Rich Lowry: Bernie is not normal

(Patrick Semansky | AP) Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., gives a sign during a campaign event, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, in Boone, Iowa.

The most substantively outrageous presidential campaign in American history has some serious chance of success.

Bernie Sanders is leading or near the top of most polls in the first two Democratic nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire. He could plausibly win both, which would instantly transform the race into a desperate effort to Stop Bernie.

Sanders doesn’t exactly get good press. A lot of the punditry (understandably) wrote him off when Elizabeth Warren eclipsed him in the polls a couple of months ago and he had his health scare. Longer profiles have tended to be fond, while expressing skepticism that Sanders can build out his coalition. But the same people who have spent years worrying about norms — by which they usually mean things President Donald Trump says and tweets — express little alarm about Bernie’s campaign of jaw-dropping radicalism.

If he had his way, he'd fundamentally change the character of the country. He'd make the United States an outlier in the Western world, not in terms of its relatively limited government, but its sweeping activism. A Hellfire missile aimed right at the federal fisc, Sanders would make Barack Obama's economic agenda look like the work of a moderate Republican.

In foreign affairs, he'd bring to the Oval Office a sympathy for America's enemies not often heard outside academia or Noam Chomsky reading groups.

He's the American Jeremy Corbyn, a socialist true believer whose fantastical agenda reflects the dictates of dogma. The difference is that Corbyn effectively promised a return to socialist-imposed stagnation in Britain, whereas Bernie is inviting America to experience it for the first time.

His domestic program, according to Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute, would cost nearly $100 trillion over the next decade. It would more than double federal spending, and blow past Western European social democracies in government profligacy. What would ordinarily be considered ambitious spending plans — his proposed increased expenditure expansion on Social Security, infrastructure, housing, education and paid family leave — are dwarfed by his gargantuan commitments to his "Medicare for All" proposal, his federal job guarantee and his climate plan.

He'd fundamentally transform the relationship of the individual to the state, which, among other things, would ban people from owning their own health insurance.

Sanders pitches his health care proposal as "what every other major country on Earth is doing," but no other place is as sweeping or as generous. "There is not a single country in the world," health care analyst Chris Pope writes, "that offers comprehensive coverage with an unlimited choice of providers, fully paid for by taxpayers, without insurer gatekeeping, service rationing or out-of-pocket payments."

Sanders would drastically increase taxes and still fall short of funding his program. As Riedl notes, he'd boost the top federal income-tax rate to 52% from 37%, and the payroll tax rate to 27.2% from 15.3%, as well as impose a 62% investment tax rate on upper-income taxpayers.

His foreign policy bears the stamp of soft spots for the communist regimes in Nicaragua and the Soviet Union. He called the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani an assassination. He condemned the ouster of Bolivias leftist autocrat Evo Morales, who has called Sanders "brother." He won't call Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro a dictator, but slams Benjamin Netanyahu as a "racist." He has said his vote to authorize the war in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks was a mistake.

Sanders does indeed have his charms. He's sincere, consistent and inarguably himself. He now has a step on frenemy Elizabeth Warren in the leftist lane in the primaries because he's not as painfully calculating as she is. But make no mistake: Sanders is a socialist continuing his takeover attempt of the Democratic Party to forge what he aptly calls a political revolution. He may be more polite than Trump, but he's wildly outside the mainstream and a clear and present danger to the public welfare.

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.

Twitter, @RichLowry