A Progressive vs. a Socialist?


All right, so I wanted to elaborate on another bit of information that can be discerned from the Political Compass graphic shown in my last post. This time, however, it has to do with the Democratic nominees.

Political CompassAs mentioned in the last post, the Political Compass, which according to the website looks at not just the things the candidates say but on their actions as elected and public officials, shows that there is very little difference between the top Republican candidates.

The same cannot be said about the Democratic nominees. In fact, looking at this graph, it appears that there is greater ideological difference between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton than there is between Clinton and the Republican nominees. Of course, that’s exactly what one would expect when one nominee is a practical, outcome minded progressive and the other is a radical socialist.

However, the Democratic race is not between a progressive and a socialist. At best, it is between a moderate corporatist and a Keynesian progressive.

To elaborate further requires an explanation of the diagram itself. The political compass creates a matrix out of two political continua, economic positions, and social positions. The horizontal, or x-axis represents the economic continuum in which the extreme left represents a completely command economy. The extreme right indicates a model laissez faire market free of any government regulation. The vertical, or y-axis, defines the influence of government on the social and personal sphere, from a totalitarian/authoritarian state at the top to the absolute individual freedom preferred by anarchists. Clearly, most people would find themselves somewhere close to the vertex.

In this context, the position of our Republican nominees makes sense. Deregulate, cut taxes, but build walls, deport those people, imprison those other people, and maintain a strict security state. Make sure that every fetus comes to term. Oh, and don’t forget bombing innocent civilians until the desert glows in the dark. In the meantime, disassemble the welfare state, commodify the commons, bring health care and education into the free market. Pretty standard corporate conservative stuff.

An analysis of Hillary’s position is a little more complex. Despite her insistence that she is a “progressive who gets things done,” the reality is that the things she gets done are, more often than not, hardly progressive. From her support for the Iraq War and general hawkishness, to her early groundwork for the Trans-Pacific Partnership to her generous Wall Street backers, Hillary’s progressive talk carries very little weight with the movement. On the other hand, Hillary does have some progressive bona fides, including voting against CAFTA, support for women’s rights and civil rights.

In fact, if we are going to identify the progressive in the race, it’s Bernie Sanders. But wait, isn’t Bernie a self-described leftie? A democratic socialist? Socialist man! What part of “socialist” do you not understand?

Look, as socialists go, Bernie is pretty tepid. In fact, Bernie Sanders is closer to a good, old-fashioned, liberal New Deal Democrat. In other words, a progressive. Yes, he is very critical of the billionaires and big banks. Then again, who isn’t? Even libertarian capitalists are often critical of what they call “crony capitalism.” Identifying economic inequality is hardly exclusive to socialism. A true socialist identifies capitalism itself as problematic. Monopolies and concentration of wealth, worker exploitation and political corruption are, to a socialist, simply symptoms of the underlying evil of capitalism.

Bernie doesn’t quite go this far.

In fact, if we just look at the x-axis, like this…

political spectrum
The Political Compass, eliminating the social y-axis.

…you get something more closely resembling Robert Heiner’s description of the American political economy in his text Social Problems: An Introduction to Critical Constructionism...

Heiner socialists and capitalist
Image taken from Heiner, Social Problems: An introduction to Critical Constructionism, Figure 2.3

Though I have to say, I believe if we extrapolate the points out, Bernie falls a bit short of Heiner’s idea of Democratic Socialism.

In fact, if we were to eliminate the Republican nominees from the race, and decide the election through the primaries, I would suggest that we would then have something approximating what is normally considered a traditional American election. Hillary would be the conservative, albeit with some progressive leanings, while Sanders would be the New Deal liberal. Then the campaign would make sense.

Okay, so there’s a bunch of ways of describing the political spectrum, and certainly one could find a measure that places Hillary Clinton on the political left. On more than a few domestic policies, she is to the left of center. The extremes on the right, however, seem to be creating a distorting effect on the race, making both Hillary and Bernie seem further to the left than they really are.

As it stands, when I encounter moderate conservatives, often wide eyed and queasy about what has happened to the Republican Party, uncertain as to where to go and what to do, I give them all the same advice. They don’t want to hear it, but I give it anyway. Their vote is Hillary. By any measure, she is the closest candidate to their position.

And that makes me smile!



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