Bernie Sanders has become a cultural icon. Some 650,000 Americans have been so enamored with the Vermont senator's message of income redistribution and the promise of free stuff they have sent him actual campaign contributions. Larry David memorably played him on "Saturday Night Live" over the weekend. "Feel the Bern" has become his campaign slogan — clever.
He is socialism with a happy face. But there is nothing happy about socialism.
If you love government and want more government control over your lives, then socialism is the philosophy for you.
But most people want less government in their lives.
Indeed, the current view of the overwhelming number of Americans, according to a recent Gallup poll, is that government is not helpful to their daily lives. The poll showed that 72 percent of the American people view the federal government as a bigger threat to the future of the country than big business or big labor, the worst score for the feds in the 50-year history of the question.
If you go to Google and ask for a list of socialist countries, it reports back with such stellar defenders of individual rights as North Korea, China, Cuba and the Soviet Union. Could Sanders turn us into a Vietnam? Probably not, but why risk it?
On Friday night, I had the opportunity to follow Sanders on "Real Time with Bill Maher." The show's host is no conservative, but he asked the possible Democrat nominee some pointed questions such as, "How are we going to pay for all of your new spending?"
The answer? Much higher taxes on people like Maher and just about anybody else who makes a decent living.
Maher pointed out that the American people, according to another poll, would rather vote for a Muslim or an atheist than vote for a socialist.
There's a good reason for that sentiment. A socialist wants to greatly expand the power of the government to control the means of production and then divvy up the benefits in ways it sees fit.
The Socialist Party has big plans for what to do to corporate America. According to its website, "Socialism is a society where the large-scale private ownership of the big corporations, the banks and the land, is ended. This means that we can collectively and democratically plan how we use the world's resources...This would mean bringing all the big corporations, controlling around 80% of the economy, into democratic public ownership, under democratic working-class control."
Bernie Sanders has bought into this philosophy. When asked at the Democrat debate if he is a capitalist, he said,
Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little, by which Wall Street's greed and recklessness wrecked this economy? No, I don't. I believe in a society where all people do well, not just a handful of billionaires."
He could have just as easily quoted Hugo Chávez, who once said,
"We must confront the privileged elite who have destroyed a large part of the world," or Fidel Castro, who once promised, "There is not Communism or Marxism, but representative democracy and social justice in a well-planned economy."
Is Bernie Sanders a Chávez or a Castro? I doubt it, but they all share the same socialist antipathy to capitalism and the profit motive.
Sanders attacks drug companies for making profits. He says that government-run single-payer healthcare would be cheaper and more efficient. But there is no evidence that the government does anything efficiently, with the possible exception of handing out Social Security checks.
And by the way, Social Security is not a proud example of socialism. It's a glorified and popular Ponzi scheme that transfers wealth from young people to old people, and it will go broke in a generation, according to the Trustees Report.
Bernie Sanders might be lovable, but socialism is not. There are no happy faces in a truly socialist country.
Feehery is president of QGA Public Affairs and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert (R-IL), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as speechwriter to former Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-IL).