Column: Sanders’ talk of a ‘Moral Economy’ sways Millennial voters

Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, gather outside the Brooklyn Navy Yard before Sanders faces Hillary Clinton in the CNN Democratic Presidential Primary Debate on Thursday, April 14, 2016 in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Since Bernie Sanders’ rise in the polls, and serious position to challenge Hillary Clinton in the upcoming primary in New York on April 19 if momentum continues, no one seems to have noticed that “socialism” has stopped being such a dystopian buzzword. Many Democrats, and young people especially, already see Sanders’ vision as he calls it — a ‘moral economy.’

Students and young Democrats, perhaps more than any other group, understand not only the devastating damage Wall Street and subprime mortgage lending did to the American economy in the 2008 crash as many of them saw their parents and loved ones lose jobs, struggle financially and be evicted from their homes. And if not, scores of other students have been shown Michael Moore documentaries on corporate greed in their classrooms and have discussed economic injustice and inequality as an avoidable reality in America.

Many current and recent students fall into a large class of educated young people entering the work force with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt. Whether our parents or earlier generations realize it yet, Bernie Sanders is the only one proposing solutions to our biggest issues. Our parents may have graduated college with little to no debt and the ability to find a good paying job, an affordable home and a path to somewhat comfortably starting a family, but for many millennials, the economic situation couldn’t be more different.

After being mocked as “our communist friend” by leading Republican candidate Donald Trump in March, Sanders drew record-breaking numbers to a rally in New York’s Washington Square Park Wednesday night. The largest part of his radically honest and populist message, as many can usually predict, was his disparagement of establishment politics and the influence of money. In New York, Sanders picketed with the Communications Workers Union against the greed of Verizon in cutting healthcare benefits for workers while simultaneously paying $20 million CEO salaries. He spoke out against the cost of higher education just blocks from N.Y.U. with its $60,000 yearly tuition cost.

Young people who backed the candidacy and promise of the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaign are now looking for more than just the progressive rhetoric it takes to win the Democratic nomination, but the honesty and track record to take on lobbyists and special interests and to create jobs, better wages and meaningful environmental protections.

Many columnists are quick to discuss how Republicans created the rise of Donald Trump with their obstructionism and polarized rhetoric. While comparisons between Trump and Sanders have already been made, little has been discussed in terms of what the narratives of the Democratic Party establishment have done to stir up young, working class and progressive Democrats as a result. We know President Roosevelt led the recovery after the Great Depression with job programs and expanded social safety nets; we’re looking for nothing less than that now. But with special interest lobbyists and unlimited super PAC contributions, it takes a radically honest and consistent leader to facilitate the kind of changes middle and lower-income Americans so desperately need.

The American people are looking for what Sanders has called a ‘moral economy’: employers investing in training and education for workers as part of a vibrant American labor movement, instead of a race to the bottom for minimum wage labor or shipping those unskilled jobs to countries with starvation and slavery wages. They’re looking for a revolution in taxation that values the funding of public colleges and universities over corporate welfare and “free trade” loopholes meant to benefit the extremely wealthy. They’re looking for American companies to be held to a standard where they’re rewarded for investing in new technologies that protect and preserve, not destroy, our environment.

To get it, they have to vote for Bernie Sanders. The progressive candidate continues to look for a path to the nomination through New York voters on the 19th, then to the Connecticut, Pennsylvania and other state contests on the 26th before California voters have their say in early June.


Bennett Cognato is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at bennett.cognato@uconn.edu.