Every presidential election cycle has at least one candidate who colors way outside of the party lines. Because there are always voters in America who are tired of the status quo, these fringe candidates tend to attract a very vocal, very loyal, and very adamant base of supporters. For Americans who tend to be straight-line party voters — concerned mostly with electing a Democrat or Republican candidate who toes the party line — or who simply remain uninterested and uninformed, these grass-roots candidates and their supporters often have ideas that don’t make sense to the detractors and the uneducated.
In 1992, it was Ross Perot as an Independent. In 2000, it was Ralph Nader and the Green Party. In 2008, it was Ron Paul and the Libertarians. Now, in 2016, it’s Bernie Sanders and the democratic-socialists.
Ron Paul told us the truth in 2008 & 2012 Ross Perot told us the truth in '92 and '96 pic.twitter.com/65YgEuSmw1
— McKiGravKuciPaulNade (@McKGraKucPauNad) August 10, 2015
Maybe it’s his use of the word “socialist.” Maybe it’s the fact that he comes across as a grumpy old man. Maybe he reminds some people of an eccentric college professor they were forced to listen to in college. Whatever it is, a lot of people have formed a negative opinion of the Vermont Senator without understanding what he’s all about — a problem that affects voters from one end of the political spectrum to the other.
So what is it that the Bernie Sanders supporters are so excited about? What is it that these cyber-activists see in a supposedly socialist candidate that has them so excited? Why are Twitter feeds and Facebook walls covered with #FeelTheBern and photos of Sanders flying coach?
— Elena Lau (@iLoveLaurynHill) January 1, 2016
Now that Bernie Sanders has won the endorsement of MoveOn.org, the online activism from the Sanders campaign will likely be turned up to new levels of social media dominance. As the Democratic presidential candidates prepare for Sunday’s debate, the question was presented directly to Sanders supporters who are pushing their agenda via Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and all forms of social media.
Here’s five things your Bernie-supporting friends want you to know about Senator Sanders.
Communism vs. Socialism vs. Democratic-socialism
The members of the Facebook group Bernie Sanders 2016 – Ideas Welcome! were asked: What is it about Bernie Sanders that you wish his detractors understood? Of the varied responses that they posted — ranging from simple one-word answers like “Compassion” and “Integrity” to more nuanced answers about sticking by what he says and wanting to limit our spending on wars — the resounding cry was for an understanding of the campaign’s use (and the media’s misuse) of one word: socialism.
One response pointed to a YouTube video (see below) with a simple comment reading, “That America is already a socialist nation.” One member gave a two-pronged response:
- That Bernie is not a socialist.
- That socialism isn’t a dirty word, even if he was.
Communism has long been seen as the enemy of democracy, and many Americans equate socialism with communism. Whether accurate or not, Hitler is often touted as a socialist. Stalin was a communist. And Lenin described socialism as the first phase of a Marxist, communist society (followed by communism as the second phase).
Diffen.com is a website dedicated specifically to explaining differences between similar things and ideas, and they tackled the Communism vs. Socialism debate. The site describes communism as “an extreme form of socialism” and that the United States is just one country that borrows heavily from socialist principles. Communism is an oppressive political system — socialism is an economic system.
While volumes could be written on the differences and interplay between socialism and communism, it should also be noted that Bernie Sanders always uses the conditional phrase “democratic-socialist.” Since many people equate socialism with communism and understand communism to be an enemy of democracy, “democratic-socialist” can be seen as an oxymoron. Some claim that Sanders is incorrectly labeling himself, and should more accurately be using the term “social democrat.” In fact, Counter Punch argues that Sanders’ policies are, in fact, capitalist.
“Government policies that redistribute the wealth generated by the private sector in the form of social programs constitute social democracy, which is still capitalism.”
Finally, supporters of the Vermont Senator repeatedly bemoan that fact that people accuse Sanders of simply wanting to “give stuff away for free” without any plans to pay for it. As one member of the group said, “He isn’t talking about giving things away free, but has a plan to pay for it all, in a way that would actually benefit the vast majority of Americans. And he truly does care for all Americans.” Of course, the major debate is whether or not his plan can actually cover the costs of his proposed programs. When Sanders talks about “socialism,” he’s referring to the kind of system they have in place in Denmark, where similar programs have been financially feasible.
Bernie is not for sale/Campaign finance
Sanders and his supporters are tired of the current state of affairs regarding American campaign financial regulations. Sanders and his supporters reiterate — to some, ad nauseum — that he can’t be bought by billionaires, but our elections generally have been. Members of the Google Plus community “Bernie Sanders for President 2016” were asked: What’s the one thing that makes you #FeelTheBern that other people just don’t seem to understand? A part of a very long response from one member reads as follows.
