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Bernie Returns and Brings the “S” Word Back With Him

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There’s no disputing that Bernie Sanders made a historic and meaningful mark on the country with his 2016 presidential campaign. Putting all the DNC drama and actual loss aside, the wild-haired, Brooklyn-born Jewish senator nearly made it all the way, or at least made it pretty damn far considering he proudly flaunts the “s” word.

Before the last election, the concept of socialism was largely contained to whispered discussions in darkened university pubs, and primarily as a caveat to hyperbolic analysis of Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto.” We’ve come a long way in our understanding and comfort in publicly discussing the political and economic theory since then. There will always be the stubborn “some” who refuse to see past Marx, Lenin and Stalin and who will hold up Cuba and Venezuela as examples of socialism-gone-wrong. Typically missing from those conversations are examples of countries that have successfully integrated aspects of socialism and capitalism – yes, there are many to choose from.

Still, there are a growing number of regular people who are willing to at least explore the underlying concepts, especially when the terms “democratic” and “socialism” are married.

Democratic Socialists of America banner. Graphic courtesy of Tablet Magazine

What was once a dirty word in the United States is now fairly normalized in the post-2016 era. Nearly 60 percent of polled Democrats view aspects of socialism positively, which is not a huge stretch from where the party was about 10 years ago, according to Gallup. What’s interesting is the divergence in thinking about capitalism among the two primary parties. Where only 47 percent of Democrats now have positive views on capitalism, down over 10 points from 2016, Republicans are really digging into the existing (and failing) model with 71 percent favoring capitalism and less than 20 percent who see some positive attributes to socialism.

There’s the real story right there, the divide among us widening on just about every front. The left is becoming more progressive and the right more regressive, generally speaking. The concept of socialism may seem like it is becoming more mainstream, but the reality is that the swelling group of people willing discuss alternatives to capitalism is solidly on just one side of the ideological line.

Democratic Socialists of America have seen a huge uptake in membership and the party now boasts some real influence in local, state and national government, but it is hard to see how the country moves forward with real discussion about pros and cons with only one side of the aisle on board. To further complicate the matter, the left is a nuanced catchall for most voters who can’t stomach the modern Republican Party – not all who register as Democrats are big fans of rose-donning Millennial socialists, even if they are somewhat open to discussing alternatives.

Young Democratic Socialists of America convention in Berkeley, Calif. Photo courtesy of Ben Adam Rosenberg/Berkeleyside

As Bernie Sanders jumps back into the presidential campaign fray, it is certain we as a country will again be forced to reckon with our feelings toward capitalism and socialism and that is not always comfortable, but change seldom is. There is some real opportunity here if we are willing to put down our swords and come to the table where all concepts are laid out and evaluated as possibilities. The sane on the left don’t want the U.S. to become Nicaragua and it is safe to assume that the sane on the right can at least acknowledge that capitalism is not a perfect system, even if privately to themselves. Economic inequality is a very real thing we have to contend with and pure socialism is a risk we should obviously be wary of, but if we stop demonizing labels and letting extremes define whole ideologies, we just might be able to have some productive, grownup conversations about how to best move forward as a country.

People are divided on whether Sanders should have stepped back in this time around and how that will all pan out is anyone’s guess. But it is certain that his presence brings the bigger conversation of political/economic reform forward and it’s a talk we seriously need to have. So, let’s grow up and have it.

Just sayin’.

Capitalism versus socialism. Graphic courtesy of New Politics

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.