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The True Success of the Sanders Campaign

After two election cycles of being defeated by the party favorite, it’s important that we examine exactly what Senator Bernie Sanders’ past two presidential campaigns have meant for our current political culture. It is to nobody’s surprise that Sanders is considered radical in his views. He has been further to the left of the spectrum than any of his competitors with his proposals for universal healthcare and free college tuition for everyone. Other Democratic candidates, who also seemed willing to spend frivolously, have criticized Sanders for being too polarizing of a candidate. However, Sanders has found himself second only to two party favorites: Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Joe Biden in 2020.

In a time where ‘socialism’ is an intimidating concept, Sanders campaigned on a Democratic Socialist platform. He sought to take on big banks and Wall Street while promising to redistribute the wealth of billionaires down to the working-class people. His supporters enjoy his consistency; he has been running on the same platform for 40 years. He has a speaking style that is unique to him and has become a household name within the past five years. My point is this: People know of Bernie Sanders. Whether you like him or hate him, you know his name. If you’re even slightly paying attention, you can almost predict how he is going to respond to a question or a crisis. I always say that his plans are too expensive but he never knows how much.

This is important. Bernie Sanders has taken socialism in America and ran it through two presidential primary campaigns. He has forced candidates on the left to move further to the left than we’ve ever seen. He has obtained popularity and gained a base following of ‘Bernie Bros’ that refuse to vote for anyone but Sanders. We’ve even seen Republican members of Congress adopt views of socialism during the coronavirus pandemic. He has popularized the concept of ‘Democratic Socialism’ in a way that only a party favorite has the ability to defeat his platform. He has made socialism a national discussion in a country founded on free-market principles.

What is socialism? Socialism is an economic principle that centralizes power to the state who is then the owner or sole regulator of the means of production. Free-market capitalism, on the other hand, decentralizes power and the means of production is owned and regulated at the individual level. American Socialists believe in a strong federal government. They believe that the public sector is more efficient at producing actual results than the private sector. Socialists believe that companies should have to answer to consumers through the electoral process rather than in a free exchange of goods and services. Socialists prioritize security over liberty, even when liberty is one of our rights as defined by the Constitution.

Many Democrats will not call themselves socialists. Prior to Sanders’ popularization of the concept, socialism was a dirty word in American politics. Although many policy proposals by Democrats were socialism by definition, they refrained from marketing them as such. In recent years, however, we have seen a surge of elected politicians who are self-proclaimed Democratic Socialists. For example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won New York’s 14th district congressional campaign for the House of Representatives in 2018 by campaigning on a Democratic Socialist platform. This victory, I argue, could not have been possible if Sanders had not paved the way of naturalizing socialism in 2016. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who represents Michigan’s 13th district, also won her seat as a Democratic Socialist in 2018, another victory that could be accredited to Sanders’ efforts. In fact, in 2018, over 40 members of the Democratic Socialists of America were elected to state and local offices. This number is only expected to grow in the upcoming elections. This is the largest spread of socialism that this country has ever seen. Again, I credit Bernie Sanders for his “failed” campaigns.

I argue that Sanders didn’t lose either of these elections, he just didn’t win in the traditional sense of the word. The obvious winner of a campaign is the one who gets nominated. However, if Sanders’ intentions were to popularize his platform and have it progress in a way that couldn’t have been predicted 20 years ago, then he has won. Socialism is no longer considered to be this radical concept of oversized government and high taxes. To many, this is the preferred economic system to capitalism. Trust in government functionality appears to be on the rise, even when there is no hard evidence of increased efficiency. The American people seem to be willing to give more of their individual freedom in return for government security.

Socialism has seen success because we, as a country, are overworked and underpaid. Many place this blame on private companies and find that the only solution is through increased government regulation. Many Americans are in a tremendous amount of unmanageable debt and are easily swayed by an ideology that promises to ease the burden. Socialism provides a sense of certainty in the most uncertain of times. This is illustrated by the current pandemic: People immediately turned to the government and demanded action when the first case of coronavirus was reported in America. The government proceeded to shut down the economy and provide stimulus to the people, small business, and major corporations. The final bill that passed unanimously in the Senate, without a roll-call vote in the House of Representatives, and signed into law by President Trump left the American people demanding more. The people want more financial security. They want more government-mandated shutdowns. They are willing to ignore the final cost of all this in hopes of returning back to normalcy in the following months.

The cost of socialism is more than the dollar amount. We sacrifice our individual liberties when we vote away our financial freedoms in return for security. The price of socialism is especially dangerous when those in power lack a general understanding of how economies operate. Socialism creates strains on markets that inflate prices of goods, stagnates wages, and decreases productivity.

The problems that the government seeks out to address are problems that were caused by the government in the first place. Sanders may have been successful in bringing national attention to socialism as an option, but we as a country are now tasked with weighing the pros and cons of the economic system.

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