Bernie Sanders is definitely a political outsider. A self-proclaimed
Democratic Socialist, he has literally come out of left field and now
trails front-running Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton by mere single
digits, according to polls. Even mainstream corporate media can no
longer ignore the huge crowds Sanders draws. Of course, that media
acknowledgment is grudgingly: CNN suggests
Sanders’ crowds consist of “curiosity seekers” rather than supporters,
and warns that his run could “backfire and create deep divisions inside
the Democratic Party that [Clinton] is far more likely to lead.”
Clinton claims she’s not concerned. But it is interesting that her
plans for the coming months include “nuanced policy speeches” addressing
the same Progressive issues on which Sanders has been decisively
outspoken. Clinton intends to say a few words about affordable higher
education, the pay gap between men and women and paid family leave. She
also plans “a few well-honed attacks” on her Republican opponents.
Those “well-honed attacks” are more likely to backfire. If Sanders’
campaign is showing us nothing else, it’s the People are hungry for a
real statesman who addresses the issues rather than playing the role of a
celebrity and spending 75% of the time mudslinging. Those issues
- Veterans: Sanders has worked with House Republicans to expand health
care services for veterans as well as addressing other challenges
ex-service personnel face. Not surprisingly, veterans’ organizations are
becoming some of Sanders’ staunchest supporters.
- Income inequality and poverty: this has long been among Sanders’ top
issues. He acknowledges that “Big Money interests” are virtually
invincible – unless We, The People stand up and start “making them an
offer they can’t refuse.”
- Student loan debt: this burden affects 71% of college graduates, who
labor under an average debt load of over $30,000. Sanders is calling
for tuition-free college for all undergraduate students, financed by a miniscule tax on stock trades.
- Citizens United: Sanders states that the existence of
SuperPACs “is what makes our current campaign finance situation totally
absurd.” It is an issue upon which liberals and conservatives (at least
those outside the Beltway) agree on. Sanders is the only candidate who
has publicly refused to take SuperPAC funds.
- Health care: The Affordable Care Act may have given more Americans
access to medical services, but it falls way short of providing
guaranteed health care enjoyed by citizens in other industrialized
nations. Sanders is again calling for expanding Medicare into a
single-payer system for everyone.
These ideas are supported by a majority of self-identified Democrats –
and surprisingly, a large percentage of young (under age 45)
Republicans. Yet, neither Hillary Clinton nor any of the Republican
candidates have addressed these issues in any meaningful way. It is
indeed the Corporate Establishment’s worst nightmare.
The biggest challenge Bernie Sanders faces is the word “socialism.” For decades, thanks largely to “Red Scares” of the 20th
Century, socialism has been demonized, associated with “godless
communism” and the Big Government “nanny state.” It has been presented
as a “threat” to personal liberty.
Yet, people living in socialist democracies still enjoy personal
liberties – even more so than Americans, anymore. Socialist democracy
encourages entrepreneurship and allows private, for-profit businesses to
operate and flourish. Citizens of socialist democracies continue to
have freedom of (as well as from) religion. At the same time, these
citizens are not burdened with student loans and the threat of
bankruptcy from medical bills. Yes, their taxes are higher – but we in
the USA still pay for these things indirectly, with no guarantee from
the “free market” that we’ll get what we’re paying for.
Given that, why is “socialism” such a scary prospect?
Increasingly, it isn’t. The WORMS (“White Old Republican Males”) who
came of age during the excesses of the old Soviet Union are dying off.
At the same time, the generation that grew up during an age of
deregulated, no-holds-barred, anything goes, Ayn Rand-style capitalism
and trickle-down neoliberal economic policy has seen the destruction it
has wreaked on a once-proud, thriving republic. They’re ready for real change.
Increasingly, they see that Bernie Sanders is the one candidate who is truly committed to leading us all toward that change.