• David Deming and the Strawmanning of Bernie Sanders Supporters

    Recently, David Deming penned an article for NewsOK titled “OU Professor: Youth’s attraction to Sanders shows education failure.” Deming lays out his core argument against Bernie’s supporters in the first paragraph, which reads

    It’s disheartening that an avowed socialist is a viable candidate for president of the United States. Socialism is a dead end. For hundreds of years, it has failed everywhere it’s been adopted. The enthusiasm of our youth for the candidacy of Bernie Sanders is a symptom of our failure to educate them, not only in history, government and economics, but also basic morality.

    Deming then goes onto discuss how the Soviet Union’s collapse and more recent problems in Venezuela show that socialism does not work, saying things like “there are no property rights under socialism.” He wraps up his “in depth” analysis by saying that

    Socialism isn’t so much a legitimate economic system as it is a moral failing. It will always exist because ignorant people will always want something for nothing. If we want to retain our freedom and prosperity, then we must educate our children that the purpose of government is to secure liberty, not provide free lunches.

    David Deming

    Before going into the problems with this article (which at the time of the writing had almost 140 thousand shares via social media), let’s take a brief look at the author. Deming is a University of Oklahoma associate professor of arts and sciences, who has a background in geology and geophysics and is no stranger to controversy. For example, he is a fairly vehement climate change denier (in contrast to the overwhelming evidence and scientific consensus), opposed to affirmative action policies, and has said some fairly unpleasant things about homosexuals. He has also had some difficulties in his academic position, the details of which I won’t go into here. Suffice it to say, he has a fairly long record of making very public and very socially conservative statements, some of which are opinion or belief-based and some that go against an objective view of reality.

    His “critique” in the above linked article would, frankly, be laughable if it didn’t reflect the misbeliefs that so many Americans have in regards to the proposed policies put forth by Bernie Sanders. First, he is trying to make a link between the highly corrupt socialist governments in the USSR and Venezuela and what is properly termed social democracy. The two are extraordinarily different, to the degree that Deming is attacking Sanders supporters for something that is not even remotely similar to what they actually support. This is a very common logical fallacy that we call “strawmanning” – misrepresenting someone’s beliefs or views in order to make them easier to attack.

    Had Deming wanted to draw more accurate parallels to what the U.S. might look like under a fully-fledged social democracy (as opposed to the partial social democracy we already have in the U.S.), he would not have made comparisons to the collapsed USSR. Instead he could have pointed to those nations which have fully embraced social democracy (Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark) or which are much further along that side of the spectrum (most of Europe, for example). Of course, if he had done that, then Deming would have had to admit something he probably doesn’t want to: that the more socially democratic a country is, the higher quality of life the people living there have. To get an idea of how widespread the gap is between the U.S. and these countries, my colleague Peter has put together an extremely information (and graph) filled post showing what social democracy actually looks like: lower child mortality and poverty rates, more equality between genders, less financial inequality, better health care and education, and so on.


    If Deming had paid attention to and learned about history, government, and economics (as he says the “youth” of today had not), he would understand that Sanders being a democratic socialist (and his aspirations for the U.S.) is far removed from the McCarthyist, red scare socialism espoused in his article. The youth of today realize this, along with realizing that the cure to many of America’s problems is not to “limit government power” (as Deming suggests), but instead to make sure that the government is actually working for the people, not against almost all of them. Sanders’ supporters are not “ignorant people” who “want something for nothing.” No one is planning on a redistribution of wealth that means everyone will all have the same amount of money. That’s a scare tactic with no basis in reality. Sanders has proposed an increase in taxes, yes…for about 1.5% of the population (those making over $231,000 a year). This will go fund public systems, such as healthcare and education, yes.

    But is this a “free lunch?” Not at all. A better analogy would be that it’s the kid who has an entire backpack full of food sharing an apple with his friends, some of whom have a sandwich and some chips, some of whom have only some chips, and some that have nothing at all. The kid isn’t going to have the bag ripped from his hands, leaving him with nothing. Instead, he has more than he’ll ever be able to eat, and has even more waiting for him when he goes back home. The kid with the backpack literally loses nothing by helping out those around him, and in fact gains from doing so by helping to make the world a better place.

    Calling someone “ignorant” or “uneducated” or “immoral” simply because they wish for a more equal and just world is shameful. Using an inaccurate version of someone’s beliefs to attack them is intellectually bankrupt. Deming relies on both tactics, which I’m afraid reveals more about his non-reality-based beliefs and a personal agenda than making an effective argument against Sanders’ supporters.


    Category: ActivismFeaturedPoliticsSkepticismSocial Media


    Article by: Caleb Lack

    Caleb Lack is the author of "Great Plains Skeptic" on SIN, as well as a clinical psychologist, professor, and researcher. His website contains many more exciting details, visit it at www.caleblack.com

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    • ncovington89

      You really Hit the nail on the head!

