Are Bernie Supporters Really Socialists?
The media’s narrative about kids today obscures Occupy & neglects nuance
Since Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was never expected to amount to much as a mainstream political candidate and yet has managed, so far, to win one primary and put up a good fight in two others, the media has felt compelled to explain his rise to prominence. How could this wild-haired, rumpled Old Testament prophet, one whom the Washington Post summarizes as “gloom-and-doom,” capture the imaginations of so many eligible voters?
The youngs today must be socialists, pundits conclude. Here’s CBN.com:
Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is the first openly socialist candidate to gain widespread popular support.
Sanders is most popular among young voters.
Ergo, young people must be pinkos.
The Daily Caller agrees and blames the “political correctness” of college campuses for indoctrinating kids today:
Unlike the Cold War generation who witnessed the human suffering wrought by even well-meaning socialized economies, the fact that Sanders is a proud socialist gives today’s youth little pause. …
Not only are college campuses dominated by the political correctness of the left, but very few colleges require their students to be liberally educated in the classic sense of that term. Even most liberal arts colleges excuse their students from any core requirements that might give them a basic understanding of history, philosophy or economics. No student who studied basic economics, even if taught by Professor Paul Krugman, could embrace free college tuition without asking how it will be paid for and what we must forego to pay for it. The vast majority of today’s college graduates have no idea about opportunity costs, supply and demand, comparative advantage or other basics of economic theory. Nor, it seems, does Bernie Sanders.
The Federalist is cranky about this too, and maintains that Bernie’s advantage stems from the fact that young people don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground:
Millennials are simply not that alarmed by the idea of socialism. … First, millennials don’t seem to know what socialism is, and how it’s different from other styles of government. The definition of socialism is government ownership of the means of production — in other words, true socialism requires that government run the businesses. However, a CBS/New York Times survey found that only 16 percent of millennials could accurately define socialism, while 30 percent of Americans over 30 could. (Incidentally, 56 percent of Tea Partiers accurately defined it. In fact, those most concerned about socialism are those best able to explain it.)
With so few able to define socialism, perhaps less surprisingly a Reason-Rupe national survey found college-aged millennials were about as likely to have a favorable view of socialism (58 percent) as they were about capitalism (56 percent).
That may be the technical definition of socialism (“government ownership of the means of production”), especially to more right-wing folks, but it doesn’t seem to be what Sanders is espousing, nor does it seem to be what’s energizing millennials. As Nate Silver points out, in a lengthier and (naturally) more data-driven analysis, “Young voters don’t necessarily back socialist economics,” like the idea of wealth redistribution. What are they in favor of? More fairness, more compassion. Even that piece in the Federalist goes on to say, begrudgingly, “If socialism is framed the way Sanders does, as just being a generous social safety net, it’s much harder to undermine among millennials.”
Among all of us, I would think? I mean, shouldn’t most people favor a strengthened safety net that would allow fewer needy and unlucky individuals to slip through?
The NYT’s in-house moderate David Brooks has a somewhat better grip on the matter, but he still struggles to understand:
American values have always been biased toward individualism, achievement and flexibility — nurturing disruptive dynamos like Bell Labs, Walmart, Whole Foods, Google and Apple — and less toward dirigisme, order and economic equality.
It’s amazing that a large part of the millennial generation has rejected this consensus. In supporting Bernie Sanders they are not just supporting a guy who is mad at Wall Street. They are supporting a guy who fundamentally wants to reshape the American economic system, and thus reshape American culture and values. As he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, he wants to make us more like northern Europe.
Not northern Europe! Anything but northern Europe! Its happy, healthy, long-lived people, safe cities, state-subsidized health care, free education, generous parental leave policies, and even superior prisons, should act on young Americas like sunshine on a vampire.
Here’s Nate Silver again:
Bernie Sanders proudly describes himself as a “socialist” (or more commonly, as a “democratic socialist”). To Americans of a certain age, this is a potential liability. I’m just old enough (38) to have grown up during the Cold War, a time when “socialist” did not just mean “far left” but also implied something vaguely un-American. If you’re older than me, you may have even more acutely negative associations with “socialism” and may see it as a step on the road to communism.
If you’re a few years younger than me, however, you may instead associate “socialism” with the social democracies of Northern Europe, which have high taxes and large welfare states. Sweden may not be your cup of tea, but it isn’t scary in the way the USSR was to people a generation ago.
Speak for yourself, Nate. Clearly David Brooks finds the prospect of Sweden terrifying.
Maybe America’s unforgiving, individualistic brand of capitalism simply hasn’t done a great job of selling itself over the past few decades to the scrambling minimum-wage and often debt-laden workers who can’t afford groceries because, like talia jane, they have to spend 80% of their salaries on rent in order to live where the jobs are.
Indeed, that was part of the appeal of the inchoate but passionate and largely Millennial-driven movement, Occupy Wall Street. Remember Occupy, that young people’s Tea Party? The media doesn’t seem to. OWS capitalized on and fomented a certain amount of economic outrage, which then dissipated: leftist potential Congresspeople didn’t start running on an Occupy platform, the way lots of conservatives began running as Tea Partiers. I’d argue, though, that it only went dormant.
To me, Bernie looks a lot like the first real Occupy candidate, and the strength of his appeal to Millennials may be attributable to that as much as, to his so-called Socialism. The olds in the media are working themselves up into high froth panic about how kids today are socialist — but in reality, as the movie Clue so succinctly put it:
Anyway, what strikes me as hilarious in the vast majority of these articles is that no one is sticking a microphone into the faces of young people themselves to ask them what they actually think. When you let them speak on their own behalf, they do indeed have things to say!
Here’s one young writer in Bustle, for example, who seems admiring because “First and foremost, [Bernie] strives to be a friend — to the people, to the poor, to women, to the underprivileged in general.”
Others interviewed by the Washington Post voice concerns about being able to afford college, pay their student loans, and someday become homeowners. They admire what they perceive to be “Sanders’s idealism and authenticity,” as well as his “measures to raise the minimum wage and provide workers with guaranteed family leave.” By contrast, few have faith in establishment politicians, and only 14% of those polled express any trust in Wall Street.
These kids don’t come off like hammer-and-sickle-flag-waving singers of The Internationale. In fact, they seem pretty practical. “McKibben said she isn’t naive about what Sanders could accomplish as president. But she likes his passion, and his plan to offer free tuition at public colleges and universities gives her hope.”
That doesn’t sound like gloom-and-doom to me; and it doesn’t sound like Socialism, either. It sounds like voters who are tired of, and rebelling against, America’s corporate-driven status quo and who are prepared to cast a ballot in their own self-interest.
But many of you are Millennials too. Would you like to weigh in on this question? If you’re supporting Bernie, is it:
A) for Socialist-related reasons?
B) for Occupy-related reasons?
or C) other?