The most common quip, used to discredit the proposals of Bernie Sanders as pie-in-the sky fantasies is that he is offering FREE STUFF. The refrain is designed to caricature his ideas as impractical, poorly conceived and insincere. His primary opponent alleges that the admitted socialist is simply making empty promises to misguided youths that are naive in their belief that anything in life could ever be free. While we should take issue with the lack of a detailed financial manifesto from the rising Presidential powerhouse, we should also lay waste to the notion that Bernie Sanders is offering Americans FREE STUFF.
In reality, Bernie Sanders is uncommonly honest in the level of sacrifice he calls upon from every American. It is common practice for Republicans to propose cuts to the federal budget without paying due deference to the pain that will result as a consequence of those cuts. During the last government shut down, Republicans even suggested that closing the government and it’s associated agencies would be without any inconvenience to Americans. Democrats too are often fond of proposing new government programs without reconciling the costs of those programs and yet these are the voices that are most critical of Sanders and his proposed FREE STUFF.
Senator Sanders has proposed tuition free community colleges and fully paid for Public Universities but he has never suggested that this would be free. Instead he has suggested that this perk of citizenship be covered by the taxes that we all currently pay. We may quibble with the precise cost of the proposal but we cannot say that Bernie Sanders is offering FREE STUFF. He is simply suggesting that instead of borrowing thousands of dollars per semester and carrying with each loan significant interest, students should be permitted to pay for their educations over the course of their entire life-times, in small regularly paid installments also known as TAXES! Far from offering FREE STUFF Mr. Sanders is uncharacteristically honest in confessing that he will raise the taxes of middle class and wealthy citizens. We may as individuals assess if the benefits of collectively purchased amenities to our culture outweigh the proposed increase in taxes but again, He hasn’t offered anything for free!
Despite Mr. Sanders marketing himself as an avowed socialist, I question sincerely why his proposal is derided with such intense cold war heat. In the minds of most Americans we are a Democratic Republic despite offering fully paid for K-12 educations for all. This begs the question of why critics assert that we would suddenly morph into a soviet commune for simply extending our publicly paid for offering from K-12 to K-16? Mr. Sanders is simply suggesting that the term Public have meaning for Public Universities. He is suggesting that Community Colleges should be affordable for those in the community. And he is making provision for each individual to pay for his or her education by obligating them to pay into an admittedly collectivized pool for the entirety of their lives. In some sense Sanders is propheting the conservative notion that every individual has the personal responsibility to pay for an education.
Those that are puzzled by the attraction Americans have to Sander’s proposal should consider that many Americans pay significant portions of their incomes in taxes and feel very little benefit. They drive along roads that are unsightly, transit in Airports that are unworthy of a great nation and protest the expenditure of their tax dollars on wars with which they disagree. The success of Sanders can be seen as the triumph of the notion that Americans want to see a tangible value for the taxes they are currently paying in ways that directly benefit them.
The Sanders proposal for Universal Healthcare is socialized medicine but the notion that socialized or collectively bargained and paid for services are free is a gross misnomer. When citizens pay taxes for services, they have paid for them. They have not been “given” anything. Public Schools are not free. When the government contracts with a private company to pave roads near your home, this service was not free. The term handout cannot be used to characterize services for which an individual has paid her/his fair share of taxes. To do so would be like characterizing a paid buffet as a free meal. They have in fact, paid for their portion. If we are going to criticize the proposals of Presidential hopefuls we should do so with accuracy and an appreciation for nuance.