THE ISSUE: For 40 years, the majority of Americans have watched their financial prospects fall as the wealthiest added to their fortunes. The rise of Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, suggests the oligarchs who increasingly control our government have gone too far.
The rising popularity of Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate and an independent senator from Vermont, has startled many. He has little of the charisma that marks most politicians. His appearance is unremarkable. His campaign coffers are tiny.
In short, he has none of the attributes that would lead people to overlook his message in supporting him. Which means it is his message that’s attracting massive crowds throughout the nation. It is his message that’s resulting in his growing strength in the polls.
And that’s where the shock really comes, especially in a state such as Alabama where the people are fed on a steady diet of the sanctity of free enterprise. He’s a flaming liberal in a nation that most thought was to the right of center. He describes himself as a democratic socialist in a nation where the term “socialist” is used as an insult.
To be fair, socialism is hardly a foreign concept in the United States.
As used by Sanders, it merely means the people should exercise their ability to regulate the means of production. America long has recognized unrestrained capitalism is dangerous. The 40-hour week, the minimum wage, child-labor laws, laws prohibiting employer discrimination based on race or gender, consumer protection and environmental laws, public utilities and infrastructure and schools — all are “socialist.”
But make no mistake, his ideas are radical. Some may be reckless. He calls for free tuition at public universities. Health care should be a right guaranteed to all through a Medicare-for-all system. The minimum wage should be upped to $15, meaning no person working 40 hours per week would live in poverty.
And Sanders is blunt on how he would pay for these benefits. He would increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans and corporations, who he claims are reaping the primary benefits of a rigged political system without paying their fair share.
Sanders has not had to answer the hard questions. Would escalating tax rates chase corporations from the United States, along with the jobs they provide? Would a doubling of the minimum wage result in skyrocketing unemployment and business failures? Would high taxes on billionaires lead them to forego investments in production that benefit all Americans?
Sanders’ growing popularity is a surprise, but it shouldn’t be.
During the 30 years after World War II, the economy doubled in size, and wages of American workers grew with it. Since 1980, the economy has again doubled in size — but wages have remained stagnant, and benefits have deteriorated. Productivity is higher than ever, but since 1980, the increased profits have gone almost exclusively to corporate owners.
And maybe most significantly, wealth now translates directly into political power — the ability to create laws that make the rich richer, at the expense of those who work for them.
Sanders as president would be a disaster for the wealthy, and the consequences of his policies might hurt the nation. His popularity, however, is a direct result of corporate greed and the politicians who are complicit in creating a system that ensures cheap labor and low taxes for their wealthy benefactors.
For those who control our political system with cash, Sanders’ rising popularity should come as a warning. Push the American people too hard, and they will push back.