetoric (“tax cuts for the rich”) has evolved into calls for a return to Carter-era tax rates — and even demands for income caps in the private sector — as the left advances the principle that government knows best how much money you should make. But, not to worry, that will be next year’s bill.
  • What began as calls to close the gun show “loophole” or limit the commercial purchase of firearms (and ammunition) has morphed into calls for a national gun registry and, in some quarters, mandatory “turn-ins” of certain types of semi-automatic weapons. You may have read that Joe Biden has tasked the always reliable Beto O’Rourke with this job — and, presumably, with leading the charge on behalf of next year’s (confiscation) bill.
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  • What began as the pro-abortion movement’s attempt to protect the Roe v. Wade status quo led to Obamacare’s requirement for nuns to secure birth control and, more recently, support for expanding late-term abortion — even what appears to be infanticide — amid a new enthusiasm for an unfettered right to abortion on demand at any point in a pregnancy. Sounds like next year’s bill to me…

I could go on, but you get the point. Modern progressivism has accelerated traditional liberal positions to their logical (illogical) conclusions. In the process, it has inflicted real damage on the Democratic brand. Will Joe Biden attempt to reign in these excesses or will voters be left to wonder about next year’s progressive insult to our sensibilities?

Timely questions for a party coming to grips with its newly energized wild side.

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Robert Ehrlich is a former governor of Maryland as well as a former U.S. congressman and state legislator. He is the author of “Bet You Didn’t See That One Coming: Obama, Trump, and the End of Washington’s Regular Order,” in addition to “Turn This Car Around,” “America: Hope for Change" and “Turning Point.” Ehrlich is currently a counsel at the firm of King & Spalding in Washington, D.C.