Explaining Bernie Sanders and “Democratic Socialism” in a Nutshell

democrats bernie sandersDespite what many seem to think, it’s possible to like both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders – and I do. In fact, I like them a lot and would fight for either in the general election. Like many other Democrats, I simply believe that heading into one of the most vital presidential elections in many of our lifetimes, Clinton gives Democrats their best chance of winning.


That being said, the rhetoric surrounding what Sanders means when he calls himself a “democratic socialist” is ridiculous. I’ve put some of the blame on him considering I don’t feel he’s been all that effective at properly defining what a democratic socialist is. To be fair, he’s now planning a speech where he’s going to address this issue and hopefully explain it better in his own words. We’ll have to see how that goes.

But the truth is, his form of “socialism” isn’t extreme at all. In fact, I hesitate to really even call it “socialism.” What Sanders is essentially running on is a return to the capitalism we had during Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency, when taxes on the wealthy were higher (though he’s pushing for much less than the 80-90 percent it was back then).

When it comes to health care and education, Sanders basically wants to expand our current public education system to include public universities and provide every American access to health care by way of a program similar to Medicare. You know, the health care program that’s extremely popular among seniors.

As far as Wall Street goes, I don’t believe he has any problem with these folks making money. The issue he has (and everyone should have) is when these people are growing their wealth through unethical practices that prey on the middle class and ultimately end up screwing over 98-99 percent of Americans.

Here’s an honest question: Who really trusts big banks and Wall Street brokers to act morally and ethically if they’re not legally forced to do so? I know I sure as heck don’t.

Sanders also wants to raise the minimum wage to a level that allows tens of millions of Americans working full-time jobs to no longer have to rely on government programs to provide for their families. In other words, he wants to put an end to the government subsidizing the employees of companies like Walmart and McDonald’s because their wages are entirely too low.

Shouldn’t that be something Republicans support? A politician who wants to get millions of Americans off government programs by making them solely reliant upon income earned via the private sector?

And when you get right down to it, that’s basically “Bernie Sanders-type democratic socialism” in a nutshell.

Is all of that really so radical? I don’t think so. Essentially every modern nation on Earth provides socialized health care to its citizens and many of those same nations provide free education at a public university. All we’re really doing is taking two programs that have already proven to be extremely successful in this country (public education and Medicare) and expanding them to cover more people. It would be paid for by closing tax loopholes and raising taxes on the richest 1-2 percent of Americans.


But there’s great news for that 1-2 percent that would see their taxes go up! Even under a Sanders presidency, you would all still be extremely wealthy. Yes, believe it or not, even under the quasi-not-really-socialism Sanders supports, the richest among us will still be extremely wealthy.

And best of all, for around 98 percent of all Americans – your taxes mostly won’t change at all. The only thing Sanders has discussed which would raise taxes on the rest of us would be his proposal for a small increase in the payroll tax. This isn’t nearly as scary as it might sound. Sanders explained why he believes this is necessary to George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” last Sunday morning:

“[The payroll tax] would hit everyone –- yeah, it would. But it would mean we would join the rest of the industrialized world and make sure that when a mom has a baby she can in fact stay home with that baby for three months, rather than going back to work at the end of one week,” Sanders said.

“We are the … only major country on earth that doesn’t guarantee paid family and medical leave,” he added. (Source)

So you can safely tell all of your conservative friends who think Sanders is nothing more than a communist (an economic ideology that’s different than socialism, by the way) who wants to steal all of your money that they’re flat-out wrong.

The issue here is, Sanders is unlikely to redefine what he means by “socialism” within the next year, and get enough Americans to understand and accept it. While I think this country is definitely headed in a more progressive direction, it’s going to be extremely difficult for any form of socialism to be accepted by enough voters nationally that quickly. That’s why I revert back to my stance that when it comes to winning a general election, Sanders’ chances are slim.

But I think it’s important to deal in facts and there’s simply far too much misinformation being thrown out there about what Sanders means when he talks about being a democratic socialist. And while I personally support Hillary Clinton and feel she gives us our best shot, I will gladly fight my hardest for Bernie Sanders if he wins the nomination. I do believe he is, in fact, a revolutionary in our political system, and it’s time we start redefining what “socialism” actually means when blended with capitalism – as it has been in the United States for decades.

The truth of the matter is, large parts of this country are already governed by various forms of socialism – and most of those programs (education, Social Security, Medicare, public roads, public water, the military) are all extremely popular with most Americans.

Hit me up on Twitter or Facebook and let me know what you think.



Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.

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  • justic4all

    It’s not possible for me to like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton at the same time. I think this would be true of many Bernie supporters. Money and corruption is the #1 problem in our government right now. Until that gets resolved, no meaningful progress can happen on any issue as long as corporate lobbyists are literally writing our laws and regulations. Hillary is a democrat from the corporate wing of the party and in the back pocket of Wall Street and other corporate lobbyists. Bernie is not.

  • 1968_Camaro

    I like your article, and share your views, particularly that it is possible to like both Hillary and Bernie. Both are wonderful candidates, and either would do a fine job in the White House. I am still undecided. It seems like every time I turn around, one of them says or does something I like, and then the other one does something else that I also like! This “dilemma” of two excellent candidates on our side of the aisle speaks very well of the Democratic Party. Proud to be a Democrat!