Is America ready to listen to the siren song of socialism?
With avowed socialist Bernie Sanders making waves across the country by seriously challenging Hillary Clinton in some states, it's time to ask the question: is Sanders an outlier? Or a harbinger of things to come?
Socialism has always lurked on the fringes of American politics. Even during the Depression, when many young Americans gave up on capitalism and became Communists or socialists, their numbers were comparatively small.
But the indoctrination of the young has been so successful that one fears for the future of America. A Pew poll in 2011 found 49% of 18- to 29-year-olds having a positive view of socialism, with only 43% holding a negative view. Even more disturbing, just 46% of the young have a positive view of capitalism, while 47% hold a negative view.
Couple that with low-information voters who don't know what a socialist is, anyway, and you have the phenomenon of Bernie Sanders.
Many Democrats who aren't as far-left as Sanders worry that the Vermont senator is pushing the party too far.
It’s usually Democrats who play this game — as they did with Republican challengers to Mitt Romney in 2012, or with fringe characters like Todd Aiken. Now, it’s Republicans seeking to use the Sanders surge to portray Democrats as radical and out of touch.
And that’s making many Democrats nervous, said Joe Trippi, who ran Vermonter Howard Dean’s campaign in 2004.
“We can’t lose the presidency. We can’t take a risk by nominating somebody outside the comfort zone. That’s what’s driving the inevitable-ness” of Clinton, said Trippi, speaking about the party establishment’s thinking.
Sanders is unlikely to tone it down for the long-term good of his newly adopted party.
“Bernie is saying what he believes. He’s unlikely to run for president again, and this is his shot … This is as unfiltered and as clear as it comes,” said liberal labor economist Robert Reich, who compared Sanders to past Democratic candidates like Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern.
But Sanders comes from an even more radical milieu than those left-wing insurgents of the 1960s and 70s.
As mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in the 1980s, Sanders visited Nicaragua in solidarity with its socialist Sandinista regime and later honeymooned in the Soviet Union, where he established a sister-city relationship with the community of Yaroslavl. In the mid-1960s, when Clinton was calling herself a “Goldwater girl,” Sanders spent time on a kibbutz in Israel.
“I think he’s the most leftist, and I think he is the greatest megaphone for leftist dissent” since Henry Wallace in 1948, said Doug Wilson, who served as deputy campaign manager for Gary Hart in 1984, who challenged establishment front-runner Walter Mondale. (Wilson and Hart are backing former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley in the Democratic primary.)
And Sanders has long been unabashed about his socialist beliefs. “Nobody should earn more than $1 million,” he told the Burlington Free Press in 1974.
“I believe that, in the long run, major industries in this state and nation should be publicly owned and controlled by the workers themselves,” he wrote in 1976.
Statements like that used to scare the American people silly. But even if those sentiments expressed by Sanders became widely known (don't count on it), I doubt it would deter too many young people from voting for him. To them, Sanders’s words sound “fair” – and we know that nothing excites a liberal more than the idea of “fairness.”
Sanders, like Obama before him, is couching his radical ideas in inoffensive, moderate-sounding rhetoric. The LIVs are too ignorant to look past the rhetoric and think critically of what he is actually proposing. That’s why socialist ideas will continue to gain ground in America. As long as their proponents can fool enough people into believing they aren’t really that radical, they will be a threat to the republic and everything that America has been, is now, and will become.