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Sanders No Demagogue

Sanders Is No Demagogue—Walter Moss:

Stop Demonizing and Start Comprising: Common Advice from President Obama and Michael Bloomberg—But Sanders Is No Demagogue

In the spring of 2010 President Obama gave the commencement speech to University of Michigan graduates. Just recently, almost exactly six years later, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg addressed graduates from the same university and delivered a similar message: Stop demonizing political rivals and start compromising in order to further the common good.

Since I have already analyzed President Obama’s speech in detail, here I’ll just point out some of the similarities between his remarks and those of Bloomberg. In 2010, Obama said:

“But we can’t expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it. You can question somebody’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism. . . . Now, we’ve seen this kind of politics in the past. It’s been practiced by both fringes of the ideological spectrum, by the left and the right, since our nation’s birth. But it’s starting to creep into the center of our discourse.”

Is Sanders to be considered a demagogue because he insists that the wealth gap and Wall Street are part of the problem that must be addressed in order to improve the common good?

Six years later, Bloomberg stated, “Neither party has a monopoly on good ideas; each demonizes the other unfairly and dishonestly. This is not a new phenomenon—but it has reached a dangerous new level.”

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Both men also pointed out some of the factors, including media changes, which have encouraged more intolerance. And both leaders encouraged compromise. Obama: “The problem is that this kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines democratic deliberation. . . It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out.” Bloomberg: “The truth is: We cannot solve the problems we face by blaming anyone. We are all in this together, and we all must be part of the solution. . . . [We need] to be more civil; to support politicians who have the courage to take risks; and to reward those who reach across the aisle in search of compromise.”

So far, both men spoke close to the truth. But then Bloomberg went astray by suggesting that Bernie Sanders is as much of a demagogue as Donald Trump or Ted Cruz:

In this year’s presidential election, we’ve seen more demagoguery from both parties than I can remember in my lifetime. Our country is facing serious and difficult challenges, but rather than offering realistic solutions, candidates in both parties are blaming our problems on easy targets who breed resentment. For Republicans, it’s Mexicans here illegally and Muslims, and for Democrats, it’s the wealthy and Wall Street. . . .

Today, when a populist candidate promises free college, free health care, and a pony, or another candidate promises to make other countries pay for our needs – remember: those who promise you a free lunch will invariably eat you for breakfast. If there were simple solutions to complex problems, we wouldn’t have those problems.

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One definition of a demagogue is “a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.” He or she would also be someone who is not good at working with others, not very tolerant, and not inclined to compromise in order to work for the common good. There is plenty of evidence, as Blumberg suggests, that both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz fit this description. But is Sanders to be considered a demagogue because he insists that the wealth gap and Wall Street are part of the problem that must be addressed in order to improve the common good?

As I recently pointed out, many of Sanders’ economic views are similar to those of Pope Francis. Is he a demagogue also? As far as Sanders’ ability to work with others and compromise is concerned, Blumberg should have noted last year’s piece “Bernie Gets It Done: Sanders' Record of Pushing Through Major Reforms Will Surprise You.”

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Walter G. Moss