Last week was a big week for Bernies: Bernie Sanders, for example, fought Hillary to a draw in Iowa, even after losing 6 consecutive coin tosses to decide matters (the chances of winning all six were 1 in 64, but with Hillary, you never know). You could say that “Hillary really felt the Bern.”
And it was a good week for another Bernie too—Bernie Madoff, the Wall Street financier who swindled thousands of investors with his fifty billion dollar Ponzi scheme. ABC Television devoted a four-hour TV miniseries to him, and an additional one-hour documentary as well. With what he did to his victims, he gave the phrase “feeling the Bern” a whole new meaning.
The Bernies have at least one thing in common, other than their names—they both spin outlandish fantasies about money for whomever listens. This is not to say Sanders is a crook like Madoff. Madoff deliberately spun his fantasies of high rates of return for investors knowing he was lying through his teeth for his own personal profit. Bernie Sanders is honest, selfless, and patriotic—at least to the extent that he believes everything he says, and that he truly believes socialism is best for America.
But Bernie—the honest one–is still a fantasist. He apparently believes, and would have us believe, that should we elect him President of the United States he will provide us with free stuff—free health care, free college, free whatever—to be paid for “by the rich.” (an aside—if anyone has to pay something, it’s not really free).
In fairness to Honest Bernie, however, he has plenty of company on the presidential trail. In trying to reach some of H. B.’s voters, Hillary is running more and more to the left, adopting his positions on the issues while abandoning her own. She’s becoming nothing more than a Bernie-in-drag.
And the Republicans have their share of fantasy-spinning Bernies as well. As a small government conservative myself, I like what most of the GOP candidates have to say about lower taxes, greater economic growth, balanced budget amendments, etc., etc., etc. But I do have a few questions. For example, lower taxes, in my opinion, at least, are good because they allow more people to keep more of what they earn, and that means more freedom. But both the Reagan and Bush tax cuts were followed by bigger deficits and more debt. On the other hand, the Clinton tax increases were followed by growing surpluses and smaller debt, as well as a 3.9% economic growth rate almost as high as Reagan’s, and almost twice as high as Bush’s. So what gives? And how does anyone plan to tackle the problem of entitlement reform, as Social Security and Medicare continue to grow in both constant dollars and as a percentage of overall federal spending? Given that these expenditures take up about half the budget, it’s obvious that fiscal conservatism cannot be achieved without reform in these areas—but where are the credible plans for reform?
One of the less-noted but nonetheless real keys to understanding Bad Bernie’s success in swindling was not only the skill with which he wove his fantasies, but the willingness of his victims to delude themselves into believing them too. In effect, his victims wove their own self-deluding fantasies and thereby became Bernies themselves. And we, the people, continue to believe and continuously spin the fantasies of the Democratic and Republican Bernies who seek to be our President. We—or at least a large enough percentage to have an impact—for too long have swallowed the Democratic fantasies that there are always enough “rich people” to pay for whatever we want, or the Republican fantasies that tax cuts and balanced budget amendments will be enough to put our nation’s fiscal house in order. By accepting, supporting, reinforcing, and repeating those fantasies, we’ve become a nation of Bernies.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.