Bernie Sanders has caused quite a stir, in more ways than one. To supporters, he’s the alternative to establishment liberal politics. He’s the anti-Hillary. She represents the party. The party surely views this go-round as her turn. But to a lot of younger voters, she represents business as usual—something that has frustrated many Americans, liberal or conservative. And just as conservatives seem to have chosen Trump as their anti-establishment figure, Bernie serves the same purpose for liberals. The difference is, obviously, that Bernie is smart. And has a soul. And while he enjoys a fierce grassroots support movement and has had a meteoric rise to almost the level of a folk hero, the kind of reaction he is getting from conservatives is seismic and fearful. And it stems from one powerful, cringe-worthy word…socialism.
There is a reason this word isn’t as big of a deal for younger liberals. Milennials were born after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Action movies produced in their lifetime pit our trigger-happy good guys against the likes of jihadists. Older generations grew up in an era when our common enemy was the commie. We were fighting Russians and Ukrainians, whether it was Maverick and Goose shooting down MIGs or Rocky avenging Apollo Creed. And it was okay for us to dislike those people. We were cool with it because for decades we had been told, first that communism was bad and that communist countries were part of an “Evil Empire”. Evil. Yup. Evil. An economic/governmental system was considered evil. EVIL. That was the word used by President Reagan. Secondly, we were taught that socialism is essentially the same thing as communism, or at least the welcome sign on the outskirts of town headed into communism. According to a lot of high school economics textbooks, socialism is defined as an economic system in which the government owns some of the factors of production, usually in the way of basic necessities that all people need. A communist country with a command economy would own all of those factors. Therefore, on the other end, our capitalist country would be completely privatized. There is no government ownership or control over resources. And according to decades of propaganda, you’re not a real American if you don’t choose the latter.
Therein lies the problem. Our society often applies an all-or-nothing approach to choosing ideology. Take the Back the Blue movement, for example. Backing the blue, to me, sounds a bit like an ultimatum. I have to choose either to back the blue and unequivocally support all law enforcement officers no matter what, or I’m not supportive at all. No one wants to seem unsupportive, so they back the blue. But if I use my own brain, I can take the position that I understand the need for a police force and the protection that comes with that. I can support the officers and their families in the face of a sometimes dangerous job. But I also recognize that there are some cops that are racist or dirty. There may be some who use their power to hurt others or advance themselves. Or maybe they’re just bad at their job. Or what if one wrongfully shoots and kills an unarmed man? Do I still have to back the blue? I’d rather not. But that doesn’t mean I say Screw the Blue. It just means this is more complicated than a simple slogan and ideology. We do the same thing with capitalism and socialism. We put together an ideology and place all the tenets of that ideology into a neat little box. Here’s the capitalism box, and here’s the socialism box. You can choose only one. And when you choose, you have to stick with all the things that goes into that box, no matter what. People actually think this way. We do this with being a Democrat or a Republican. Pro-choice or pro-life. iOS or Android. You’re forced to subscribe to the ideology. Sometimes people willingly choose the ideology. It’s easier. Because when you choose an ideology, you allow that ideology to think for you. You become an easily labeled drone that spouts the popular catch phrases and scripted arguments handed down from the establishment, diffused through media, and indoctrinated into millions of Americans who choose to not use their own brains. They choose not to inform and educate themselves. Instead, the politicians educate them; the talking heads educate them.
Easily labeled ideologies and propaganda go together like Krispy Crème and type two diabetes. And to an underinformed populace, it’s just as attractive. So here’s what you get. Bernie Sanders proposes that we move to a single-payer healthcare system—a system that everyone pays into through our tax dollars in lieu of private health insurance. Health care becomes a human right. Or Bernie proposes that college should be free to the student who commits to making the grade and is willing to work for the degree. And you know what people say? Well of course…he’s a damned socialist. He wants to give away free crap. And on my dime. Typical… B-b-but wait! Then what is Medicare? Or tax-funded public safety? Or national defense? Or public education? Or corporate subsidies? According to the capitalism-indoctrinated American, the government using tax dollars to fund healthcare is socialist. So it’s evil. But didn’t we say that the textbook definition is that the government has to own the factors of production? According the Bernie’s plan, the single-payer system would be more of a reallocation of people’s income, just like we do so that we can have a military and fire departments. So my question to the naysayer whining about socialism is this: Does the textbook definition of socialism need updating, or does single-payer healthcare and free college just simply fall short of being considered socialism?
What about just saying to hell with both notions? We seem to be the only country not doing that. We seem to be the only one clinging to archaic propaganda-driven ideologies and not thinking for ourselves. And it is proving to be counterproductive. We’re so hung up on the labels—capitalism, socialism, etc.—that we’re not having a coherent conversation about what we actually need. Every other country out there sits down, addresses a problem in their society, and decides what is best for the people. I have to imagine that’s the way our founding fathers viewed the creation of an elected government body. I would guess that’s what they meant when they said that the government should promote the general welfare. They didn’t once write the word capitalism or socialism into the Constitution. They simply wrote promote the general welfare. So I would suggest that we do what every other country does. They assemble the adults, have an adult conversation, and decide what works. We need to figure out what is best for our unique society with our unique demographics. And we need to do it having erased the labels and ideologies. Dump the contents of both the socialist and capitalist boxes onto the table, and sort the things that don’t work for us from the things that do. And at that moment, as a nation, we will have grown up.