What George Will Doesn't Understand About Bernie Sanders

In this opinion piece on the Washington Post, George Will accuses U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) of not understanding "economic inequality."

As conservative political commentators go, Will is far from the worst. Some of his beliefs, in fact, are actually sane (he is against the war on drugs, for example).

However, this recent piece reveals that Will, like the worst of his political brethren, cares little for nuance when writing polemics (and don't you just love the absurd click-baitiness of his title?).

His argument relies heavily on a new book by Harry Frankfurt called On Inequality. According to Will, Frankfurt's argument is that poverty is a bigger problem than inequality, and the former is not a necessary effect of the latter. (It should be noted that Frankfurt is a philosopher, not an economist, and my understanding is that his book deals with the question of why people are more distressed by wealth than poverty).

I have not yet read Frankfurt's book, but based on Will's explanation, he is completely right on this point. Some measure of wealth inequality is inherent in a (classically) liberal society and it does not necessarily lead to extreme poverty. What our economy needs is a focus not on everybody being equal, but on everybody having enough. Will, Frankfurt and I are in complete agreement.

So, I imagine, is Bernie Sanders. For Will's op-ed was not a treatment of wealth inequality, but an attack on the so-called democratic socialist challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Unfortunately, this attack relies on not just a misunderstanding, but a fundamental and intentional implicit misrepresentation of Sanders's economic agenda.


Admittedly, Sanders has thus far done a terrible job of demystifying the term "socialism" among moderate and conservative Americans, and even the term "democratic socialist" is a misnomer when self-attributed by Sanders. ("Social democrat" is much better. Isn't language fun?)

But Will is a Puiltzer-winning journalist and political commentator and should know better. I hardly believe that he is completely unfamiliar with Sanders's economic proposals and bases his conception of them exclusively around the term "socialist."

We begin by reaffirming that some level of wealth inequality is inevitable in a free society. To advocate a complete end to wealth inequality is to champion total wealth distribution, and in effect communism. Sanders has proposed no such measures.

And I thought George Will hated Donald Trump.

When Sanders speaks of income and wealth inequality, he is phrasing a complex issue in a way most Americans can understand: the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.

You can look to the nations he champions as examples to aspire to, like Denmark, which does NOT have completely equal distribution of wealth, and see that Will's attack is foolish.

You can read Sanders's website and see plain facts that point to the current economic situation amounting to a massive redistribution of wealth from the poor and middle class and to the already-wealthy.

None of the measures Sanders proposes to combat this issue (increased availability of education, modest tax increases on the wealthy and corporations, moving towards a single-payer healthcare system) constitute an absolute end to wealth inequality. What Will completely ignores is the fact that despite some inequality being inherent in our system, the current levels are morally disgraceful, spiritually profane, and ultimately unsustainable.

But Will is just one of the first in what will surely become a long line of fear mongering opportunists taking advantage of the ignorance of the American public and what amounts to a harmless confusion of ideological names. The straw version of Bernie Sanders that his attack relies on simply does not exist.

As a member of the Fourth Estate, Will has a responsibility above all else to educate the public about these types of issues. Instead he has elected with this piece to engage in partisan argumentative fallacy at the expense of truth.

How somebody capable of such intellectually dishonest tripe ever won a Pulitzer is beyond me.

(This post also appears on Political Moll.)