Is Socialism in America’s Future?

There are several indications that socialism is a growing force in America. Alas, some of these indicators suggest that Americans’ views of socialism could become even more positive in the future.

That isn’t good.

On many occasions in the 19th and 20th centuries, people have asked, “[w]hy is there no socialism in America?” What they usually meant is, “[w]hy isn’t there a sizable number of socialists in national politics?”

Sadly, that question, especially in terms of what most people who posed it meant, doesn’t seem to apply today. 

In every nation where it’s been tried, socialism has been a colossal failure in terms of the society’s economy. As the late Margaret Thatcher noted, “[t]he problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” Socialism also typically entails various forms of authoritarianism, or, at the very least, some government regimentation of society. 

If America were to succumb to socialism, or even if socialists were to become a significant force in society, our democratic way of life would be seriously endangered, and our future would be even bleaker than it already may be.  

Let’s look at the factors indicating Americans’ growing approval of, or at least tolerance for, socialism. (There are facets of American society that still inhibit socialism’s reach, but, their consideration must wait for another time.)

The most obvious – but, unhappily, not the only – indication of socialism’s enhanced standing in America is the ability of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders -- the 74-year-old left-wing curmudgeon who is an avowed socialist – to attract a sizable following in the campaign for the Democrat party’s presidential nomination in 2016. (This is not the place to reprise Sanders’ past. Let’s just look at where he is now.)

Sanders’ standing, of course, stems largely, but not entirely, from his apparent ability to attract support in the early caucuses and primaries. (His campaign is well-financed.) He has shocked the political world with his neck-and-neck showing against Hillary Clinton in Iowa. Several polls show Sanders has a big lead among likely Democrat voters in the New Hampshire primary. 

It is very difficult to estimate likely caucus outcomes from poll data. Still, these data are noteworthy. Now that Sanders has nearly tied Clinton in Iowa, and if he wins in New Hampshire, no one can say whether Clinton’s anticipated strength in later primaries will hold. Rasmussen Reports indicates that a poll of likely Democrat voters, taken January 24-25, 2016, found that 51% believe Sanders is at least somewhat likely to be the party’s presidential nominee this year, up from 36% last September. Indeed, 66% of Democrats recently said they could vote for Bernie.

There is no straightforward way to project from Sanders’ current standing in the polls to how he might fare if he were to capture the Democrat party’s presidential nomination. As of January 19, 2016, odds-makers predict he will lose badly, which seems a safe bet. Still, were he a candidate in the upcoming general election, he would probably draw a larger percentage of the popular vote than Eugene V. Debs did in 1912 – his 5.99% remains the high-water mark of an avowed socialist presidential candidate in America – or Norman Thomas in 1932 – who got only 2.23% of the popular vote at the height of the Great Depression.

One particularly unsettling aspect of Sanders’s popularity is his attractiveness to young people, especially college students. Sanders attributes his popularity among young people to: (1) their belief that, unless drastic changes are made to American society, their futures will be bleak; and (2) their essential idealism.

(This may be an instance of the situation specified by Winston Churchill, who allegedly said – here I paraphrase – if an individual isn’t a leftist at 20, he/she has no heart; if that person is still a leftist at 40, he/she is brain-dead.)

At first blush, one is tempted to consider the young’s attraction to Sanders as relatively benign. As long ago as 1968, it was the young who rallied to Gene McCarthy’s campaign against Lyndon Baines Johnson. More recently, it was the Millennials who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 (66%) and again in 2012 (60%).

For some time, in short, young people have backed candidates considered – initially at least – to be outside the mainstream.

There may be, however, a more sinister interpretation of youthful support for Sanders. There is ample evidence that people under 30 have more favorable views of socialism than older folks. Even more ominous, a Gallup poll in June, 2015 found that 69% of Millennials said they would vote for a socialist candidate for president. Early reports suggest Sanders drew a large percentage of young people’s votes in the Iowa caucus.

Limits of space preclude extended commentary on young people’s tendencies to back leftists at the polls. For now, let’s attribute it to leftists’ indoctrination from grade school to college. Whatever the cause(s), if today’s young retain their attraction to socialism and socialist candidates, America’s future looks bleak indeed.

As noted, Sanders is only one indication of socialism’s rise in America. Consider also the following.

As hinted at above, recent polls have asked random samples of the public if they have favorable or unfavorable views of a number of words such as socialism, capitalism, progressive, family values, etc. In April, 2010, and December, 2011, the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press posed these queries. In 2010, 29% of the public said their views of socialism were positive, while 59% told Pew their views were negative. A year later, the figures were 31% positive and 60% negative. 

Why has the word socialism become as “popular” as it is? Three factors stand out: (1) Americans’ notoriously short-term memories, combined with the fact that (2) 23.5% of the population are Millennials, which means (3) they were born and raised after the collapse of the Soviet empire. Thus, memories of the worst elements of socialism have either been lost or are nonexistent.

More important, perhaps, a Gallup poll from June, 2015, found that 47% of the public said they would vote for a socialist candidate for president. Keep in mind that the Millennials were 22 percentage points more likely to say they’d vote for a socialist.

Finally, we must mention that Obama and his left-wing comrades – including Hillary Clinton – have waged class warfare to advance their goals, with the mainstream media’s approval. A plethora of poll data indicates how popular class warfare – which may be a precursor of socialism – is these days. Let just two examples suffice. 

Recent polls show that: (1) only 32% of the populace believe “the distribution of money and wealth” in America is “fair,” while 60% think it should be “more even”; and (2) 68% of Americans agree that “the rich” should pay more in taxes, while only 28% disagree.

Given the evident antipathy of large slices of the populace for “the rich” and the declining popularity of capitalism, it is perhaps not surprising that socialism is on the march.

As America enters what may be the most pivotal presidential election in decades, we who reject socialism have our work cut out for us.

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