Socialism is not the same as communism. Under Marxist-Leninist theory, socialism is the stage--during which the means of production and distribution are owned and operated by a dictatorial government--between the overthrow of capitalism and the achievement of utopian communism.
American's negative view of socialism can also be traced to the debate about health care--in which the American Medical Association hammered the failures of "socialized" medicine--and efforts by insurance and drug company lobbyists to ensure the system remains as profit oriented as possible. The result is that the United States has one of the most expensive and least protective health-care systems of all developed nations.
Less socialistic and more democratic are the social democracies of most European countries. These governments provide essential public services such as power, transportation, medical care, and a more robust social safety net, but mostly leave the means of production and distribution in private hands.
As a self-defined democratic socialist, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says he wants a government that belongs to the People, rather than a "handful of billionaires." He doesn't want the government to run the entire economy, but he does want more government-funded programs to make life easier for the working and middle classes. And, he wants the wealthy elite and their corporations to help pay for the programs.
While Sanders invokes the heritage of Franklin D. Roosevelt (Social Security) and Lyndon Johnson (Medicare and Medicaid) in his demands for economic security, his opponent, former first lady Hillary Clinton wants to move beyond her personal admiration of Eleanor Roosevelt back into the White House.
Clinton claims she wants better health care for children, increased minimum pay, equal pay for women, and a more progressive tax policy; however, she also solicits corporate and Wall Street financial contributions as a centralist "New Democrat" who supports the military-industrial-intelligence-homeland security complex. Sanders' participation in the election may be pushing Clinton to the left on some social issues; however, her election would provide few practical alternatives to the environmental, economic, internal security, and militaristic policies proffered by the Republican candidates.
For now, it appears that Sanders' popular support is growing and is presenting a real challenge to the nomination of Hillary Clinton. While 60 percent of all Americans (and most republicans) view "socialism" negatively, most democrats--the ones voting in the Democratic Party primaries--have a generally positive reaction to the word [Pew Research Center].
Almost half of all young people have a positive view of socialism, and they favor Sanders to Clinton by 58 percent to 35 percent [McClatchy-Marist]. It is easy to see why young people are rallying around Sanders. They are losing their faith in the American Dream--one third of non-college graduates now say it is no longer alive [Fusion]. Reality bears out this belief in that almost half of young Americans will end up at the same or lower economic plateau as their parents. The youth in every other industrialized nation, except England, are more upwardly mobile [The State of Working America]. The countries with the greatest upward mobility are the social democracies which nurture their societies, so it is not surprising the United States provides less paid maternity leave and child care for working mothers than all other developed nations.
If it is true the American People want a government that responds to their needs and aspirations--one that truly cares for those who elect it--what should it be called? "Socialism" doesn't work, and there are no meaningful synonyms.
Just as communism is not socialism, capitalism is not the same as free enterprise. The current U.S. government--a plutocracy controlled by a wealthy elite and their corporations--has destroyed the free enterprise system in that working people, and the unions that once represented them, are increasingly powerless. The relationship between capital and labor is so far out of balance as to impose economic slavery on most American workers. Moreover, the plutocracy's corporate welfare policies so favor large corporations and Wall Street bankers that small business owners can no longer compete.
If the United States is to survive as a representative democracy, the People must vote for candidates who are most likely to support and encourage the society of those who elect it, rather than those who provide the legalized bribery of campaign financing. Sanders is now raising almost as much campaign cash as Clinton from individual donors, and he has far more supporters, including more women than Clinton. Although she currently leads Sanders in the polls, democratic voters may shift their allegiance as they realize that the same polls have Sanders defeating individual republican candidates in the general election by margins greater than Clinton. The difference can be attributed to independents--one third of all voters--who view Sanders far more favorably than Clinton.
While Bernie Sanders is not a perfect candidate, his political views have been consistent over the years, and he is known as a pragmatic politician. He could be the next president. The Western Illinois University has conducted a mock presidential election for the past 40 years--which has accurately called every presidential election with 100 percent accuracy. It predicts Sanders will prevail over Clinton in 22 of the 26 primary states on Super Tuesday, and, with Martin O'Malley as his running mate, will win the general election in November.
The grandfatherly Sanders may have the opportunity to implement his version of democratic socialism. His administration would hopefully result in a government that nurtures the People who elect it, provides a brighter and safer future their children, and is less threatening to the rest of the world.
William John Cox is a retired public interest lawyer and
author of the United States Voters' Rights Amendment. His books, "Transforming America: A Voters' Bill of Rights"
and "An Essential History of China: Why it Matters to Americans" were
published on December 10th.