A Brand New Shine — Bernie Sanders Marches Towards the Democratic Nomination
To the chagrin of the Democratic party elite, and the elite as a whole, Bernie’s message of “democratic socialism” is resonating.
To the chagrin of the Democratic party elite, and the elite as a whole, Bernie’s message of “democratic socialism” is resonating. But why/how is the 78-year old galvanizing the younger generations?
The battle between generations is as old as time itself. Each generation blames the one before it and is suspect of the one after it. Right now, the generational battle being waged, real or imagined, is between baby boomers and millennials. The battle is evenly matched with the numbers being 76 million boomers and 73 million millennials.
Baby boomers — born between 1944–1964
Millennials — born between 1980–1994.
Most of the Democratic presidential front-runners fall a little north side of the boomer demographic. The current crop is rounded out by one Gen X’er and one millennial.
However, as Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada are proving, it’s only one candidate that seems to really be capturing the fervent support of millennials — the oldest candidate in the race, septuagenarian Bernie Sanders.
Assigning a group of people to an identity based on the year they were born is both arbitrary and narrow-minded. The labels can then be weaponized to fuel conflict when, in fact, none may be present.
So, exactly how has Sanders managed to capture the almost undivided attention of millennials has been confounding pundits since he was the Democratic runner-up in 2016. But in digging a little deeper, it becomes much less perplexing.
Excluding Elizabeth Warren, the other Democratic candidates are playing the middle of the road card and only desire to move the country back to where it was, pre-Trump.
They’re like chiropractor’s doing an adjustment on your back — you’ll feel better but it won’t correct the problem.
If the majority of other Democrat’s are chiropractors, Bernie Sanders is a surgeon — he’ll fix the problem.
Where Bernie Sanders is succeeding, as he did in 2016, is acknowledging that America wasn’t that great before Trump. He asserts that real change is needed.
Sanders is the only Democratic candidate who has built his message of change to be in tune with young people. His campaign is most certainly about 2020, but don’t fool yourself, Sanders has a vision for longer systemic change and knows that lies with the youth and not baby boomers or Generation X.
Over the past thirty years, wealthy Americans have added to their wealth. However, those Americans not as fortunate, by birth or luck, have slipped into “negative wealth.” Meaning that the value of their debts exceeds the value of their wealth.
An appeal of Sanders is his zeal in going after the top 1% of wealthy Americans. As he has pointed out in his stump speech:
Three people own as much wealth as the bottom half of Americans.
To define that as anything other than inequality is to not understand the definition of the word.
Inequality is a priority for many Sanders supporters. And while millennials are witnessing and feeling the most inequality, it’s not their only concern. It’s a trio of other issues that have their primary attention:
Universal health care
Student loan debt
It’s no secret that healthcare for the average person in America is abominable, and that’s being generous.
At its best, according to eHealthinsurance, coverage for an individual can run around 325 dollars a month, with an average annual deductible of about $4,400.
At its worst, health insurance is non-existent with no governmental safety net.
Not having health insurance is terrifying for anyone, and if you couple that with someone who graduates college with 32 thousand dollars in student loan debt (the average amount of debt for graduates in 2019). With the average student loan repayment being around 400 dollars a month, a young person just beginning their life can be left to make a daunting decision.
Pay my student loan note and forego insurance OR pay insurance and default on my student loan
Ignoring either is far from ideal and both one can turn around and wreak havoc on your financial future.
The student loan market before 2000 — about 200 million dollars.
The student loan market by 2018 — $1.4 trillion
A large part of Bernie Sanders’ appeal to younger voters is that he recognizes that having to decide between paying for health insurance and re-paying a student loan is absurd. Asking someone to make that choice is setting them up for a lifetime of failure.
Sanders recognizes that millennials have profound fears about both sky-rocketing health care costs and the feeling that they owe fealty to the banks and financial institutions that own their student loans.
Furthermore, education and health services are a RIGHT, they’re not a luxury. Marketing over the past 20 years has done a brilliant disservice by painting both as anything OTHER THAN rights.
Accordingly, Sanders wants to break those shackles by providing substantial student loan forgiveness and providing universal health care.
Bernie Sanders is also a firm believer in the climate crisis, as are most millennials.
In one tweet, Sanders referred to President Trump as an “idiot” for believing that climate change is a hoax.
Like Sanders, many millennials believe that climate change is anything but a hoax. They believe that the wealth of previous generations was accumulated at the cost of the environment. A Pew poll revealed:
65% of millennials believe there is evidence for human-caused climate change
Only 47% of boomers believe that.
Millennials, like Sanders, recognize that time is not on his generation’s side to ameliorate the climate crisis. It’s on them. In fact, that’s one of the things that Bernie Sanders has been exceptional at, recognizing that the change comes from the bottom up.
Sanders consistency in his political beliefs is both a criticism and a strength. It’s also unparalleled. His critics will say that he’s been saying the same thing for years. It’s an accurate criticism.
It can best be said that his career in politics is centered around “democratic socialism.” Now, the word “socialism” breeds fear in America. It doesn’t help that the Democratic party has gone to exceptional lengths to NOT explain what the phrase means.
In the case of Sanders, what “democratic socialism” means has more to do with tax-funded social benefits (think FDR) rather than social ownership of production (think the former Soviet Union).
To deny Sanders’ career-spanning political commitment to forming a system that helps all and its appeal to a generation that has seen their government become co-opted by capitalism and politicians repeatedly shifting beliefs, like a Harry Potter character shifts shapes, would be naive.
The is one reason reason that much is made of this baby boomer versus millennial tension:
In a US-type of democracy, the number of people in a group is a big part of its electoral power. But only if they vote.
The uphill struggle that Sanders faces is not in getting millennials to believe in him, it’s getting them to vote.
Cynics will say that millennials are only looking for free handouts and won’t show up to vote. The former is just cynical scrum and the latter was true in 2016. Only half of the eligible millennials voted in 2016, compared to ⅔ of the older demographic.
However, in 2016, it could be argued millennials didn’t vote because their candidate, Sanders, was sidelined by the Democratic party.
That changed in the mid-term elections of 2018, as millennials nearly doubled their voting from 22% to 42%.
Having a candidate stand up for ideas that people actually care for and have not been co-opted by corporations or industries is a recent development in American politics.
Millennials have grown up in an era of war, corporate malfeasance, and witnessed the rising cost of education and healthcare — it’s no surprise that Sanders appeals to younger voters.
With that said and as Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada are proving, Bernie Sanders’ appeal is beginning to transcend generations. His unwavering commitment to make the necessary changes for the future, both individually and systemically, is what initially pulled younger voters into his orbit.
It’s now pulling in other voters.