“There are so many things I support Bernie Sanders on… but the most important one for me is Bernie’s stance on Citizens United and campaign finance… other past and present candidates say they want this overturned, but are right there at the PAC trough to take money… It would be so easy to take the money! Bernie doesn’t.”
The Sanders campaign has been proud of the fact that Bernie has raised almost as much support as Hillary, despite eschewing Super PACs and corporate donations.
Bernie is electable
When members of the Facebook group “Bernie Believers [Bernie Sanders]” were asked to “Name the one thing that you think the media is doing that gives people the wrong impression of Bernie Sanders,” they point to the fact that Senator Sanders is often ignored because he “isn’t electable” and is said to have no chance of beating Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primaries.
— Texas For Bernie (@TexasForBernie) January 16, 2016
From simple phrases like “not covering him” and “saying he’s unelectable” to more elaborate explanations, part of the reason that Sanders supporters are so adamant and fervent is that they believe Bernie Sanders isn’t getting the coverage he deserves, while candidates like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton dominate the airwaves. One member of this group summed up the sentiment well.
“Ignoring him!! Pretty stupid, considering We The People are NOT ignoring him!! In fact they are FINANCING U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign for POTUS 2016!! Go Bernie Sanders go!!”
To be fair, their efforts have not been completely in vain. While the Democratic debate will likely get far less coverage than the GOP debate, as the Des Moines Register reports, recent polls show that, ahead of Sunday’s debate, Sanders has cut Clinton’s lead in Iowa to just two points.
Middle class economics and a 90 percent tax rate
Sanders has said time and again that he wants to help restore the middle class and provide living wages for all people in an attempt to help those who are struggling in today’s American economy. His followers believe that he means it and they believe that he can accomplish it.
The members of the Faceboook group “Bernie Sanders is my HERO” were asked, “If you could force the mainstream media to correct one thing about Bernie Sanders that you think they’re getting wrong, what would it be?” They wanted the American public to know that Sanders is the candidate for anyone that wants to see the middle and lower classes thrive in the United States.
— Secular Talk (@KyleKulinski) January 15, 2016
One member responded by pointing out “How ALL of his proposals are not only cost-effective but save money and don’t raise taxes on the middle class.” That all seems fine and well until the detractors bemoan Bernie’s supposed proposal of a 90 percent tax rate on the top 1 percent.
As one supporter offered, “He wants to TAX us at 90%? If that were true, would so many of us really want him in office?”
Echoing that sentiment was another member of the same group.
“I’d like them all to take a lesson from Robert Reich about how progressive tax works so they will know it’s ridiculous to think Bernie is taxing anyone 90%.”
While no link was provided by the member, he is clearly alluding to what Robert Reich has been posting at his own website.
Bernie doesn’t flip-flop
Perhaps the most popular criticism of all American politicians is that they tend to flip-flop on issues when it means it will earn them votes. Other politicians are rarely singled out by Sanders supporters, because they view Bernie as the only candidate who isn’t guilty of this ethical compromise. The Facebook group “Bernie Sanders — Presidential Candidate for the People” was asked to respond to the following: When someone tells you that they don’t understand why you support Bernie Sanders — and they’re being genuinely curious — what do you tell them?
“I say that he is standing up for us against the 1%ers, and that he has done that for 30 years,” began one Facebook user.
“He’s the only candidate who has stuck to his word his whole career,” said another. One member of the group gave a succinct anecdote about how these conversations usually go down.
“[I tell them] that he’s been saying the same things for decades. Then I tell them what those things are. I say it quickly, in a string. Then I ask what appeals to them… then discussion ensues and I close the deal. Five minutes tops if they’re listening.”
As one other member noted, “He’s been fighting for us regular folks for a long time.”
— POLITICO (@politico) January 16, 2016
At Sunday’s Democratic debate, many of these issues — and tons of others — will be raised and discussed by the candidates before being consumed and analyzed by the voters and pundits. In what his supporters would likely cite as a rare circumstance — equal media exposure with Hillary Clinton — the battle of the left will undoubtedly heat up. With the primaries beginning in Iowa in just over two weeks, Clinton, Sanders, and O’Malley won’t be pulling any punches tonight. Will Bernie Sanders continue to build momentum, or will Hillary Clinton pull ahead for good?
[Image via Getty Images/David McNew]