The mainstream media and Republican candidates have been having a field day with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) espousal of the virtues of democratic socialism. Sanders has been very vocal about his admiration for the achievements of the Scandinavian countries, saying that “we know that in countries, in Scandinavia, like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, they are very democratic countries, obviously. The voter turnout is a lot higher than it is in the United States. In those countries, health care is the right of all people. And in those countries, college education, graduate school is free.”
He’s received a fair deal of flak for that comparison, especially from conservatives so blinded by the myth of American exceptionalism that they refuse to recognize the successes of other nations or consider their potential for good in our nation. Marco Rubio, for instance, declared that “I think Bernie Sanders is a great candidate for president — of Norway.”
The Economist recently released their 2015 Democracy Index, ranking the nations of the world on the health of their political systems and to what extent they reflect the will of the people – and their findings make a strong case for adopting some form of Nordic-style democratic socialism while issuing a strong indictment against the current status quo of the American democracy.
Out of the top five healthiest democracies in the world, four of them are Scandinavian nations. Norway has the healthiest democracy in the world, followed by Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark. The United States, on the other hand, clocks in at #20 – behind Uruguay – and is the very last nation to be considered a “full democracy” on the list, receiving relatively poor scores for “functioning of government” and “political participation:”
“Since 2008, US democracy has been adversely affected by the increasing polarisation of the political scene and political brinkmanship; the popular mood has soured and faith in political institutions and elites has collapsed. The popularity of presidential contenders Donald Trump (Republican) and Bernie Sanders (Democrat) illustrates the mood of popular disaffection with the status quo.”
The differences are very stark. In the Nordic nations where governments – parliamentary representative democracies with more room for pluralism than the highly polarized two party system we have in America – provide important social services like free healthcare and education as a basic function of government and not as a “privilege” or a begrudging “entitlement,” political participation and overall happiness are much higher than in the United States; as a consequence, the people have a vested interest in holding their political elites accountable and are reasonably educated enough on the issues to make informed decisions.
It is vital for the American people be not led astray by the right-wing’s campaign to associate democratic socialism with the authoritarian “socialist” regimes of the Cold War. They were no more socialist than the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea is “democratic.” We have allowed our political system to be overrun by the ultra-wealthy oligarchs and the politicians they’ve bought with their ill-gotten gains, corrupted by business at the expense of the middle class. This election will answer a question that will shape our nation’s future – do we want a government that works for the people, by the people? Or are we content to sit and live our lives as a permanently disenfranchised underclass the serves the will of the 1%? If we want to restore our ailing democracy to full health, electing a progressive like Bernie Sanders is the first step to our national rejuvenation.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.