Because American voters are political ignoramuses, Senator Bernie Sanders found it necessary to take the stage at Georgetown University last month to explain what socialism and democratic socialism are. The point being that too many Democratic primary voters plan to cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton, not because they like her or her ideas, but worry that a self-declared socialist (or democratic socialist) won't be able to beat the Republican nominee in the general election.
I have to wonder whether an electorate that knows nothing about socialism is qualified to vote at all. And remember: These are Democratic primary voters. One shivers in fear at the colossal dumbness on the Republican right, where climate-change denialism is normative, Ronald Reagan was brilliant, and Tea Party marchers carry signs demanding "government get out of my Medicaid."
Socialism, Marx and Engels explained, is the transitional economic system between laissez-faire capitalism and communism. Communism being an ideal utopian state that will only become possible after the rise of a New Man (and Woman) whose total commitment to communitarian ideals over individualistic concerns allows the state to wither away and people to rule themselves in small collectives. This true ideal communism, Marxists believe, is centuries away at best.
In contemporary politics, Communist Party rule in nations like the Soviet Union and China led to confusion, especially in the West. Neither the Soviet nor the Chinese Communist Parties ever claimed to have achieved true communism. These communist parties govern self-declared socialist states, not communist ones. It was, after all, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
When Sanders calls himself a socialist, he's drawing upon a tradition of Western European electoral politics in which socialist principles live alongside free-market capitalist ones. For Sanders and the hundreds of millions of citizens of the nations of Europe and their post-colonial progeny (Canada, Australia, many African countries), democratic socialism is a system that looks a lot like the United States of America.
In the ur-democratic socialist nations of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, citizens' elected representatives propose and vote on laws — just like here.
There is no state economy. There are, as in the U.S., small private businesses and giant corporations.
So what makes them socialist? Government regulations and the social safety net. Government agencies tell power companies, for example, how much they may pollute the air and set the minimum wage. There is, as in all capitalist societies, poverty. But the government mitigates its effects with welfare and unemployment benefits. Social security for retirees and free or subsidized health care make things easier when times are tough.
The United States is a democratic socialist country, albeit a lame one. Senator Sanders wants less lameness.
The New York Times summarized Sanders' speech: "He wanted an America where people could work 40 hours a week and not live in poverty, and that such a society would require new government entitlements like free public colleges, Medicare-for-all health insurance, a $15 minimum wage, $1 trillion in public works projects to create jobs, and mandatory [paid] parental leave."
These benefits are standard in almost every other technologically advanced nation on earth, as well as many developing countries. Democratic socialism? It's like that old dishwashing liquid ad: You're soaking in it.
As far as I know, Sanders hasn't emphasized the quality of public education in his campaign. But something is, no pun intended, radically wrong when so few Americans understand basic political and economic terms — especially when they apply to the political and economic system under which they themselves live.
By global standards, Sanders' campaign is calling for weak socialist tea. In most European countries, all colleges are free or charge nominal fees. Socialized medicine, in which your doctor is a government employee and there's no such thing as a big for-profit hospital corporation, is the international norm. Paid leave? Obviously. And most governments recognize the importance of public infrastructure, and not relying on the private sector to provide every job.
There can only be one reason Americans don't know this stuff: They're idiots. Their schools made them that way as kids. Media propaganda keeps them that way as adults.