Bernie should own the socialism label
Bernie Sanders is currently the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. He and everyone else knows exactly how the Republicans will attack him if and when he becomes the nominee: old-fashioned redbaiting.
China became communist in name only during the 1980s; the Soviet Union shut its doors in 1991; the Cold War is dead; and 64% of Americans under age 50 have no memory of a socialist regime actually existing. Yet Trump and the GOP have already broadcast their plans to hang the "democratic socialist" label around Bernie Sanders' neck.
Whether such archaic fearmongering -- against long-dead adversaries -- will be effective even with elderly voters is anyone's guess. Considering the fact that 40% of Americans consistently tell pollsters they prefer socialism or communism to capitalism, branding Sanders as a nefarious democratic socialist might have the unintended effect of bringing out people who don't normally vote to support an ideology they've never had the chance to get behind.
On the other hand, only 76% of Democrats say they would vote for a socialist.
One thing is for sure: The socialism thing will be Sanders' biggest challenge. And so what? Every candidate enters the game with a handicap of some sort.
Elizabeth Warren has acquired a reputation for deception and opportunism. Amy Klobuchar plays a mean girl behind closed doors. Pete Buttigieg is gay; only 78% of voters say they'd consider a gay candidate. He's also inexperienced. Joe Biden appears to have been suffering from dementia for years.
Political weaknesses are inevitable; what makes or breaks a candidacy is how his or her campaign chooses to address it. History's answer is clear: Take it on honestly, directly and credibly.
Own your crap. American voters hate sneakiness and avoidance.
Bernie has no one but himself to blame for this potential electoral albatross. As Paul Krugman of The New York Times points out, the independent senator from Vermont is not really a socialist: "He doesn't want to nationalize our major industries and replace markets with central planning." He is a New Deal Democrat indistinguishable from old liberal figures like Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern. The economic model Sanders wants to establish isn't the USSR, or even Yugoslavia, but the Scandinavian countries with their superior safety nets and enlightened penal systems. Capitalism as we know it would continue, albeit with reduced overall cruelty.
Bernie is a social democrat, not a democratic socialist. For some unknown reason, however, he chose to label himself as a democratic socialist. "It's mainly about personal branding," Krugman speculates, "with a dash of glee at shocking the bourgeoisie. And this self-indulgence did no harm as long as he was just a senator from a very liberal state."