The rise of Bernie Sanders shocked almost everyone, but particularly because a septuagenarian socialist somehow tapped into the hearts and minds of America’s young people. Contrary to what some in the media might have you believe, it wasn’t his raw sex appeal or charisma that did it either. It was his vision for the United States, one totally opposite the post-Reagan nightmare we inherited. If that vision comes with unruly wisps of white hair, a curmudgeonly attitude, and off-putting finger pointing, that’s just fine (to be frank, for some of us it just adds to his appeal.)
Bernie is the only politician in recent memory offering a glimpse at something fundamentally different than the world we live in today. That’s not to say there aren’t others with compelling visions, but his is the only one that is so dissatisfied with the status quo it resorts to building something new entirely, as opposed to tinkering with the old.
This is clear in almost every policy arena. The most obvious being Medicare for All. Bernie campaigns on Medicare for All as the moral imperative that it is, not a nice policy outcome we should all hope for. There are 30+ million people who can’t access healthcare markets. For those people that’s not just a policy boo-boo, it’s literally life and death in many cases. For millions more who can’t afford insurance, the same is true.
This is something Bernie has been in-tune with since the early days of his career, where as an independent politician, movement activist, and even while serving in office, Bernie consistently snuck people over the Vermont-Canada border to take advantage of all payer healthcare. Something he still references in his stump speech and something that shows a recognition that our system is so fundamentally flawed it’s worth illegally crossing a border to access better care.
Likewise, Bernie takes that same sense of urgency to issues like the student loan crisis or climate change. Today, there is $1.5 trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt, only a fundamental restructuring of American higher education can fix that. We need to completely and totally remove the profit motive from higher education, which is exactly what Bernie aims to do with his tuition free college plan (funded by a Wall Street speculation tax as he loves to add.) Bernie’s urgency is also seen in the fight for climate change, as he’s one of only a few presidential candidates willing to campaign on the Green New Deal with gusto. Largely because the Green New Deal is a logical extension of plans like the Sanders-Merkley Clean Energy by 2050 pledge.
Sanders doesn’t want means tested “debt free college” because “we don’t want to pay for Donald Trump’s kids.” Largely because he realizes the problem here is systemic, it’s much bigger than rich kids getting free college, it’s the fact our higher education system has become a credential pipeline for the elite and not an accessible ladder to skills, critical thinking, and opportunity. “Debt free college” designed to leave out the top of the income bracket might be a step in the right direction (again, might) but it doesn’t change the system in such a way that every child in the United States knows they have a shot at college regardless of income. It simply ensures they know that “if you jump through the right hoops, and your parents don’t make over X amount of money, we’ll make sure you don’t graduate debt free.” Those sort of caveats do not create a revolutionary transformation.
Similarly, when it comes to climate change, Berine puts the vision and results ahead of the policy pathway to achieve those results. Which might seem like a problem, but in the case of climate change we can’t choose our method of change and hope it succeeds, we must articulate a goal and do everything we can to make it there. Plans like the Green New Deal and Bernie’s Clean Energy by 2050 plan do just that. Unlike plans like Jay Inslee’s which put an insistence on mechanisms like tax credits and the like above results, largely, I would assume, out of a misguided notion that these solutions will find common ground.
But again, that’s what Millennials love so much about Bernie Sanders. He’s not interested in common ground. He’s interested in a movement to create something new, not just change the decrepit system we’ve been left. And that’s why millennials love him. Because from our perspective, this whole damn thing is broken and there’s only one person actually interested in fixing it.