Back in October, the ever so gracious Donald Trump called Bernie Sanders a maniac and a socialist-slash-communist.
Although most of us can agree that Trump is not the sharpest tool in the shed, people on both sides of the political spectrum agreed with him. They did so because while they are afraid of a Donald Trump presidency (as they should be), they are more afraid of a Sanders presidency.
Their fear of Sanders stems partially from the stigma surrounding socialism and communism, especially in regards to how the terms relate to the American dream. Part of the reason demagogues like Trump can brandish those words as weapons is because a portion of the voting bloc lived through the Cold War. As a result, concepts that are really just schools of political thought are associated with the Soviet Union, the arms race and international brinkmanship.
In addition to these frightening associations, many voters don’t like the terms because they misunderstand them, and vilifying foreign concepts is a lot easier than working to understand them. As a result of these misconceptions, Bernie Sanders’ championing of an increasingly socialized state can fill misinformed voters with fear.
In order to understand Bernie’s platform then, you have to first understand what socialism and communism actually are. Once you do, you’ll realize that not only is America a partially socialized country already, you might actually encourage a little more state support—how about that?
Thanks to the Cold War, the word communism stirs up images of angry Russians spying on the United States. On paper, the concept spans the economic, political and social aspects of a country, with a primary focus on promoting equality amongst citizens.
What does it look like? No social classes, no political parties, common ownership, equal access to support systems, equal pay and equal work. The government is controlled directly by the people. Citizens are no better than one another and enjoy egalitarianism along all social lines.
Sounds great right? Everyone and everything is equal. If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. Unfortunately, the problem with the concept—as is usually the case—is the human component.
Since communism calls for equal work, there is no incentive to exceed the requirements. Innovation and advancement are not rewarded. People have no external incentive to do better or be better because no matter what they do, they will be compensated equally.
For example, if you work overtime, you deserve to be paid extra. In a communist society though, you’d be told tough titty. You would get paid the same amount as the guy who comes to work hungover and sleeps the day away. Sucks right?
Also, the alluring concept of political equality can be a double-edged sword. State-imposed equality, as exemplified in Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron,” means a tamping down of the exemplary as much as it means a raising up of the oppressed.
As a result, since leadership positions must be allotted at random as opposed to according to ability, political and economic authority lose any semblance of meritocracy, which means the system not only discourages individual ambition, it lacks the ability to effectively lead itself. In the end, communism theory is magnificent, but is practically impossible to implement.
Socialism, on the other hand, is sort of a toned-down version of communism. In short, the concept supports public ownership and the relationship between the owner and the worker. Workers control exchange, not the market, which means that things are made for use, not profit. Individuals produce goods or services because they require them or because they can exchange them for something they require, not for the sake of profit.
Although wealth is distributed, it exists primarily to compensate those members of society who contribute to the production and distribution of goods. The government’s role is simply to protect the rights of individuals. In addition, unlike communism, socialism recognizes political distinctions and personal successes, though it will never enable class stratification as severe as a capitalist market will.
The reality is that socialism is not scary at all, and in fact really quite similar to our country’s current mixed economy.
So where does Bernie come into the mix? Although he is old and his hair is a mess, he is neither senile nor a maniac. He is a democratic socialist. Yes, more political lingo.
Democratic socialists encourage the socialization of certain parts of society, but still support a government in which individuals have certain rights and personal powers. Bernie is not taking away democracy from the United States—partially because we’re a democratic republic, not a democracy—and partially because we still hold certain individual rights. Lest you doubt, here are some fixtures of American society that are already socialized.
The Armed Forces: Yes, we all get the same amount of protection. You don’t pay more for more guns.
Interstate Highways: Anyone can drive on any highway, even in New Jersey if you like that sort of place.
FBI: You need protection? You got it. You don’t want protection? You still got it.
The Presidency: You don’t pay more to have more of the President. He’s a person not a pie.
Congress: Even though most of us sometimes wonder if Congress shouldn’t be socialized, if you want that law passed that’ll legalize marijuana for your “headache” then you’re going to need a congressman.
Social Security: That thing for old people. Thanks to a socialized system, when you retire you’re entitled to social security (aka money).
National Parks: All those pretty and protected place are free thanks to socialization.
Bernie is advocating to add education and healthcare to that list. If you have been or are currently a college student, you most likely wish (from atop of a mountain of student debt) that education were socialized. If you have ever been sick, you probably prayed that you could afford a hospital stay or prescriptions. Socializing healthcare and education would ensure that any citizen could have complete access to these resources.
Now I know what you’re thinking: The country is already steeped in debt, how could we add another thing to be funded by taxes? Bernie proposes a readjustment of tax spending. If the government would take about 10 percent of the money spent on defense and put it to healthcare, we could all have access to comprehensive healthcare. Yeah, wow.
So, are you starting to feel the Bern?
P.S. If you want to hear it from him, here is a video Bernie made with Now This.