Why Bernie Sanders’ Family Values Agenda Is to the Right of European Conservatives

Not too long ago I wrote a post, describing Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, and Democratic presidential candidate, as a moderate center-left, social democratic politician compared with European standards. Today, I have to correct my view, and say that while this is mostly correct, he is to the right of some European conservatives as far as his “family values” agenda is concerned.

It should first be noted that Sanders views on family values is much more accurate than US conservatives, who have appropriated the term to mean a ban on abortions, access to contraceptives and gay marriage. But what does Sanders himself stand for? He argues that family values involve a set of economic and social policies, which improve the material status of working people and allow them to spend time with their families and get paid to do so. Sanders advocates for the US to end the disgrace of being the only industrialized country that does not guarantee paid family/ medical/ maternity and sick leave and mandatory paid vacation. It is, indeed, time to end this disgrace, which is only helpful in padding the bottom line of the companies that employ and exploit these workers.

But before somebody should claim that Sanders’ agenda is radically leftist, we should step back for a minute and consider the details of Sanders’ family value agenda, and then compare it with the family policies of other European countries.

Sanders on Maternity Leave: 12 weeks of paid leave for mothers to spend time with their children.

Canada, Croatia, Serbia, Denmark and UK: 52 weeks or a year. Sweden: 420 days

Sanders on paid sick leave: 7 days per year

Austria: 6 weeks at full pay, additional 4 weeks at 75% pay. France: 12 months in 3-year period. Germany: 6 weeks at full pay, and 78 weeks in 3-year period. Netherlands: 2 years at 70% pay

Sanders on paid vacation: 10 days or 2 weeks per year

Austria and Portugal: 35 days. Germany and Spain: 34 days. France: 31 days.

My selection of comparison countries was, indeed, very selective, and I picked the more generous countries, but I do want to show that Sanders’ proposals are not radical, but make him to the right of even conservatives in Europe. It is certainly not realistic for Sanders to demand a Scandinavian paradise in the United States, but it would certainly be wrong to suggest that his family values agenda is a fringe proposal in the context of industrialized countries.

Given that the US is a developing country when it comes to giving workers the most basic social amenities, we certainly need a family values agenda that prioritizes more social benefits to workers and their families. As far as I know, no other presidential contender has put forward such a comparably determined family values agenda, and for that Sanders should certainly be commended.

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3 Responses to Why Bernie Sanders’ Family Values Agenda Is to the Right of European Conservatives

  1. Ronald says:

    A big thank you for taking the time to read what Sanders is proposing. Nice to have the details.
    Once more, he appears like all liberals to be timid. He is taking positions to the far-left of valueless candidate Hillary Clinton but does not really go as far as European social democracy.

    I disagree that he should run as a Democrat. He will never be nominated. Powerful Democrats are already red-baiting him. Everything right now is being set for Clinton or Joseph Biden, should the second coming of a Clinton completely implode. Bernie will only end-up supporting Clinton or Biden in the end.

    It is time to reject the Democrats, like the earlier American socialists, whether Debs or DeLeon did, and build our own political institutions. Liberals (progressives) were so bankrupted in the 1990’s that they did not leave the Democratic Party. I agree with Christopher Hedges that they should have left over Clinton’s NAFTA.

    Now, we have Obama pushing the Trans Pacific Partnership and Liberals still stay in the Democratic Party.

    The other day, I saw two young Afroamerican (Malcolm X’s word) males on MSNBC’s ” Politics Nation,” who spoke of the events in Ferguson, Missouri. They said it was not just Republicans but Democrats too who betrayed them. So true!

    The three things anyone socialist has to recognize in our era are to rebuild the unions, militantnise those same unions and build an explicitely socialist political party or parties. Liberals are completely unwilling to do anything but to support the current system no matter how many times it betrays workers, young people, minorities or progressive and humane values. It is time for real changes that sadly will not happen with the Bernie Sanders campaign.

    • Larry Liu says:

      I agree that those on the political left face a stark choice: support a candidate, who has the chance to win and then moderate his positions, or create a different political party altogether. I support Sanders campaign, because he is the most powerful force we have on the left today. Of course, we all know the dozens of Marxist and left-wing organizations (I encountered several during the Left Forum in New York), but they are doing a good job entertaining each other with their revolutionary dreams rather than catalyze political ideas into action.

      • Ronald says:

        Once more, I am not certain of what you want. You started one conversation outlining the differences between democratic socialism and social democracy. I could go on forever about how these terms have often been used at the same time by the same people. But I took what you said as meaning that you desire a society, that unlike social democracy, working peoples’ lives are better because they are the owners and do not depend on the reluctant generosity of the capitalists when everything is going well for them.

        If you support a social democrat, then shouldn’t the social democrat at least run for office in a social democratic party, and not a party that is opposed to what social democracy is?

        In Canada, they have the New Democratic Party, which, while not perfect, has significant labor support. There is some reason to believe that the NDP could form a new government in Ottawa after this October.

        A renewed labor movement is necessary to anything we can do in the US. Social Dems have succeeded where labor was strong and backed the social dems. The tasks are to rebuild labor and that can be done, in part, around the minimum wage demand but also in fighting back against corporate demands. But the Democrats in congress have not shown they will support labor and so a labor party is necessary.

        As to Sanders, what distinguishes him from Obama, besides the socialist rhetoric? Obama too appeared as the outsider against Clinton and drew large crowds. He promised Change and had a populist appeal. He made numerous promises that later he would not keep even when he had a Democratic congress. No doubt, part of Sanders’ current appeal is to liberals who feel let down by Obama. If the nature of the Democratic establishment has not changed then how does one really expect the outcome to be that different if Sanders is elected?

        Do you really trust a party to be on the side of workers when they can not pass union-check-off, sided with Delta Airlines against its employees, is willing to pass the TPP and many other anti-worker measures?

        How has the Democratic Party changed since Eugene Debs’ time? It was a reform party for much of the 20th century. But it has become completely dependent on the donations of hedge fund managers, brokerage houses and Hollywood actors. The small donations they love to talk about do not make up the lions’ share of campaign funding. As a result, the liberal wing is very small and soft and the conservatives are firmly in control. The party has once more become what Debs characterized it as another party of capitalism.

        So while I may agree the Lefties at the New Social Fourm may be blowing pot smoke and miss any opportunity to do anything meaningful, the Sanders campaign is a non-starter because it will not lead to an organization of the workers, either politically or economicly. What Sanders will accomplish is to once more deliver the votes for the Democrats. This is not what a real socialist would do. So could we please return to a meaningful discussion of socialism?.

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