    • Drew S

      You’re correct when you say the “partial social democracy we already have in the U.S.” It’s not working out so well for us so far, since the government mainly shows it’s socialist side with bailouts for big businesses, overcharging the american taxpayer for mediocre Obamacare, and effectively forcing companies to cut employees and/or reduce workers to part-time so they can stay afloat under crushing bureaucracy.

      Ron Paul said it best, “Capitalism should not be condemned, because we haven’t had capitalism.”

      Bernie is passionate with his rhetoric. “Democratic Socialism,” borrowing your schoolyard analogy, is when a group of government bullies pretend to vote before they shake you down for your lunch money to redistribute among their friends with or without your vote of approval.

      Charity must be freely given, or it isn’t charity at all. It’s coercion. Remember that when you try to feel like a good samaritan for paying your exorbitant taxes in a few years. Someone has to pay back all that “free” college money. If it’s not you, then it will be your children, but my guess is that the Dollar won’t stand up under the strain that the Baby Boomers version of socialism has already brought us. Have fun paying into a socialist system you’ll likely never see a dime from if you’re under the age of 30, AKA Social Security.

      When you actually crunch the numbers, (as someone has below) you see his financial proposals for the country are detrimental and would ultimately lead to economic weakening of the nation, not a golden-era of prosperity for the poor except in the very limited short term.

      • im-skeptical

        Straight out of Atlas Shrugged. How did that Galt’s Gulch project work out?

      • josh

        “Ron Paul said it best, “Capitalism should not be condemned, because we haven’t had capitalism.””

        Hmm, the Soviets said the same thing about Communism.

        • Drew S

          So that begs the question if you’re unwilling to have “pure” communism, how do you expect “democratic” socialism to work?

          Since socialism is communism for people without the balls to man the barricades.

          • josh

            How do I expect something less extreme to work when something extreme is unpopular and probably unworkable? I dunno, maybe we could have a guy run for office through the normal electoral process and press for progressive reforms, rather than “man the barricades”.

            Me, I’m still waiting for our Galtian overlords to man up and withdraw themselves from society. That’ll show us.

    • We can agree that Deming fails to adequately explain the “enthusiasm of our youth for the candidacy of Bernie Sanders” but it is a real phenomenon in need of a good explanation. Is it as simple as the divide between those who grew up under the chilling shadow of the Cold War and those who did not?

      • Jeff Pinner

        Not even close, Mr. Reinhardt. Many of Sanders’ older supporters, such as myself at 61, grew up under the threat of the Cold War and well understand the difference between socialists and democratic socialists, although it was never taught in school. The young people have yet to “harden” in their worldviews, and are therefore more open to Sanders’ outlook.

        • “Many of Sanders’ older supporters, such as myself at 61, grew up under the threat of the Cold War…”

          Yes, but there are far fewer of you, for some reason. Perhaps it is about ideological flexibility, but I doubt that is all there is to it. Left-leaning youth are flexible but why would Bernie require significantly more flexibility?

    • teledoug

      Drew: Your view about taxes is naive….If you stimulate the economy, the taxes will come….something the R’s seem to have forgot. We have historical evidence that confirms that a higher rate on the uber wealthy and large corporations has no negative effect on their well being. As for “partial social democracy” not working out so well…..wrong….
      1 the bailout saved the entire world from economic collapse
      2 the ACA is a mandate to obtain PRIVATE insurance whose rates are determined by private companies (with the exception of Medicare which is the most efficient healthcare system in America currently),
      3 free college tuition is but a drop in the bucket of the overall cost of a college education. When I was young most state colleges had free tuition and we had a bumper crop of educated people who didn’t leave the university with crippling debt.
      4 the current cap on social security hasn’t kept pace with inflation and raising it slightly would insure solvency for decades to come.
      5 Ron Paul is wrong…..we’ve had capitalism for over 100 years and history tells us that it must be regulated or we end up with a situation like we have today where all money is moving to the top.
      6 the only thing keeping a large element of the population from abject poverty is social assistance…..none of those people are getting rich and the numbers are growing in spite of the fact that most are working full or part time jobs at pittance wages (with the exclusion of the elderly, the disabled and children)….
      Bernie has been in government his entire life and has a unique perspective on governance with it’s failures and successes. And I agree with him that it’s time for a BIG change with the policies of the last 30 years….

    • Otto Greif

      As I noted on that post you linked to, if you are going to make these sorts of cross-country comparisons you have to adjust for demographic differences.

    • Otto Greif

      The middle class in social democracies is poorer than the US middle class.

      • Brian Girard Smith

        Wrong….ever been to Denmark? Or Germany? Get a Passport

    • Otto Greif

      Sanders wants a payroll tax increase that would, in his own words, “hit everyone”. He also proposes financial trading taxes that countries like Sweden and the Netherlands tried, then repealed when they were found to be a failure.

    • An Ardent Skeptic

      David Deming seems to be just as ill-informed as the people he claims are ill-informed. That being said, I see way too much political sloganeering about being more like European Social Democracies with far too many oversimplifications about how social democracies work. It’s complicated and just yelling “tax the rich” doesn’t get you there:





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