Now that Bernie Sanders is a serious threat to win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, some on MSNBC have sounded the alarm, blasting the candidate for his extreme ideas. Yet, four years ago this week, Sanders had a friendlier platform on the liberal network. On February 17, 2016, socialist host Lawrence O’Donnell brought on socialist professor Frances Fox Piven to sing the praises of the socialist Sanders.
She told O’Donnell’s viewers that Sanders ideas aren’t “radical” and added, “[Sanders] is not proposing to take over anything. He is just proposing to redistribute the concentrated wealth that we have been producing in this society to make sure that everybody, young people have jobs.”
In 2010, O’Donnell bragged, “I am a socialist. I live to the extreme left of you mere liberals.” On the February 2016 show, the host, who earns an estimated $4 million a year, praised, “The younger voter when you polled them on this word socialism, it is not a bad word. And, polls always used to return socialism as just about the worst word that you could associate with anyone.”
According to a Nexis search, Professor Piven has not been back on the show for the 2020 cycle. Instead, you have MSNBC hosts like Chris Matthews decrying Sanders and Morning Joe regular Donny Deutsch admitting he’s “panicked” about a Sanders nomination.
For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.
A transcript of the February 17, 2016 segment is below. Click “expand” to read more.
LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: The Bernie Sanders for president campaign follows in the footsteps of many social theorists and activists who have been advancing similar ideas long before Bernie Sanders first ran for office. Frances Fox Piven, distinguished professor of political science and sociology at the graduate school of the City University of New York is ten years older than Bernie Sanders and has been a leading social policy thinker and activists throughout her career. She is the author of several books and is a prime mover behind the voter law, which Bill Clinton signed in 1993 to simplify voter registration. The President invited Frances Fox Piven to that bill signing ceremony. Here is Professor Piven in 1980 in a debate with the leading Republican economist of the era, Milton Friedman.
FRANCES FOX PIVEN (Cuny Professor): The economic license of this to control property and those who control capital has in fact been a threat not only to equality, but a threat to the freedom of people all over the world, and not only in Europe and in the United States, but in Africa and Asia and in Latin America.
O’DONNELL: Joining us now, Professor Frances Fox Piven, who is also a member and honorary chair of the Democratic Socialists of America. Professor, thank you very much for joining us.
PIVEN: I am so glad to be here.
O’DONNELL: You know, I have just been imagining throughout this campaign what it has been like for you to watch the rise of a candidate, who is saying things that I could have imagined a candidate saying in the past, but not a competitive candidate. Not a candidate who is running up a very competitive for the nomination for the Democratic presidential nomination.
PIVEN: Well, I don’t know. I think that democratic socialist is a very big term. People mean a lot of different things by it. You could also call Bernie Sanders a New Deal Democrat.
PIVEN: And you would not be wrong.
PIVEN: So, maybe he is not even a very left-wing New Deal Democrat. But his bold and clear statement of his central policy commitments and they are — they are left in American politics, they are left commitments, that is new. We have not heard that for a long time and I think people are just eating it up.
O’DONNELL: You have been studying voter behavior for a long time, written a couple of books about it, including how politicians have tried to suppress voter turnout in various ways. But, the younger voter when you polled them on this word socialism ,it is not a bad word. And, polls always used to return socialism as just about the worst word that you could associate with anyone.
PIVEN: Well, you know, that is the effect of a kind of national culture of propaganda of jingoism of flag waving.
PIVEN: But if you think about what socialism has meant and especially what democratic socialism has meant, it means that there should be democratic control over the main functions of the economy and that could happen in a variety of ways. It could be done by giving government larger responsibilities for production and distribution. It could be done by having workers self management.
PIVEN: There are any number of ways in which we could democratize the economy. I happen to believe we desperately need to do that, however. And, so, does Bernie Sanders, but not in radical ways. He is not proposing to take over anything. He is just proposing to redistribute the concentrated wealth that we have been producing in this society to make sure that everybody, young people have jobs, to make sure that people working have medical leave, that they can spend some time with their children to make sure they have health care. These are minimal things in rich industrial countries, everywhere except the United States.
O’DONNELL: Is it that we needed 50 years of watching other rich industrial countries do this kind of thing successfully and not sink into economic despair?
PIVEN: Well, I think it helps that we watched the countries do it, but we also have a tendency to think that we are extremely different.
PIVEN: You know, it is true that we have two legs and two arms and things like that, but there is something special and exotic about American — American society. Well, there is not anything so exotic about American society except that we treat ourselves different and therefore we do not learn as much as we could from other countries. A little learning would be a good thing.
O’DONNELL: Well, you have taught us all a great deal for many, many years. Frances Fox Piven, it is an honor to have you here tonight. I really appreciate you coming.
PIVEN: Glad to speak with you.