Many of us have heard the term “gaslighting.” Some of us even know what it means, and what its origin is.

For the record, the Wikipedia definition:

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes such as low self-esteem.

Its origin is a play/movie called Gaslight, where a husband deliberately seeks to convince his wife that she is insane, but knowing that serves mostly to tell you the source of the term. In colloquial use, gaslighting is about lying, obfuscating, and misdirecting in order to convince someone that what he knows is true isn’t.

So it goes with Bernie Sanders, his supporters, and “Democratic Socialism.”

Any student of history knows the death, destruction, and misery that the various incarnations of socialism have wrought upon humanity. Any student of politics with a shred of intellectual honesty can recognize that the things Sanders is proposing will lead us down that path. Yet, his defenders work furiously not only to rehabilitate the image of this ruinous ideology, but to convince the rest of us that what we know isn’t true.

Nowhere is this more obvious than the “if you like police, firefighters, garbage collection, roads, mass transit, you’re a socialist.” And in a conceptual misdirection, stated in one source as:

Socialism can be defined as “a system of social organization in which private property and the distribution of income are subject to social control.”

Note carefully the phrase “social control.” It’s a deliberate fuzzing of the real definition of socialism, which entails government control of the means of production. “Social control,” especially in conjunction with “democratic socialism,” suggests some sort of truth-to-power management of business, where the rank-and-file run things, where there aren’t rich bosses keeping the masses down, and where everything is more just thanks to everyone having a voice.

Sounds great, until you drill down into a – what this actually translates to in the real world, and b – what the Democratic Socialists of America have actually put in their platform. In both cases, we find that the answer is “government control,” i.e. politicians and bureaucrats running private businesses. Now, technically speaking, heavy government control of privately-owned business is economic fascism, but the “f” word has certain other connotations that make divorcing its economic aspects from others problematic. And, technically speaking, what most of our domestic socialists want and expect doesn’t go as far as state ownership of the means of production (although health care may well go that route if Bernie has his way). But, for our purposes here, what’s being proposed is heavy political control of the private sector – even heavier than the massive amount of regulation that currently exists. Presumably, government types would make the actual business decisions, rather than simply writing rules upon rules as they currently do. Putting it in these stark terms immediately draws “that’s not what Democratic Socialism is!!” from the Bernie-Bros, of course. And that’s the gag.

In practical terms, there’s no operational difference between government-owned means of production and government-directed means of production. There is a massive difference in risk, though, and it’s insidious. If a privately owned business is run by the government and fails, the government has suffered no loss. If a government-owned business fails, the capital investment therein is lost.

This is emblematic of most of our young socialists’ thinking: They want control without personal risk. They want government to provide health care, education, and a financial safety net without paying (as they do in Europe) heavy taxes out of their own pockets. And, they want some Best-and-Brightest messiah, who is currently incarnated as an old Jewish man from Brooklyn (and as such, is indistinguishable from hundreds or thousands of similar men that walked through the doors of my restaurant across the decades), to be their control proxy.

In order to get the nation to this point, they engage in all sorts of dishonest behavior. Bernie himself has repeatedly praised Scandinavian results, but his policies have virtually no connection to those employed in that part of the world. He promises Denmark, but rejects Danish political policies. His defenders tell us that all government services are socialism but then tell us that Venezuela and its massive government involvement in everything is not socialism. They downplay or dismiss government’s massive inefficiencies and failures, and instead engage in a ‘critical theory‘ tactic of pointing out flaws in the current system, mis-blaming them on capitalism when the real culprit is governmental meddling, and allowing the motivated reader to infer that government would do things better.

So, everything good is socialism, everything not-good is not socialism. Denmark and Sweden are good places because of socialism, even though their leaders point out, correctly, that they are market economies, and even though they operate vastly differently from what is being proposed by our domestic socialists. Venezuela is an unjust comparison, even though Bernie once openly admired Venezuela and concurred with an assertion that the American Dream was more likely to be realized there than here. Oh, and Bernie’s Venezuela praise actually wasn’t, we are now told. We already have socialism in America, except when we don’t. We need to do things that the supposedly socialist economies that are so admired don’t do in order to reproduce that which is admired. All government is socialism, but our gigantic, $8T (out of a GDP of $19.4T) is not socialist, or not socialist enough, or “unfettered capitalism,” or whatever opinion supports the foregone and predetermined conclusion that whatever Bernie wants to do is the only hope for salvation of a nation that, despite having only 1/4 the population of the largest nations in the world, is the world’s largest economy, currently has historically low unemployment, and has its poor living at a higher standard than the poor in those supposedly enlightened socialist countries.

Yessiree, America’s masses are better off, wealth-wise, than Europe’s. Europeans may get “free” health care and college, but they pay for that “free” stuff by being taxed FAR more heavily than Americans are. Indeed, that’s the core of the European model, including that vaunted Nordic model. Tax rates and structures over there are far less progressive than ours are currently, and far, far less progressive than what Sanders is proposing. That Sanders’ schemes to fund his democratic socialism dream don’t add up is yet another example of “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” gaslighting. Math, apparently, doesn’t matter, not when the rich and successful can be demonized, and when what they’ve earned is coveted.

The relentless and dissonant redefinition of socialism is intended to set those of us who know the realities back on our heels, to make us question that which need not be questioned, and to doubt our correct and accurate understanding of the perils of what the progressives are proposing.

This isn’t an effort to win hearts and minds. It’s a concerted and, some would argue, orchestrated campaign to sow doubt and confusion, in order to achieve political power and people’s liberty. It’s about making you doubt what you know, making you wonder if they’re right, no matter how unhinged and internally contradictory the stuff they’re saying is. It’s not quite intended to make you think you’re insane, but it is intended to make you question reality.

Democratic Socialism is a deliberately vague concept, meant to be whatever someone who’s predisposed wants it to be. It’s the Nordic model in result, but not in practice. It’s what Venezuela was supposed to be, and the failure has nothing to do with socialism. It’s about taxing and taking from the rich, no matter that this didn’t work in Europe, and no matter that those exemplar economies tax everyone. It’s how we fix everything that’s bad in the private sector. Under Democratic Socialism, government will somehow, magically, work an order of magnitude better than it currently does, even as it is made an order of magnitude bigger. Workers, who have no investment in a business and may have no knowledge beyond their particular skill set, will be given boss-level control, because they obviously know better than the persons who built the businesses – and that’ll make things better. It’s a golem, a lump of clay that each Bernie-acolyte gets to shape into his own unique and utopian vision.

Should Bernie become President, the Democratic Socialists will have a rude awakening to the realities that these fantasies produce. But, even then, it’ll be everyone else’s fault, not that of socialism itself.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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