By Harry Bedford
Bernie Sanders, one of the candidates for the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nomination, is already making great waves – gaining huge amounts of public and financial support for his left-wing policies. As well as connecting with his ideals, people find him engaging and inspiring – two essential qualities of a president. But he will never be handed the keys to the White House because he is a self-confessed socialist in a country where socialism is seen as the work of the devil.
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1941, Sanders is very much of the 1960s counterculture generation. He was a strong opponent of the Vietnam War; marched on Washington when Dr. Martin Luther King ‘had a dream’ and was a member of the Young People’s Socialist League. After moving to the rural state of Vermont, he became Mayor of Burlington in 1981 before becoming a representative and eventually the Senator from Vermont in 2007. Until this presidential race he has run as an independent with progressive, liberal and socialist principles steering his political decisions. However, now that he is on the national stage, the socialist tag is becoming somewhat of a drag.
Socialism in the US is a dirty word. It brings connotations of the Soviet Union, the Vietnam War and moreover it goes against everything that America stands for – capitalism. But socialism is not communism. Communism is the political ideology that all are equal and should function as little more than cogs in a great machine. Socialism, on the other hand, is the use of taxpayers’ money to help fund social issues such as defence, healthcare, education and housing. Providing a safety net, if you will, to protect and support the population.
Communism remains in only five countries – Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, China and North Korea. Socialism, however, is a key part of the economy in most major world nations. Ironically, even the US has many socialist schemes such as education, Medicare and, of course, it’s enormous defence. Admittedly, socialism is more prominent in European countries where free healthcare for all is a right and many countries even provide free university tuition.
So if socialism has proved to be a successful aspect of many modern day capitalist economies, why do right-wing Americans despise it so much? Namely, because they believe the US was built on freedom and capitalism is an assault on that. Taxation is a prime example. The less tax the government takes, the more individual freedom they will have. Capitalism thrives and thus the country thrives when people have the freedom to make money and spend it as they desire.
The US even went out of their way to stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia by invading Vietnam and waging war with the communist North. Bernie’s trouble is that Americans struggle to see the difference between socialism and communism, as exemplified by Donald Trump recently calling Sanders a ‘socialist slash communist’.
So what does Bernie do? His challenge during his presidential campaign must be to educate the American population that socialism is already at work in the US and that his policies would greatly benefit the average American. His tactics should be to prove that socialism and capitalism can and do work together. Not only this, he can present examples such as Britain and Scandinavia where policies such as free healthcare for all is also much more cost-effective. This won’t be an easy task but it is essential for him to gain power.
In many ways it is disappointing that a promising presidential hopeful is being held back because voters can’t see past the word ‘socialism’. Much like Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K. his views and agendas greatly reward the working class and aim to tilt the scales away from the billionaires and towards the average person – something you would expect people to vote for.
He has a long road ahead of him – Bernie Sanders must first convince the Democratic Party to vote for him instead of current frontrunner Hillary Clinton in the primaries, and then it’s time to teach Americans that socialism is not a dirty word.