Anyone who pays even the slightest attention to politics has heard the name Bernie Sanders. His supporters are young, his ideals are radical, and he speaks of a long overdue “Political Revolution” in all of his speeches. However, if anything makes Bernie Sanders stand out from the crowd, it is what he chooses to call himself-a socialist. That label seems to be particularly problematic in the United States, where anything associated with socialism has been demonized for decades. But why is socialism so unacceptable in American politics? Many Americans seem to have misconceptions about what socialism actually means, and the majority of Americans say that they would never vote for a socialist under any circumstance. Now, seemingly counter-intuitive to that statement, a self proclaimed democratic socialist is coming dangerously close to taking the Democratic Nomination for president. What does this mean for American politics? How does a socialist come so close to the White House? What does the term “socialist” even mean, and why is it such a dirty word in American politics?
Socialist has long been an insult in American politics (the right sometimes calls President Obama a socialist just out of spite) and a majority of Americans would never vote for a socialist under any circumstances. This is largely due to the fact that for decades the sworn enemy of all things American-the Soviet Union-was a socialist country. This made socialism quite unpopular in the United States. It isn’t hard to see how misconceptions about socialism formed in America, where the idea of socialism has been shunned by mainstream politicians.
Now, the senator from Vermont is throwing this decades old stigma out the window. As socialism has been integrated into the mainstream political discussion, our old misconceptions are being challenged. Bernie Sanders is definitely no hammer and sickle communist. His ideology is much more similar to progressive democrats than anything else. So then why are so many in the country afraid of socialism? What exactly are they afraid of? Free health care? Free public college tuition? None of these ideas are considered radical in most other parts of the world. These are all a part of the democratic socialist agenda. Democratic socialism is the brand of socialism that Bernie Sanders is selling today.
Modern democratic socialism has almost nothing to do with the Soviet Union and more to do with countries like Sweden. It focuses most of its attention on building a safety net for its citizens to fall back on. When the right hurl around the term socialist as an insult, they are likely trying to invoke the image of a communist dictator attempting to rule everyone’s lives. Such implications simply don’t apply to modern socialists like Sanders, who just want to build a bigger safety net and provide better public services.
Weather or not Bernie Sanders wins the nomination or the presidency, the Senator from Vermont has in many ways already achieved this revolution he keeps going on about. Socialism has now made its way into the mainstream political discourse, and is forcing the establishment to address more progressive issues. Love it or hate it, socialism is going to shape the way we talk about politics for years to come.
This article appears in the March issue of The Vindicator, available in print and online the week of March 1st. This piece, also, is the third installment of a blog series about what our writers' political views mean. Check out others here!