IN AMERICAN politics, Bernie is something of an anomaly: a socialist above the age of thirty. In other parts of the world, politicians like Bernie fall closer to the political center—and, in a few notable cases, surprisingly far from the political center. So we asked the Sphere’s international writers (and Jacob Kuppermann) to answer the question, “Where would Bernie fall on the political spectrum of [Country X]?”
These are their responses.
When it comes to moral issues, Brazilians at large are religious and conservative, and most opposed the legalization of cannabis, abortion, and gay rights long before Jair Bolsonaro’s rise. Feminism, gun policy, affirmative action in universities, and support for hard-line policing divide the public more evenly. Were Bernie to stand for these causes in Brazil as he does in the United States, he would doubtless be on the left of the aisle, along with the small PSOL party.
In economic terms, there’s a small (but powerful) group of pro-market politicians on the right who advocate for privatization wherever possible, tax breaks, and weakened labor rights. On the left, another small group defends an economy driven by public investment and the budget deficits such an economy requires. Between these extremes, the center’s consensus is that education, healthcare, and the energy sector should remain nationalized. The government must have a strong role in development, but presidents should be “fiscally responsible.” Whether that consensus shifts somewhat leftward or rightward depends on the sitting president, as the center tends to align with them.
Bernie’s defense of labor rights, Medicare for All, corporate tax increases, and government investment in infrastructure places him, economically speaking, in the Brazilian center. Under Dilma Rousseff’s tenure, he might have come off as center-right; under Bolsonaro’s, he comes off as center-left. For better or for worse, he is not radical enough to be placed on the left.
VERDICT: All in all, were a Brazilian politician to mimic Bernie’s program in an election, they would come out as your typical center/center-left politician. For Brazilians, it would probably be as exciting to back Bernie as it would for Americans to back Amy Klobuchar. Since that program’s opponent would be Jair Bolsonaro, there still might be some reason.
Daniel “Bob” Ferreira
Despite Bernie Sanders’ praise for the northern nation, Sweden is not a socialist utopia. Since the 1990s, Swedes have mostly voted for the center-left Social Democrats and the center-right Moderate Party. Though the latter embraces economic liberalism, free market reform, and tax cuts more enthusiastically than the former, the difference between the parties is not enormous, and the two have worked together to implement several reforms that run counter to Bernie’s proposals.
Policy makers have reduced the corporate tax rate (which is lower in Sweden than in the US), eliminated the estate tax and financial transaction tax, privatized parts of the healthcare system, and reduced welfare benefits. It is important to note, however, that the center-right in Sweden would be considered center-left in the US. Progressive policies in Sweden are embedded in business friendly arrangements, and thus are generally resistant to right-wing backlash. For instance, the Moderate Party is an enthusiastic advocate for free higher education and generous parental leave.
VERDICT: No doubt, Bernie would be considered a leftist, feeling at home with the more radical members of the Social Democrats.
Maybe somewhat surprisingly, the Green New Deal is more ambitious than the German environmental movement’s open aims and would certainly attract considerable opposition from politicians right of center. But at the core of Bernie Sanders’ appeal are solidly social-democratic policies: state-run single-payer healthcare, free universities, child care, and public infrastructure spending.
Most of these policies have been standard in Germany since the postwar era, and few politicians, except for some on the hard economic right, seriously try to challenge them. The one exception is the single-payer healthcare system, which the center-left Social Democrats pushed in the last election cycle to replace the universal (but somewhat unequal) two-tier system. Finally, Bernie’s ambiguous stance on free trade, with his strong focus on protecting American manufacturing, places him with populist politicians in almost all German parties, from the far left to the extreme right.
VERDICT: With the exception of his progressive environmentalism, most of Bernie Sanders’ proposals would be considered centrist in Germany.
On domestic policy issues, Israel’s political picture is confusing at first to the American eye. On issues of social welfare, Israel generally matches even the farthest left of Bernie’s positions. Israel has a universal health care system that’s been in place since the 1990s and heavily subsidized public education, both of which contribute to its high level of social development. Yet the country is also consumed by domestic political debates on issues that may seem obscure from the American political perspective—e.g., compulsory military service, the status of ultra-orthodox religious Jews, and the right to non-religious marriage. On Israeli social and economic issues, Bernie Sanders would likely be a member of the center-left bloc of parties, including what remains of the Israeli Labour party and Meretz.
