Bernie Sanders is a self-proclaimed socialist.
Now if you, like me, grew up in a politically conservative climate then you’re probably already reaching for your go-to pitchfork and getting ready to run this commy out of town.
Well just hold on there Tex, because you might find that the angry mob you usually run with is short a few members this time around.
The term socialist used to be the silver bullet in the conservative revolver used to attack liberal economic policies. It could be fired out in a pinch to instantly unsettle and unbalance any debate rival or campaign competition when things got rough.
In 2011, the unintentionally hilarious spectacle that was the Rick Perry campaign launched the following ad attacking President Barack Obama.
Notice that Perry doesn’t say what awful economic policy he is blaming the president for. He didn’t have to.
In that moment Perry was well aware that the word “socialist” by itself would conjure up enough Stalin-esque comparisons in voters' minds for them to feel wary about casting a vote in Obama’s favor.
This was the established playbook as recently as the last presidential election. And yet, in just four years, the political climate has changed enough to allow a candidate like Sanders the unprecedented ability to use the term socialist as a way of turning people towards him instead of against.
Sanders is building his entire campaign around the American people’s – especially the young American people’s — sudden willingness to celebrate, rather than stone, a socialist such as himself. The irony of it all is that he owes his current popularity to the same group of people that he spends most of his time attacking: the rich.
In the past four years the issue of wealth disparity has entered the zeitgeist — hard. And it has hit no group harder than the young voters that Sanders has aggressively been targeting in his campaign.
Rising student loan debt and a still fluctuating job market have jaded many of my own generation to the ideas of large corporations and the super rich.
The 1% became the bogeyman in 2008, but in 2015 the bogeyman has come out of our closets and entered onto our talk shows, political debates, news sites, and Facebook feeds.
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In 2008 people, even young people, were happy just to be working anywhere. But now the economy has healed sufficiently for that sense of docility to wear off.
Americans — especially young Americans — don’t want to just work anymore. They want to thrive.
Sanders recognized that from the early days of his campaign and has therefore built a platform that is promising free college tuition, free health care, and a redistribution of wealth throughout the nation.
These purposed policies have earned Sanders the title of socialist, and he has accepted it (although he says he prefers the term “progressive”) with both hands.
Miraculously the moniker — which just a few years ago could have destroyed his hopes for the White House — has now become a badge of honor for both him, and the young voters he is mobilizing.
As fascinating of a candidate as Sanders is, the fact remains that there is a greater than normal chance that he will not win either the Democratic primary or the general election.
However, the phenomena of his socialist campaign’s success has shown all the candidates that a victory in this election will mean being more focused on the issues of wealth equality than any president since FDR.
Time will tell if any of them take the hint.