Young Americans willing to give socialist candidate a chance

By Benjamin Clabault

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during the "Brunch with Bernie" event at the National Nurses United office in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 10, 2015. (Aric Crabb/MCT)
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during the “Brunch with Bernie” event at the National Nurses United office in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 10, 2015. (Aric Crabb/TNS)

I was away at school when Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders announced that he was running for president back in May. While the news certainly caught my attention, what surprised me even more was the wave of support that followed.

As I grew accustomed to seeing his name right next to Hillary’s in the polls, the reasons for his popularity became apparent – he addressed key issues head-on with an anti-establishment agenda unparalleled in mainstream American politics.

Since coming to UMass three years ago, I have become increasingly politically conscious. Late nights once devoted to Super Smash Brothers now often revolve around passionate political discussions with my friends.

Having recently become old enough to vote, I am engaging with American democracy for the first time. The practical flaws in the system and the incompetency of our elected officials immediately baffled me.

My friends and I had questions, and the political establishment could not provide the answers. How is a representative democracy really a democracy at all if the legitimacy of the candidates in the eyes of the public depends upon funding from corporate interest groups? How can representatives continue to deny the scientific evidence supporting the existential threat of climate change? How is the very principle of universal healthcare a contentious issue in a nation more than capable of providing it?

And then along came Bernie Sanders, a man asking the same questions as us, similarly frustrated by the answers and determined to affect positive change. The more he spoke, the more he seemed to echo the sentiments of a younger generation increasingly dissatisfied with a political system that is out of touch with the realities of everyday citizens and that has lost the spirit of the democracy the founders intended to create.

In late July I finally came back to my hometown where I saw my dad for the first time in months. He was a political science major, and I had been looking forward to talking to him about the candidates for the coming election. After briefly deriding the Trump-led field of Republican candidates (he’s an increasingly disenfranchised supporter of the GOP), I asked him, “What do you think of Bernie?”

“Pphaw!” he chortled. “Who cares? He’s got no shot. He’s a socialist!”

And that is as far as he cared to discuss the issue.

Suddenly I remembered why I had been so surprised by Sanders’ initial showings in the polls. He’s a self-avowed socialist, and for generations of Americans socialism has been a dirty word. Socialism equals communism, communism equals Stalin.

But what my dad failed to realize is that an increasingly large number of voters did not grow up during the Cold War. When many of us think of socialism, we do not think of tyrannical regimes or the loss of freedoms. We’re more likely to think of European countries where a college education is free and public healthcare is seen as a moral obligation.

As voters, we should all do our due diligence in educating ourselves on Sanders’ proposed economic policies. Some of us might well come to the conclusion that such a radical change in direction would actually be detrimental to our nation in an internationally capitalistic world. Nonetheless, a candidate seeking positive change in so many important areas deserves our consideration, and I’m proud to say that our generation seems willing to give him a shot.

Benjamin Clabault is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]