Are Americans willing to elect a socialist president?


Hi, I’m Antonio Mora. It’s time to have to have a talk about socialism. In a recent Twitter exchange I had, a Bernie
Sanders supporter defended the Vermont senator arguing he was not a socialist, insisting
he was a social democrat. That’s just one example of a trend that
seems to be growing as Bernie surges in the polls. It goes something like this: He’s not really
a socialist, he’s just a social justice warrior, a Scandinavian-type socialist, or
some sort of reincarnation of FDR who wants a new New Deal. Hogwash. If Sanders talks like a socialist, acts like
a socialist, has policies that are socialist, and tells you he’s a socialist, why in the
world would anyone even suggest he’s not a socialist? It’s easy to be confused because Sanders
often resorts to platitudes about creating an economy that works for all, not just the
wealthy, and that billionaires need to pay their fair share. Who would be against that? The problem is that he constantly skirts specifics. Let’s break it down. First, he’s not a social democrat. Social democracy calls for practical measures
that promote social justice within a capitalist economy. Sanders’ policies are well to the left of
European social democrats or even those of Jeremy Corbyn and the UK’s Labour Party,
which just suffered a serious drubbing at the polls. And Bernie could call himself a social democrat,
but chooses not to. Second, Bernie has embraced the legacy of
New Deal, prompting some leftist commentators to describe him as a “welfarist,” who
doesn’t fully reject capitalism. But his advocacy for everything from socialized
medicine, the Green New Deal, and, especially early in his career, for the nationalization
of “utilities, banks, and major industries,” is in a different world than FDR’s social
programs or LBJ’s Great Society. Other “Sanderistas,” an appropriate moniker
for supporters of a candidate who vocally favored the brutal Sandinistas in Nicaragua,
prefer to argue that what Sanders proposes is transplanting what they see as utopian
Scandinavian socialism to the US. One small problem: Scandinavian socialism
is a myth. The Nordic countries have among the freest
economies in the world. They are capitalist systems that simply have
high taxes on individual income and high sales taxes that allow for more expansive welfare
benefits. Corporate tax rates are actually lower than
in the US. Knowing that electing a socialist might still
be a tall order in the US, some commentators dishonestly defend Sanders saying, as the
New York Times’ Paul Krugman wrote in a recent column, that Sanders “has expressed
admiration, not for Venezuela, but for Denmark.” Sanders has praised Denmark, but, he has extensively
praised Venezuela, Nicaragua, and even the Soviet Union when it was still around. Less than a year ago, he avoided calling Nicolas
Maduro a dictator. So, in the absence of further clarity from
Sanders himself, what do his fellow democratic socialists in the US want? Sanders is not an official member of the Democratic
Socialists of America organization, but two of his most high-profile endorsers, congresswomen
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, are. The group encompasses a wide variety of leftist
philosophies, but ending capitalism and instituting socialism are clear long-term goals. Not just greater equality, but fully realizing
socialism. The DSA has expressed solidarity with Venezuela’s
socialist dictatorship, boycotted Israel, and even severed relations with the Socialist
International because it wasn’t socialist enough. A new poll this month shows why Sanderistas
are trying to whitewash the “socialism” angle. The NPR/PBSNewsHour/Marist poll showed only
28% of adults have a favorable view of socialism. That support drops the older a voter gets. Only 20% of people over 55 see socialism favorably,
and they vote in far greater numbers than younger Americans. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found
67% of registered voters had reservations or were very uncomfortable with a socialist
candidate. Earlier polls had indicated more Americans
are embracing socialism than in the past, with a Gallup survey last year showing 47%
would consider voting for a socialist. However, Gallup acknowledged serious confusion
over what socialism actually was, with one in four Americans equating it with social
equality. Only 17% understood it by its classical definition,
characterized by centrally-planned economies with collective or government ownership of
the means of production and distribution. Even so, no age group in the NPR survey viewed
socialism more favorably than capitalism. It’s more popular among Millennials and
members of Gen Z, those between 18 and 38, than any other group, but only 38% of them
had a favorable view of socialism, compared to 54% who viewed capitalism favorably. That doesn’t mean they won’t vote for
Sanders, especially the “socialism lite” version of him. Younger Americans have grown up with increasing
income and wealth inequality, in the shadow of the Great Recession, and, until recently,
with many years of high unemployment, stagnant wages, high student debt, and a real fear
that they will not benefit from the entitlements that retirees enjoy today. Many of them want a more socially equal and
bigger welfare state. But, do they want a less free economy, dominated
from Washington DC by the federal government? Do they want whole industries nationalized? Do they want real socialism, the transfer
of capital out of private hands so that the state controls the means of production and
distribution? For that matter, is that what the “democratic
socialist” Sanders wants? Voters deserve answers. And, in a general election, the opposition
and even the media, which has been very gentle in pushing for specifics so far, will demand
them.

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