On issues relating specifically to Israeli foreign policy and the ongoing occupation of the West Bank, Bernie’s strong advocacy for a two-state solution and against the demolition of Palestinian villages, as well as quieter moves against military action in Gaza, translate to a positioning to the left of the Israeli political consensus, somewhere between the progressivism of Meretz and the leftism of the Arab-coalition parties. Compared to the Palestinian and Israeli Arab parties in Israel and Palestine, though, Bernie’s political stances on this issue are still moderate and center-right, relying on what some would consider an outdated perception of the Israelis as willing negotiators at the table for peace.
VERDICT: While many of Bernie’s proposals on both domestic and Palestinian policy would not be controversial in the Israel of the twentieth century, the rapidly rightward shift of the country in recent years would place Bernie firmly as a leftist relative to the Jewish political consensus in Israel, and on the center-right of the Arab/Palestinian discourse.
A nation that often champions “self-reliance” in opposition to the “welfare state,” Singapore has been the recipient of glowing coverage around the world, peddled as the Goldilocks zone of nationalized systems that preserve pro-market principles. However, Singapore’s much-lauded universal healthcare system is more complex than advertised. With significant deductibles and copayments—along with the financial limitations of its mandatory self-funding scheme—a disproportionate amount of healthcare costs are ultimately paid out-of-pocket by employers and individuals. In response to rising costs and affordability issues, the center-left party in Singapore (Singapore Democratic Party) has proposed a single-payer healthcare system, a model Bernie has been famously pushing in the United States.
Bernie’s tax reform proposal would be positioned even further to the left in Singapore, which has a top marginal tax rate of only 22% (for those with annual incomes of S$320,000 SGD, or about $235,000 USD, and above)—much lower compared to the 52% rate Bernie has proposed. His stances on moral issues like the abolition of the death penalty, legalization of cannabis, and protection of LGBT rights could be seen as radical. In Singapore, sex between men is criminalized (although the law is typically not enforced) and drug-related offenses comprise the majority of death sentences.
VERDICT: While his healthcare proposal might be closer to the centre-left, Bernie would undoubtedly be considered a leftist in Singapore.
When Bernie took America by storm in 2016, few predicted that Britain’s very own old darling socialist, Jeremy Corbyn, would soon make similar inroads. And yet, in 2017, Corbyn forced a Conservative minority government and shocked the nation.
The Corbyn and Bernie movements actually have much in common; both are reactions to the prevailing neoliberal order that emerged under Reagan and Thatcher in the ‘80s. Both Corbyn and Bernie have argued for the relevance of socialist policies, and both promote ideas that free market ideologues of the past few decades have arrogantly declared bankrupt. Perhaps most interestingly, our two favorite transatlantic socialists have spent much of the last few years seeking to reform their own parties. Under Bill Clinton in America and Tony Blair in Britain, the Democratic and Labour Parties bought into a neoliberal consensus. Corbyn and Bernie have correctly lambasted this rightward shift.
There is, though, a key difference between the two leaders. Put simply, the American left has always been much smaller and less effective than Britain’s equivalent. The Labour Party—committed for much of the twentieth century to enacting socialism—has been a major force in British politics since before the First World War. After the Second World War, the Labour Party created many of the bastions of modern Britain’s social democracy—above all, a nationalized health service. From Huey Long to Huey Newton, America’s progressives have had their moments. But the United States has never had a broad-based, left-wing movement like the Labour Party. Bernie is thus somewhat revolutionary for America: a rare socialist. Corbyn, by contrast, is channeling an old radicalism native to Britain’s green and pleasant land.
VERDICT: Within the longue durée of British history, Bernie would be center-left at best; in the current moment, he’s part of a transatlantic socialist resurgence.
Ravi Veriah Jacques
Graphics and featured image by Chapman Caddell.