Bernie Sanders: Comparing My Socialism to Venezuelan Dictator’s is ‘Extremely Unfair’

September 13, 2019 Updated: September 14, 2019

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) claimed during the recent Democratic presidential primary debate that equating his socialist policies to those of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro was “extremely unfair.”

Sanders was responding to a question from moderator Jorge Ramos, known for his vocal opposition to Maduro’s oppressive regime. Ramos and his five-person crew were arrested and detained for hours in Venezuela in February for asking the country’s dictator uncomfortable questions. They were then kicked out of the country and had their equipment confiscated.

On Thursday, Sept. 12, during the ABC News Democratic debate, Ramos asked Sanders to explain how the 2020 presidential hopeful’s “democratic socialism” differed from the socialism that has brought Venezuelan society to collapse.

Senator Bernie Sanders
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum in Sioux City, Iowa, on Aug. 20, 2019. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

“You admit that Venezuela does not have free elections, but still, you refuse to call Nicolás Maduro a dictator,” Ramos asked. “Can you explain why? And what are the main differences between your kind of socialism and the one being imposed in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua?”

Sanders began by saying that “anybody who does what Maduro does is a vicious tyrant,” adding that he would back an international campaign to help organize free elections in the distressed country.

He then rejected any implication that his policies might take the United States down the same path as Venezuela, marked as it has been by economic desolation, food and medicine shortages, and general social and political chaos.

“To equate what goes on in Venezuela to what I believe is extremely unfair,” Sanders said.

Without going into much detail, he said his views are more aligned with the policies of progressive governments in places like Canada and northern Europe.

“I’ll tell you what I believe in terms of democratic socialism. I agree with what goes on in Canada and in Scandinavia, guaranteeing health care to all people as a human right. I believe that the United States should not be the only major country on Earth not to provide paid family and medical leave,” Sanders said.

“I believe that every worker in this country deserves a living wage and that we expand the trade union movement,” he added.

Sanders also lashed out against wealth inequality and concentration of power.

“You’ve got a handful of billionaires controlling what goes on in Wall Street, the insurance companies, and in the media,” he said. “Maybe what we should be doing is creating an economy that works for all us, not just one percent.”

“That’s my understanding of democratic socialism,” Sanders concluded.

While Sanders called Maduro a “tyrant” on Thursday, Maduro has in the past praised the Vermont Senator, who is also one if the 2020 front-runners.

“Bernie Sanders, our revolutionary friend, ought to win in the United States,” Maduro said during an hours-long televised broadcast in 2016.

“If the elections were free … Bernie Sanders would be president of the United States,” he said, criticizing the U.S. Electoral College system as unrepresentative of popular sentiment.

Other statements Sanders has made that have landed him in hot water with both moderates and conservatives include saying that Americans would be “delighted” to pay more taxes in order to fund government-run universal health care, and praising communist China for making “more progress in addressing extreme poverty than any country in the history of civilization,” while striking a dismissive tone on its dismal human rights record.

According to the Hoover Institute’s Paul R. Gregory, “Sanders reveals little about what socialism means to him, other than giving many things away free. He disarms critics by asserting that he is not a ‘socialist’ but a ‘Democratic Socialist,’ without defining what that means.”

‘How Socialist Is Bernie Sanders?’

“Sanders has spent a long political career obfuscating his true political beliefs,” Gregory argues in his op-ed headlined “How Socialist Is Bernie Sanders?”

“The media rarely pushes back on his standard platitudes, such as, ‘We must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy.'” Gregory adds that Sanders’s “two-minute video, promising to explain his brand of socialism, leaves the viewer clueless, probably deliberately.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks while introducing health care legislation titled the “Medicare for All Act of 2019” with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 9, 2019. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Sanders said during a CNN interview on June 12 that Americans would love to pay more in taxes in exchange for the government taking over the entire healthcare system.

“Look, what we have to understand, for example … the United States is the only major country on Earth not to guarantee healthcare to all people as a right,” Sanders said.

“In many countries in Europe, Germany for one, you go to college and the cost of college is zero. I think in Finland they actually pay you to go to college. In most countries around the world, the level of income and wealth inequality, which in the United States today is worse than at any time since the 1920s … that level of income and wealth inequality is much less severe than it is right here in the United States.”

CNN host Anderson Cooper reminded Sanders that the cost of free or near-free government services is typically higher taxes: “As you know, the taxes in many of those countries are much higher than they are in … the individual and personal tax are much higher than they are in the United States.”

“Yeah, but I suspect that a lot of people in the country would be delighted to pay more in taxes if they had comprehensive healthcare as a human right,” Sanders responded. “I live 50 miles away from the Canadian border. You go to the doctor any time you want. You don’t take out your wallet. You have heart surgery, you have a heart transplant and you come out of the hospital and it costs you nothing.”

“Your kids in many countries around the world can go to the public colleges and universities tuition-free, wages in many cases are higher,” Sanders added. “So there is a tradeoff, but at the end of the day, I think, that most people will believe they will be better off when their kids have educational opportunities without out-of-pocket expenses and when they have healthcare as a human right and they have affordable housing, when they have decent retirement security, I think most Americans will understand that is a good deal.”

Sanders has struggled to provide figures on how much his wide-ranging proposals would cost. According to an analysis by the Mercatus Center, expanding Medicare to every American would cost more than $32 trillion over 10 years.

In his study, Charles Blahous argues that such a massive cost increase would be highly cumbersome. He says that even doubling all federal individual and corporate income tax collections would fall short of fully funding Sanders’s universal health care scheme.

“Marx declared that a socialist revolution would be required to part the capitalists from their capital,” Gregory writes in the op-ed. “Democratic Socialists (DSA and Sanders) see a different path to what they consider true democracy: Organize the poor, the working class, and all other oppressed groups into what James Madison called an ‘overbearing majority.’ Such a coalition would have enough power to transfer capital to the state by ‘democratic means.'”

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.

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