Pasco professor talks about Bernie Sanders, Nordic exceptionalism - Florida Politics

Pasco professor talks about Bernie Sanders, Nordic exceptionalism

Bernie Sanders is a self-avowed “Democratic socialist.”

Shortly after beginning his campaign last spring for the Democratic nomination for president, the U.S. senator from Vermont explained that his brand of such socialism is something that’s actively practiced in Scandinavian nations.

“Like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, they are very democratic countries, obviously,” he said on ABC’s “This Week” this past May. “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.”

Host George Stephanopoulos suggested that Sanders could be attacked for saying the U.S. should be more like Scandinavia.

“That’s right. And what’s wrong with that?” Sanders countered. “What’s wrong when you have more income and wealth equality? What’s wrong when they have a stronger middle class in many ways than we do, higher minimum wage than we do, and they are stronger on the environment than we do?”

Since the Sanders campaign began picking up traction, there has been a lot written about why the U.S. should or shouldn’t look to the Nordic model.

“I think that he has been doing a wonderful job of making people aware that there’s something that’s really important and positive that’s happened historically in these Nordic countries,” says Jerry Lieberman, co-founder of the Evolution Institute, an international scientific think tank. “They have evolved to be more caring counties, and nations where people really matter, nations that are more fundamentally democratic than our own political system. That’s a wonderful thing. He has almost legitimized (something) that in the past has been dismissed outright as homogenous and small counties.”

Lieberman was also the founder and first director of the Florida Community Partnership Center at USF. Now 78, he lives in Pasco County. He said that before the campaign began, he advised members of Sanders staff and others close to the senator not to describe Denmark as the ultimate example of a Nordic model because the nation has been moving to the right.

Sanders may not have received that memo. In October, he referenced Denmark, Sweden and Norway as countries the U.S. should aspire to “and and learn what they have accomplished for their working people.”

Lieberman disagrees with critics who say that Americans can’t learn anything from Norway’s government.

“I think one needs to focus on Norway in particular right now because it represents the best example of a nation that can influence public policy in the world if it decides to do that,” he said.

Hillary Clinton has dismissed such talk, saying at a CNN-moderated debate in October that “we are not Denmark.”

“I love Denmark,” she said. “We are the United States of America and it’s our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so it doesn’t run amok and doesn’t cause the kind of inequities we’re seeing.”

Lieberman said U.S. citizens are sadly uninformed about what goes on not only in Scandinavian nations, but virtually everywhere else around the world.

“Hillary knows that there is good things going on there, but part of the problem here in looking out at Norway or any Nordic country, is that Americans just have so little knowledge about what’s gong on in the world, from what they get from watching Fox, or CBS or ABC or whatever else they watch,” he said.”It’s very, very scanty and very skewed that the choices in our country of course are almost unlimited news, but in terms of actual information about Norway, or even any other country, it’s very superficial. As an academic, I find it very misinformed and very judgmental. American scholars, even those who are students of Scandinavia, they don’t seem to see this as of any consequence.”

Lieberman said that while Hillary plays down the Nordic affect, Bill Clinton has trumpeted it – in a speech in Norway last year.

“I found it amusing of course,” Lieberman said, adding that it was before the campaign had kicked in. “Here’s Bill saying, ‘I can’t believe the changes have occurred in Norway since I came here many years ago. I used to think of it as a whole bunch of Caucasians, blue-eyed and so forth, and as I see out in the audience as I look around Oslo.’ He said it’s like New York City. It’s a multicultural, multiracial community. Then he points how they’re in great economic shape, they have very low economic employment. They don’t have to worry about college debts, and he says why can’t Americans be more like Norway?”

In the January 28 issue of The Nation, journalist Ann Jones, who lived in Norway, lavished praise on the Nordic model, contending that “even the Democratic presidential candidates, who say they love or want to learn from those countries, don’t seem know how they actually work.”

Lieberman said that just like the Florida Legislature might want to adopt or advance some of the ideas being done in other states, the U.S. should look at practices being done abroad, and seeing if their ideas about health care or criminal justice should be seriously examined. The U.S. is hurting itself by not looking abroad, he said.

“We’re not taking advantage of science and knowledge we believe that we need to come up with new ideas, new solutions,” he said, thinking that if say a scientist from Norway came up with a way of addressing cancer with medication, “it could be bogged down in the Food and Drug Administration and have to go various iterations.”

Lieberman said that although Americans are constantly told that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world, it should be acknowledged that as one human race, we all  have similar needs, and that there are solutions to our problems that aren’t only contained within our borders. Whether that means the Nordic model, or not, he remains optimistic.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.
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