Bernie Sanders deserves credit for successfully separating in our national consciousness American capitalism from American patriotism by exposing our brand of capitalism as a badly flawed economic philosophy that has favored the wealthy to the detriment of the majority of Americans and our American democracy.
I do not mean to overlook the contributions of the many progressive intellectuals and activists who also heralded the flaws of capitalism and the virtues of democratic socialism, many before Bernie entered politics. Bernie stands with them and on the shoulders of those who came before him. However, Bernie deserves credit for successfully bringing democratic socialism into our American political discourse and our lawmaking arena. Thanks to Bernie’s extraordinarily successful efforts, democratic socialists are no longer automatically considered insane dreamers who detest America and seek to rob the well-off of their wealth to create an equal society. Today, Bernie has everyday Americans beyond academia and elite think tanks openly discussing the flaws of American shareholder capitalism and entertaining progressive measures to fix them that were not too long ago widely considered unacceptable if not treasonous.
As Democrats ponder which candidate to choose among a large and quite impressive field of presidential candidates, they must seriously consider the politician most responsible for setting the table of agenda items all candidates will be forced to either embrace or craft credible alternatives for. This is no small achievement as all politicians seek to be transformational figures, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan, two presidents widely considered by historians to be among our most influential. But today, we are seriously talking about a $15 minimum wage, Medicare-for-all, a Green New Deal to respond to climate change, and free tuition at public colleges, among other major issues, largely because of Sanders’s sincere, courageous, and competent activism.
Another serious point to consider is the advent of the new and exciting young progressive Democratic members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. This group, which has been unofficially led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York’s 14th U.S. congressional district, has taken Washington, the nation and the world by storm since their election last November by passionately fighting for the same progressive agenda Sanders has been fighting for his entire career. They will be a progressive force to be reckoned with for decades to come.
Yes, America’s future appears to be so bright that we progressives should invest in a company that manufactures high-quality sunglasses. However, our work has only begun. This is because a majority of Americans still wince at the term “socialism” even when the term “democratic” is placed in front of it. This is based on a long-standing aversion caused by opposition to universal economic equality and in the minds of many older Americans an association with failed totalitarian states, mainly the defunct Soviet Union and Red China before its successful economic reforms. In many of these failed states, corrupt authoritarian leaders impeded the successful practice of socialism. Most Americans do not yet associate democratic socialism with democracies throughout the world where socialistic economic principles have been successfully implemented.
Most Americans have overlooked the fact that for decades America has been implementing socialistic measures in which American taxpayers collectively contribute to measures designed to ease the harsh effects of capitalism and promote the common good. Think of “social” programs, such as social security, and Medicare. Additionally, if you believe the American economy is a purely free market economy devoid of government intervention, think again. Our economy relies on government assistance to run. Think of the Fed’s routine manipulation of monetary policy or the Obama stimulus bill which was designed to stimulate economic growth in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008. Corporations require a favorable regulatory environment to make their money. Think of the Trump tax bill and its large corporate tax cuts.
If you believe corporate executives are opposed to government assistance, you are simply wrong. Have you ever heard of the term “corporate welfare” ? Look up the 2008 several-hundred-billion dollar federal bailout of the financial sector, a measure signed by President George W. Bush to ensure the solvency of large banks in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis which contributed to the Great Recession. The elite bankers who handsomely profited from the 2008 financial crisis and later stuck their hands out to receive billions in bailout money from Uncle Sam are clearly not Ronald Reagan’s stereotypical Welfare Queens, or kings in most cases.
In our free market economy, the government is every bit as responsible for choosing winners and losers as wealthy corporate elites. There is no need for us Americans to get tangled up in terms. Most economies are hybrid domains with capitalistic and socialistic features. The issue is whether or not an economy strikes a balance that leads to the greatest degree of efficiency and prosperity for its people. The problem with our American economy is that our government has been choosing to favor wealthy elites and corporations as the best way to ensure broad economic prosperity for all of us. However, this has proved to be an unsound strategy that has dramatically enhanced the wealth of the rich while leaving the rest of America behind, significantly contributing to America’s wealth and income inequality. Bernie and other democratic socialists are merely advocating socialistic measures to address the extreme inequities caused by this erroneous economic strategy.
Prior to the 2016 presidential election cycle, even mentioning single-payer healthcare, universal basic income, and living wages, for example, as favored solutions to our economic problems would have been socially and professionally hazardous. If America develops a moral, stakeholder-centered capitalism any time soon, it will be largely due to the spectacular salesmanship of U.S. Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont who has mightily contributed to the altering of American economic orthodoxy forevermore.