Bernie Sanders

2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders looks to policies from Nordic countries like Denmark and Sweden to potentially replicate in the U.S. (Wikimedia Commons/Skidmore)

Communist. Alt-left. Radical left. Opponents of progressive presidential candidates will hurl a slew of exaggerations to smear the Democratic candidates. Yet, many of these candidates may not be so radical after all. 


Progressive candidates such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren were once conservatives, and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was once a self-proclaimed “hawk.” If you fear the Democrats have radicalized and want to vote red this election, perhaps reconsider. 


Warren vs. Wall Street

Despite many of Warren’s progressive stances, she is not a far-left candidate. In a CNBC interview last July, Warren stated she is a capitalist who “believes in markets.” She said that she “doesn’t believe in theft,” in reference to the market going unregulated and said that fair markets have rules. Demanding more regulation of markets is unradical, with nearly 78% of likely voters believing that rules and enforcement should be toughened on Wall Street, according to a 2017 poll by Americans for Financial Reform. 


Warren also supports corporate personhood. Under her proposed Accountable Capitalism Act, corporations can seek legal personhood, but they ought to help their workers by reinvesting into their businesses rather than mainly appealing to stockholders. Warren seeks to demand that any corporation with a revenue more than $1 billion obtain a federal charter. The charter would compel corporations seeking legal personhood to value all stakeholders more, not only shareholders. Warren’s vision is by no means far left. She hopes to revitalize capitalism — not rebuke it, according to Vox.


Sanders’s fondness of the Nordic Model

Even though Sanders is a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, he sees well-regulated capitalist countries like the Nordic countries as role models. Sanders said in a 2016 CNN presidential debate that “we should look to countries like Denmark, Sweden and Norway and learn what they have accomplished for their working people.” Among many other proposals, Sanders wants universal healthcare, free tuition and to expand disability insurance.


However, Sanders’ approach differs. While he aims to tax mainly high-income earners more, countries such as Denmark have marginal tax rates at 60 percent, applied to those earning 1.2 times the average Danish income. If applied to the United States, this entails marginally taxing income above $60,000 more.Marginal tax rates are the rate of taxes applied to each additional dollar of income, divided into several brackets. The highest bracket of 37% applies to income above $500,001 and $600,001 for single filers and married couples (filed jointly) respectively. Either way, Americans ardently support raising marginal taxes, with nearly 60% of voters supporting a hefty 70% tax rate for those earning more than $10 million, according to a survey from The Hill Harris-X. Even though Sanders’ approach differs, centrists in Congress could pressure him to water down his ideas, opting to instead adopt something like the Nordic Model. 


Gabbard’s checkered choices

Often lauded as a progressive by her supporters, Gabbard’s political history has hardly been progressive. The fact that conservatives such as former Trump aide Steve Bannon and Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson supported her is telling in itself. In 2002, a young Gabbard boasted about working for her anti-gay father, whose organization backed gay conversion therapy. Two years later, she opposed a bill legalizing civil unions, adding that “as Democrats, we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists.” 


Although Gabbard’s views have changed dramatically since then, her old statements have undoubtedly stirred controversy. Such views are hardly liberal. 


In addition, before she voted for Obama’s Iran Deal in 2015, Gabbard both co-sponsored and voted in favor of the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, which sought to reduce Iran’s oil production by 80%after prior sanctions had already lowered oil production significantly. One year later, Gabbard slammed Iran as the “world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.” She said it would be “understandable” for Saudi Arabia to develop nuclear weapons given Iran’s proximity. Ironically, Saudi Arabia is a large state sponsor of terrorism itself. 


Gabbard has since reversed her position, stating Saudi Arabia “is not an ally” of the United States. But reversing on an issue within a few years does not indicate change it reeks of political ambition. Although Gabbard may seem a progressive candidate, her former views indicate the opposite. 


The myth of Democratic radicalism

Voting Republican is needless because the Democrats generally have not radicalized. Most Americans want higher marginal taxes. Most Americans want to hike regulations on Wall Street. These candidates’ views may be progressive, but if they win, they will reform our economy and politics — not overhaul them. To say radicalism mars politics would be an understatement. Extremists exist on both sides of the aisle, but the Democratic candidates are not among them.


 Sanders is further left, but he looks up to the Nordic Model — a free market system shared by Nordic countries. He may be a “socialist,” but the model he strives to adopt is capitalist and not radically different than the system in place. Gabbard is the most conservative of the trio. Her conservative support coupled with her older views on Iran and homosexuality confirm that. And Warren wants to use the success of capitalism to protect workers and other shareholders. Although these candidates may be more liberal than others, they are not extremists. They want to reform America, not turn it into the Soviet Union. The reality is that an America under their control would walk and talk as it does today.