If there's just one takeaway Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants you to have about his political philosophy, it's this:
"I don't believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production," he said Thursday. "But I do believe that the middle class and the working families of this country who produce the wealth of this country deserve a decent standard of living and that their incomes should go up, not down."
After reading that, are you a bit clearer on what Sanders's particular strain of socialism -- democratic socialism -- means?
Us neither. But that was the closest Sanders got in his hour-plus speech at Georgetown University -- which was pitched as an explainer on his brand of socialism -- to actually addressing a political philosophy that many Americans, almost by definition, are opposed to.
Sanders might not want to take over the grocery store down the street. But The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold followed his plans to their logical conclusion and found an America under President Sanders would look very different from what it does today. Three quick examples:
- Free tuition in colleges run by the government -- and under the government's rules
- An extra $1.2 trillion for Social Security beneficiaries, paid for by higher taxes on people earning more than $250,000
- Universal health care and universal child care, again largely provided for and controlled by the government
Basically, Fahrenthold wrote, "The biggest pieces of Sanders’s domestic agenda — making college, health care and child care more affordable — seek to capture these industries and convert them to run chiefly on federal money."
Sanders had an entire afternoon Thursday -- and the audience of the national media -- to explain this and try to sell it to Americans. To explain why he'd probably need to raise taxes even more than the $3.4 trillion (with a "T," and most targeting the rich or large companies) that he's already proposed. To explain how government control of many social services would improve Americans' lives.
Instead, Sanders barely mentioned these things, preferring instead to stick to extolling the purported benefits of his philosophy, a philosophy that comes from a word Americans are inherently skeptical of.
"I think the policies that I am advocating will in fact create wealth and strengthen the economy," he said, without mentioning said policies.
It's almost as if Sanders is so sure his plan will help improve the United States that he doesn't think he needs to explain it to the American people. It's probably more likely that Sanders is aware of just how jarring these changes would be to Americans, even to some of his most ardent supporters.
Sanders knows he's got a big hill to climb to sell his policies to the American people. Although 59 percent of Democrats told Gallup in a June poll they'd consider voting for a socialist, more than half of all Americans say they wouldn't, explaining that they'd rather vote for an atheist or Muslim.
And we get that talking about raising taxes -- which Sanders most definitely would do -- isn't a particularly fun thing for any presidential candidate to do in a campaign speech. (Although Democrats have moved left in this campaign, and the candidates tripped over themselves in a recent debate to brag about how they'd raise taxes on the wealthy.)
Still, we'd argue that the man who is giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money in the Democratic presidential primary could have done a much better job enunciating exactly what he would do -- along with what makes his brand of politics more widely appealing and accessible than it might appear on its surface.
Doing so would be a risk, for sure, but it could be one that might eventually pay off for him.
Talking about how he'd change America might be jarring at first. But who knows, perhaps the surprising number of Americans who have become interested in his candidacy would come around and see things his way and maybe tell a friend. Sanders is a gifted public speaker, after all, and his message of income inequality and political revolutions is clearly resonating with a large section of the Democratic Party.
Sanders's goal Thursday was to make socialism less scary and more understandable for the average American. But without sharing the details of what that would mean for the average American, he missed an opportunity to do just that.
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