Bernie Sanders must be smiling. Right now, the RCP average of polls shows that in the upcoming New Hampshire primary, he is besting Hillary Clinton by 41.0 to 29.7. And in the Iowa caucus polls, Hillary Clinton sees Sanders closing in quickly as she wins by a slim 37.3 to Sanders’ 31.0.
On Morning Joe today, Kristen Soltis Anderson and Mark Halperin attributed Sanders’ growing strength to his consistent message and his authenticity. They are correct that his message is both authentic and consistent, but it is new and fresh only to the thousands of college students who pack his rallies, the most recent one in the Boston area. As Margaret Talbot writes in the current issue of The New Yorker, “He’s been talking about the injustices done to working people by unequal income distribution for more than forty years.”
Why are the young, who seem to make up the bulk of the crowds that turn out for his rallies, so smitten with him? First, his socialist message and analysis dovetail greatly with much of the history and politics they learn at colleges from their aging New Left professors. Particularly in American history classes, they have been inundated with “history from below,” where they learned that progress was made as a result of the people’s struggles against their oppressors; the capitalists are the villains, and leaders of the Socialist Party like Eugene V. Debs are the heroes.
Now, as one interviewee told Talbot, “socialism was ‘getting a bit of a P.R. makeover’” by Sanders, and is no longer the “damning label” that it is to his opponents. Indeed, as she notes, a 2011 Pew poll revealed that to voters under 30, 49% have a positive view of socialism compared to 46% who view capitalism favorably. Summing up Sanders’ policy proposals, she writes:
Most of his policy proposals have to do with helping working people and reducing the influence of the wealthy. He would like to break up the big banks, create jobs by rebuilding infrastructure, and move toward public funding of elections—and provide free tuition at public universities. (This program would be subsidized, in part, by a tax on Wall Street speculation.) He wants to end the “international embarrassment of being the only major country on Earth which does not guarantee workers paid medical and family leave.”
If one goes to his official campaign website and looks at the policy proposals he espouses, one finds that he proposes scores of different “tax the wealthy” programs that he promises will end income inequality. For example, he favors increasing the minimum wage in the next five years to $15 an hour throughout the country. He believes in the much-exposed myth that “women earn just 78 cents for every dollar a man earns.” And of course, he favors a single-payer health plan, or “Medicare for All.” How are all of the programs to be financed without breaking the bank? There is, of course, a simple answer: tax the wealthy more, which will provide all the funds necessary to finance these entitlements.