America’s Drift Toward ‘Socialism’ Is Generational, But Also Educational
By David Davenport
As a surprising number of Americans “feel the Bern” for a self-described “democratic socialist” candidate for president, even more shocking polls show Americans drifting toward socialism itself. In a YouGov survey last month, 42% of Democrats said they had a favorable view of socialism. In November, a New York Times/CBS CBS +1.40% News poll concluded that 56% of Democratic primary voters and 69% of Bernie Sanders supporters viewed socialism favorably, and in a January Bloomberg /Des Moines Register Iowa poll, 43% of likely Democratic caucus-goers used the word “socialist” to describe themselves.
What’s going on here? How can we reach a point, virtually overnight, when a term that was recently considered anti-American is now embraced by members of one of America’s two major political parties?
For starters, this shift is heavily generational, created largely by young people jumping on the Bernie Sanders bandwagon. The same YouGov survey found those under 30 were the only age group that rated socialism ahead of capitalism, 43%-32%. In fact with every other age group preferring capitalism, one would rightly conclude that it’s those Millennials once again turning things inside out. That does not make me feel any better about it, but it at least helps identify and isolate the trend.
I don’t know which is more discouraging: that young people are becoming comfortable with socialism, or that they have no idea what it is. Any definition of socialism involves government ownership of the means of production and distribution. It’s most assuredly not private ownership of business or a market economy. So for starters, young people have embraced some kind soft collectivism and mislabeled it as socialism. That’s bad enough.
But part of the problem is that Bernie Sanders himself does not seem to know what socialism is, or worse, he does know and is intentionally misleading and exploiting young people. Sanders is careful to use the term “democratic socialism” but socialism is still the noun and democratic the adjective, socialism is the economic system and democracy is the political scheme. So just looking at the terms, Sanders wants the people to choose—rather than leaders to impose—a system in which government collectively owns the means of production and distribution.
But Sanders apparently doesn’t really mean that either. He says, I don’t mean Cuba or Venezuela, I mean Denmark. But amid all the talk in the Democratic primaries about Denmark, its own prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, felt compelled to say that his country is not a planned socialist economy but rather a market economy with “an expanded welfare state.” When Bernie is asked to be specific about his goal, he says he is speaking of Social Security and Medicare, apparently not a planned economy. He invokes Franklin Roosevelt, not Karl Marx.
In the end, Sanders is not, by definition, a socialist. He is just using the label to differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton and other Democrats whom he perceives to be too close to the market excesses of capitalism and Wall Street. And young people are not really socialist either—they’re just soft in the head and don’t know what they are saying. The threat is that we are raising a generation of young people who are so unaware of history, civics and political systems that they can be stirred up and manipulated by politicians throwing around inaccurate labels.