It’s more than ironic that as socialist economies, led by Greece, collapse, Democrats in America are infatuated by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the presidential candidate who caucuses with the Democrats but is an avowed socialist. The starry eyes for this supreme statist reflect an ignorance about our own collapsing regime to say nothing of moral failings that Republicans—and everyone else—should take seriously.
Let’s start with the positive reason that Sanders is attracting large, enthusiastic crowds while would-be president Hillary Clinton has trouble filling venues. Sanders does not hide his socialist convictions. Hillary has backed many of the same policies. But she hems and haws about her basic principles, posing as a pragmatic progressive simply looking out for the middle class. Her campaign is managed and faked, from supposed “random” meetings with ordinary voters to her rare press interviews given only to sycophant pseudo-journalists. She is disingenuous, whether about Benghazi, erased emails, or Pacific trade. She just hopes voters will not care.
To understand Sanders’ appeal, consider that young voters in 2008 were enthusiastic about Barack Obama, seeing him as an idealist who would transcend politics as usual. While they still voted for him in 2012, they were disillusioned at his failures, many seeing him as just another politician.
Young people were the most enthusiastic supporters of libertarian Republican Rep. Ron Paul during the 2012 Republican presidential primary. Paul was an idealist and straight talker who didn’t spin his beliefs for the crowd de jour. And while Donald Trump doesn’t offer anything like a set of principles found in Paul or Sanders, part of his popularity is that he says what he thinks.
Young people are far more cynical about politics and the world than their elders, but they clearly thirst for authenticity and ideals, which is what Sanders seems to offer.
But there is more to Sander’s popularity than a bad taste for Hillary.
A Pew survey found that 50% of Americans had a positive reaction to the word “capitalism” while 40% reacted negatively. But only 46% of young people under 29 years old had warm and fuzzys for the word while 47% found it cold and hard.
By contrast, 60% of the population responded negatively to the word “socialism” and only 31% positively. But that word only harshed the buzz of 43% of young people, while a full 49% got good vibrations. Worse, the word “progressive,” a preferred label for many who promote socialist policies, garnered a 67% positive response. Ouch!
Voters don’t simply pull the lever for labels. Indeed, the growth of independent voters, which includes 50% of those under 29, shows that both “Democrat” and “Republican” mean less and less. So what else is behind this benign view of socialism?
Fundamentally, the current political battles reflect conflicting visions: government as protector of our individual liberty, leaving us free to live our lives as we will; or government as the benevolent parent that helps us helpless people directly.
Many Sanders supporters rightly see Hillary as the Queen of Corruption. She and her foundation with ex-prez hubby Bill suck in cash from big bailed-out bankers, politically-connected companies, and foreign governments, while denouncing Wall Street and posing as the enemies of privilege. Most of Sanders’ support comes from donations of $250 or less. Sanders’ socialism, which purports to put “the people” in charge, seems to many the alternative.
But Sanders’ supporters fail to understand that the crony corruption they loathe is a manifestation of our current system in which government helps people directly.
For the democratic form of socialism, political power is the coin of the realm. As government redistributes wealth, the punished producers either produce less wealth or play the political game, seeking special favors and handouts. The only way socialism can overcome the resulting war of all against all is to become anti-democratic and dictatorial. A strongman promises to “transcend politics,” to use his pen and his phone to govern arbitrarily without regard to law.
Bernie Sanders or Barack Obama become Il Duce.
The only alternative to cronyism and Big Brother: a system in which individuals live their own lives and pursue their own dreams, producing goods and services to trade with their fellows based on mutual consent, with government confined to protecting rights.
Will Republicans be able to overcome their own complicity in cronyism—and sometimes in Big Brother—and articulate this ideal? If they can’t or won’t, Sanders might lose but the only open question will be which future dystopia Americans will suffer in.
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