Compared to the Republican field of candidates running for President, the Democrats candidates are laughable. For years, Hillary Clinton has been the presumptive nominee of the party.
But this summer hasn’t exactly gone as planned for the Hillary campaign. In many ways, her campaign is toast with its only glimmer of hope being that there are no other serious challengers. All polling data shows that liberal voters are looking for someone else, just about anyone else, to take her spot. Thankfully, no one else has officially jumped into the race.
Except for Bernie Sanders (and Martin O’Malley, not that anyone noticed).
Bernie Sanders has been and continues to be written off by pundits as that fringe candidate who can whip his supporters into a frenzy, but when it comes time to pull voters to the primaries he’ll simply fizzle out. His appeal is his message, not his electability. He’s like that crazy uncle at Thanksgiving who can tell a great story but needs to be slightly drunk before he’ll tell it.
Bernie Sander’s Plan
There is no doubt that Sander’s message is extreme. He’s a socialist, through and through, and without shame. His entire message is the redistribution of wealth. Where Obama once was criticized for telling Joe the Plumber that he wanted to spread the wealth around, Sanders shamelessly promotes such a plan.
Bernie Sander’s plan for America would spend $18 trillion over 10 years. To put this in perspective, this would double our current national debt. Of course, he would pay for this through a massive tax increase, although this would only bring in $6.5 trillion in additional revenues
To pay for it, Mr. Sanders, a Vermont independent running for the Democratic nomination, has so far detailed tax increases that could bring in as much as $6.5 trillion over 10 years, according to his staff.
Would Americans Vote for a Socialist?
Many conservatives would argue that we already have voted in several socialists, both democrat and republican. President Obama has overseen a massive increase in federal spending since he took office (see this post for a great examination and breakdown of federal spending under Obama) mostly for socialist causes like the ACA. Republicans have mostly stood by, been complicit, or been willing promoters of socialist agendas.
But even though Americans have voted in elected officials who have socialist agendas, these agendas are usually cloaked under the language of personal freedoms and greater opportunity. Very few candidates openly talk or identify as socialists.
So would Americans vote for an openly socialist presidential candidate? I think so. I saw it in my home state of Minnesota.
Look to Minnesota Where a Candidate Won on a “Tax the Rich” Platform
Usually when a candidate’s platform involves raising taxes, that part of their plan is approached in a regrettable, “necessary evil” sort of manner. A candidate will say “We have to raise taxes, but it won’t impact you because you are special”.
However, in 2010, Mark Dayton aggressively campaigned for the Minnesota governorship on the promise that he would raise the taxes of the rich. This wasn’t some reluctant “we need to do this so we’ll limit this to the rich” promise, but rather a promise with a vengeance. In his world, the rich were not paying their ‘fair share’ (even though the top tiers pay a majority of actual income taxes received).
“What I’m trying to do with my proposal is redress some of the inequity existing in the Minnesota tax system,” he said. “If we’re going to ask people to pay taxes in this state, then we need to make it fair. And people will pay taxes more willingly if they understand that everybody else is paying their fair share.”
Mark Dayton won that election against a candidate who promised to lower taxes and reduce government. Dayton also won re-election in 2014.
People Like Free Stuff, Especially Millenials
The danger of Bernie Sanders is that the general electorate today is more dependent and desirous on free things than at any point in our history. Millenials have higher expectations for instant gratification, more success from their work without spending as much time, and easier advancement through the workplace. As Time Magazine says:
They’re narcissistic. They’re lazy. They’re coddled. They’re even a bit delusional. Those aren’t just unfounded negative stereotypes about 80 million Americans born roughly between 1980 and 2000. They’re backed up by a decade of sociological research.
While Bernie Sanders may have had a hard time convincing a harder working generation from years ago, today’s generation hears the ideals of the socialist movement and thinks “why not?” Free college education, free healthcare, an income equality are all sold to millennials without a foundation of understanding that good things come as a result of hard work.
Us vs. Them
In addition to getting ‘free’ things such as healthcare and college education, Bernie Sanders is playing on an increasing feeling among people that there is a real “us vs. them” divide between the super-rich and the rest of society. He casts the issue not as a matter of fairness, but as a matter of right vs. wrong:
Today, we live in the richest country in the history of the world, but that reality means little because much of that wealth is controlled by a tiny handful of individuals.
The issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral issue of our time, it is the great economic issue of our time, and it is the great political issue of our time.
For a millennial who feels entitled to instant gratification and upward mobility with a heart bleeding with empathy for outside causes, this message is sure to resonate.
…and the Polls
And, of course, we can’t forget the polls. Polling data at this stage can be highly misleading, but Sander’s rise in the polls certainly looks to be more than just a blip on the radar. He’s resonating with the core message of liberals, gaining in general polls, and even leading in New Hampshire.
This, of course, should be taken with caution since polling well does not necessarily translate to turning out voters, but it should be some cause for concern for conservatives that our opponent may not be Hillary – it may, in fact, be an openly, unashamed, self-proclaimed socialist who promises to give voters a lot of ‘free’ stuff.