Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, speaks at an election rally in Lincoln, Nebraska, 3 March 2016. (Photo: AP)
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Will Bernie Sanders’ Brand of Socialism and Freebie Culture Work?

Bernie Sanders is a socialist. We’ve heard that often during this US Presidential election cycle. He was, after all, once a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. He is also a Senator from Vermont, who, until last year appended (I) for Independent to his political affiliation, though he did caucus with the Democrats in the Senate.

A decade ago, mere suspicions of a candidate being a socialist may have scuppered a campaign vessel before it sailed. This year, Sanders’s ship may have been buffeted by Hurricane Hillary, but it hasn’t sunk.



Wil Gallivan cheers for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders before the Democratic presidential primary debate, 6 March  2016, in Flint, Michigan. (Photo: AP)
Wil Gallivan cheers for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders before the Democratic presidential primary debate, 6 March 2016, in Flint, Michigan. (Photo: AP)

Much of the ballast has come from students across the United States. Talk to a few and they’ll explain that the stigma attached to socialism during the time of the Cold War leaves them cold. This is the first college-going generation since the Soviet Union imploded under the weight of its own contradictions. They don’t dread the red.

But despite the hue and cry, Sanders is not quite as pink as many think. Consider this, he appeared on a Fox News town hall telecast in Michigan and a tweet of his on gun manufacturers was given a shot of approval by the National Rifle Association or the NRA. Just this week.



Louis Salvato, right, shows his support for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a Democratic caucus location at Deering High School, 6 March 2016, in Portland, Maine. (Photo: AP)
Louis Salvato, right, shows his support for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a Democratic caucus location at Deering High School, 6 March 2016, in Portland, Maine. (Photo: AP)

A Proponent of Freebies

Take a look at his manifesto, as posted on his campaign website. Sanders is “demanding that the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share in taxes”. He will “stop corporations from shifting their profits and jobs overseas to avoid paying US income taxes”. If that sounds familiar, those were virtually the same positions adopted by a certain candidate named Barack Obama in 2008. Just about the only folk who believe Obama is dancing to The Internationale are to the right of Donald Trump.

No, Sanders is the guy who’s bringing the freebie culture to American politics. Making college tuition free is that magnet for the young who, it must be said, graduate from American universities with debts that are ridiculous. Though Hillary Clinton does have a zinger in countering that: “Do you want your taxes to pay for Donald Trump’s youngest son to go to college for free?” she recently asked at a rally I attended.

Sanders also seeks a universal healthcare system styled on the European and Canadian models. He obviously isn’t for the Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as Obamacare, which tries to bridge the public and private sectors.

Candidate Sanders will pay for these plans, and many others, by “imposing a tax of a fraction of a percent on Wall Street speculators who nearly destroyed the economy seven years ago.”

No, socialism isn’t Sanders’ great attraction. Where he gets his oomph can be distilled into five words: Fleece the rich for freebies.



David Weeda, left, wearing a lobster hat, and Tyler Parrish, wearing a moose hat, both of Bucksport, Maine, pose at a rally with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, 2 March 2016, in Portland, Maine. (Photo: AP)
David Weeda, left, wearing a lobster hat, and Tyler Parrish, wearing a moose hat, both of Bucksport, Maine, pose at a rally with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, 2 March 2016, in Portland, Maine. (Photo: AP)

Politics of Entitlements

If electioneering in India has taken on a significantly American style, why can’t its substance be transmitted Stateside? Great democracies need to learn from one another. And you can’t cavil about the Idea of Indian campaigning communicating itself to America. After all, we live in a connected world and if Jawaharlal Nehru University (or essentially the Indian taxpayer) can subsidise a professional student like Kanhaiya Kumar to the extent that his fees is probably less than the cost of tea he’d consume in a month at a campus dhaba, there’s no reason for those seeking higher education in the United States to rack up debt.

If Arvind Kejriwal captured the Delhi voters with his promises of free water and electricity (and plenty of fact-free allegations), that power of giveaways has fuelled campaigns across the nation, with the bounty including bicycles, tablets, rice, grinders and other sundry items. In Tamil Nadu, it’s an established practice, giving a new spin to a political contest turning into a free-for-all.

Sanders is an original, an American politician who, despite his very New York accent, could step into the Indian milieu and promise Azadi for entitlements. How can you contest that? Isn’t the first part of freedom free?

(Based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a columnist and author of the humorous political novel The Candidate)