U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is phenomenally popular. Political positions aside, the man’s unrivaled reputation for integrity has even earned him praise from Republicans like U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Republicans may claim to detest “socialism,” but have no other ammo against the self-proclaimed democratic socialist who has gone from being a fringe candidate to being within a hair’s breadth from winning the first two Democratic primary election contests. Frankly, it amazes me that the Democratic establishment has failed to recognize the tremendous asset of having a nominee with a clean personal and political history. Despite all that Sanders has accomplished over the past year, the Democratic establishment and mainstream media remain firmly supportive of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose multiple flip-flops and quasi-scandals could fill a trilogy of novels.
Despite the worst efforts of the mainstream media and the Democratic National Committee, Bernie Sanders has positive momentum and is on the verge of winning the opening bout of primaries. The only thing holding him back? Americans still have an irrational fear of the word “socialism.” Though this throwback fear is perhaps understandable, given decades of angry social studies teachers during the Cold War, it is time for citizens to move into the twenty-first century.
If virtually every American can update their software on a regular basis, why can we not “download” a new understanding of socialism, particularly democratic socialism?
Hillary Clinton and the Republicans want voters to believe that democratic socialism is an anti-American abomination, a horrific violation of our free market lives. However, they fail to realize, or at least admit, that America is democratically socialist, and has been for a long time. The free market of which economist Adam Smith wrote has been highly adjusted and regulated. The vast majority of those who claim they want to see more free market are naive or hypocritical. As an economics teacher who just taught yet another unit on economic systems, I can attest that no nation today still utilizes pure free market, or laissez-faire capitalism, as their economic model.
Instead, all nations, except perhaps North Korea, have switched from either pure market or pure command system to within a spectrum of hybrids known as mixed economies. America began adapting command elements to its laissez-faire capitalist system in the late 1800s, during the Progressive Era, by breaking up monopolies and beginning to limit child labor. In the 1930s, our nation got a tremendous dose of additional command elements with the passage of New Deal reforms, implementing changes like minimum wage laws, Social Security, and mandatory overtime pay. In the 1960s, with president Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty and Great Society reforms, America got even more socialist with the passage of Medicaid, Medicare, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Today, all of these command elements, which are socialist, are bedrock American principle. There is not a politician alive, including Tea Party Republicans, who would advocate removing these reforms. We praise universal, tuition-free public primary and secondary education, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and workplace rights. There is not a Republican alive who, if questioned about their support for these issues, would not sprint to the nearest microphone and begin waxing eloquent about the need for ample funding for such programs.
Send your kids to public school? You benefit from democratic socialism. Like the fact that you can send your kids to public school without paying out of pocket? You are a democratic socialist. If you wish, you may send your children to private school and pay market price, meaning this brand of socialism is not forced upon you. This is a key difference between Soviet-style socialism, which was implemented by dictatorial forces in Moscow, and democratic socialism. In America, you are free to choose privatized services if you wish.
Of course, the vast, vast majority of us receive a far better deal under democratic socialism. Ever look at the amount of your property taxes that go to your local school district? Unless you live in a genuine mansion, not a McMansion, you pay less in property taxes than you would pay for private school tuition. Socialism, therefore, is to your advantage. And, even for those who do pay more in school district taxes than they would pay for private school tuition, the fact that public school is a public good means that your child cannot be suspended or expelled without clause. Laissez-faire capitalism means that your child could be removed from a private school for virtually any reason.
From public school to libraries to emergency services to Social Security and Medicare, virtually every single American will benefit tremendously from democratic socialism during his or her lifetime. And we need more of it. During the era of rapidly-increasing democratic socialism, from 1933 to the late 1960s, the U.S. economy grew by leaps and bounds. Keynesian economics, decidedly liberal, made America a superpower in virtually all areas.
The conservative resurgence that began under Richard M. Nixon in the early 1970s saw the beginning of the decline of real wages and an increase in income inequality. Though we saw several recessions and booms since the early ’70s, each boom saw the wealth gap expand as the gains in gross domestic product were owned increasingly by the rich. Though booms did benefit the working and middle classes, each subsequent boom seemed to help the non-wealthy less and less. Purchasing power never quite seemed to return to where it had been before the most recent recession.
If democratic socialism does not work, then why did our economy improve during its heyday and grow weaker after the conservative resurgence? I would love to have anyone debate me on this by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those who want a better economy for their children and grandchildren need to vote for democratic socialism. They need to vote for Bernie Sanders. Democratic socialism represents the best of America, and virtually all of us only enjoy the blessings we do because of democratic socialism. Go beyond the Hillary Clinton and Republican rhetoric and do your own research. If you do, I guarantee that you will vote Bernie.