Pollsters have discovered that 36% of Americans under thirty have a favorable view of socialism, which is cited as an explanation of Bernie Sanders' current success in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Can this be? My old heart beats faster and I think I catch a scent of revolution in the air.
But Bernie never actually says the magic seven words that are graven in my heart: collective ownership of the means of production. Instead, he talks about free higher education, or single payer health care, or higher taxes on billionaires -- all admirable short-term goals but not what I have in mind when the word "socialism" passes my lips.
What's up? Why isn't "socialism" a killer for Bernie?
And then it dawned on me. The American educational system being what it is, young people haven't a clue what the word "socialism" means, and the media do not enlighten them. TV bloviators talk endlessly about the fact that Bernie self-identifies as a "Democratic Socialist ," more or less as though he had acknowledged being a Rastafarian [wrong hair, though]. My guess is that they also don't know those magic seven words either. As a consequence, the young learn the meaning of "socialism" they way we all learn the meaning of a word in a foreign language -- by observing the contexts in which it is used and inferring the meaning from that.
So Bernie says he is a socialist, and Bernie says he is for single payer and taxing the rich, and the young conclude, "Oh, that is what the word 'socialism' means. Well, I am for those things, so I guess socialism is all right."
The truth is that operationally, Bernie is an FDR New Deal Liberal, which is to say he is far, far to the left of everyone else in politics today. That's OK with me. I was born the year FDR first took office. I liked FDR, with all his faults. We could do worse.