When I worked for then-Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the late 1990s, Washington was in the panting throes of a deregulatory orgy. Many lampooned my boss’ opposition to the grotesquerie, and his notoriety as the only self-described socialist in Congress. Nobody guessed that a few years later, our country would become the globe’s newest USSR: The United States’ Socialist Republic.

Yes, a red flag is rising over the Capitol, only the laborer’s hammer and sickle has been replaced by a baron’s top hat and monocle. America is Amerika, and throughout Washington a socialist rallying cry echoes: Politicians and lobbyists of the world unite! — unite to rescue Wall Street capitalists with a $700-billion taxpayer bailout.

Though socialism seems new in the U.S., it isn’t. Using public resources and government power to control the economy is as Amerikan as the Pentagon and the Patent Office. And the problem is not socialism itself, but our uniquely destructive version of it. Amerika’s is not the democratic socialism of many countries. Ours is kleptocratic socialism — the objective is theft.

Unlike European comrades, our socialists rarely mandate returns on taxpayer investments. The same 19th-century socialism that gave the Mountain West to railroad companies became a 20th-century socialism subsidizing oil and drug industry profits. Now, our 21st-century socialists propose giving financial industry con men the national credit card, confirming Marx’s theory that history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce.

Bolivian socialists nationalize to combat wealth stratification, remove greed from human necessities like energy, and allow the public to own the means of producing valuable commodities. Amerika’s socialists nationalize to preserve inequality and force the public to own the means of worthless production. Most recently, taxpayers’ $85 billion will purchase bankrupt AIG and its means of producing paper, all to let speculators continue profiteering off the human need for housing.

Close a factory in socialist Denmark, and workers get immediate government help, along with their free health care. Shutter one in Ohio, and workers get nothing, except politicians saying their jobs are never returning and national health care is “unaffordable.” But if investment banks teeter, those same politicians quickly find billions for bailouts.

Of course, socialist revolutions can share key traits.

Many feature aspiring dictators like Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a former Goldman Sachs banker. He is pushing Hugo Chavez-style legislation demanding totalitarian authority to spend the $700 billion “without limitation” or “review by any court of law or any administrative agency.” And surprise — Paulson’s scheme would enrich his Goldman Sachs pals.

Amerika, like other socialist nations, also has its share of faux converts and unconvincing agitprop.

John “I am fundamentally a deregulator” McCain has suddenly gone French, embracing regulation with the zeal of a beret-wearing Parisian reciting “Das Kapital” in a left bank coffeehouse (call him Monsieur Jean McCain, s’il vous plait). CNBC’s Larry Kudlow justifies kleptocratic socialism by absolving the financial elite and blaming the meltdown on that all-powerful Poor People Lobby, which he claims is “forcing banks to make low-income loans.” And New York Times columnist David Brooks, long the ruling class’ minister of propaganda, applauds the “public spiritedness” of Paulson’s “Progressive Corporatism.”

As this socialist uprising intensifies, the most prominent counterrevolutionary is none other than Sanders. Now a senator, he is calling for both re-regulation and a millionaire surtax to pay for the bailout and avoid adding its full cost to the national debt.

“The people who can best afford to pay and the people who have benefited most from Bush’s economic policies are the people who should provide the funds for the bailout,” he said.

Once the federal government’s only (admitted) socialist, Sanders is evidently its only fiscal conservative, too. It’s time Amerika listened to this original visionary.

David Sirota is a best-selling author whose newest book, “The Uprising,” was released in June. He is a fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network, both nonpartisan organizations. His blog is at www.credoaction.com/sirota.

© 2008 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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