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By Tom Cushing

Look for the Socialist Label?

Uploaded: Oct 26, 2015

Last time, we considered just what kind of a socialist Bernie Sanders really is. We concluded that he’s a pretty tepid comrade in those arms.

While his policies certainly appear on the southpaw side of the more liberal Party bench, they advocate vigorous tinkerings with our mixed economy, rather than wholesale replacement of its capitalist portion with government institutions. So the questions become: why embrace that label, and now that he has our attention, what’s next for the Senator from Vermont?

Why does that socialist label matter? After all, as recently as June of this year, a
Gallup poll revealed that Americans are much more accepting of various characteristics in their candidates than has traditionally been the case. Thus, those who witnessed the 1960 whispering campaign against JFK (who might be controlled by The Vatican) may be surprised to learn that 93% of the electorate would not be swayed against a Catholic candidate by reason of that faith.

Candidates identified as black, female, Jewish, or Hispanic were also in the 90s%, with Mormon at 81%, and gay (74%) all doing pretty well, too, at least publicly (remember the Bradley Effect?). Muslims trailed at about 60%, Ben Carson notwithstanding, but they still led atheists by 2%. Younger voters, as usual, cared less about any of those status factors than did their elders.

All that said, socialists trailed the pack at only 47% who would even consider voting for one. So that’s why it matters.*

I think there are at least three reasons why Sanders embraces the term, rather than softening it in some kind of move toward the center of the electorate. First, he knows it’ll be hung on him, anyway. He has an inescapable resume that includes membership in socialistic organizations during his time at University of Chicago, in his rather colorful youth of the 1960s. Since that time, he has never disavowed it, so call this getting out in-front of the issue, which Olivia Pope and every other politico worth the salt would advise.

On the flipside of that coin, a big part of Sanders’ appeal is his genuineness – nobody would ever accuse him of being brought out of central casting in a way of a Mitt Romney or former MD Governor Martin O’Malley. He’s rumpled, bespectacled and homely, and his hair betrays only recent and tentative familiarity with a comb. But he’s real, and part of that means that he continues to accept the union label he’s worn proudly his entire adult life.

Second, Sanders recognizes that for his campaign to win, he really does have to rally his troops into something akin to the Revolution he often talks about. He not only needs a huge turn-out to overcome the pesky label, but his proposals are not doable by fiat – he needs long coattails to form a Democratic Congress. Only then can his ambitious agenda be realized. He wants his differences to be seen as features, rather than bugs, in a sea change election – that’s the only way it works for him: to be very, very different from the norm.

Finally, I will guess that he’s privately astounded at what his campaign has wrought, so far. He got in as the most quixotic figure since, well, don Quixote, and then he caught fire. He will tilt at as many windmills as he’s able, now that he has achieved center stage. It simply may not have occurred to him that this scenario might come to pass, but here we are.

Lest that third point seem far-fetched, I’d offer this thought. To me, in recent weeks the Sanders campaign has lost a bit of steam. Many supporters think he won the first Dem debate, but I do not. Candidate Clinton had absorbed some doubts based on a lay-low strategy during her email tribulations.

But she has come out swinging, and connecting with those who may have begun to waver. Dems have been generally pleased with her performance (which it may be) – on the talkies leading-up to the debate, on the Las Vegas stage, and in routing the GOP inquisitors last week. It was telling that her opponents were reduced to posting unrelated, unflattering photos, complete with fictional captions, on social media over the weekend. She’s clearly having the time of her life.

Bernie OTOH, seemed a bit tired and nearly offended at the tone of the debate questions. He missed chances. He has also steadfastly refused to run-the-numbers that would detail where the money will come from to fund his many initiatives. A tax on securities sales: okay, how big and how much will it raise? A higher income tax ‘fair share’ on the wealthy: okay, but again, these are calculations that can be made, and should firmly underlie the promises, before they’re made. I’m not sure they were, in fact, made in advance – perhaps nobody thought he’d get this far – and they really do need to be rolled-out soon.

After all, Somebody has to pay for the revolution.

* it's not clear what happens when you combine those characteristics, e.g., Bernie is a socialist and Jewish -- does that mean his current ceiling is .47 x .91 = 43%?) I'm guessing not, but it makes for some interesting calculations.