CONCORD, N.H. — Bernie Sanders is an avowed socialist who until now rejected the Democratic Party as insufficiently left-wing. Sanders, from Vermont, anchors the very left end of the U.S. Senate, advocates a "revolution," rejects the American financial sector as inherently fraudulent, proposes $19.6 trillion in tax hikes, and advocates universal government-funded healthcare for all.
And when Democrats got a chance to vote for their presidential nominee in the nation's first primary, they picked Bernie Sanders.
After six years of mainstream media pearl-clutching over the "extremists taking over the Republican Party," it turns out the Democrats have their own extremism issue.
Sanders hasn't campaigned as a hardcore socialist, but his record is long and clear. In 1970, as The Daily Beast's Tim Mak reported recently, Sanders wrote in an op-ed that the federal government should "institute public ownership, with worker control, of the major means of production." That's straight out of Karl Marx. In 1976, Sanders told a local paper "capital has to be controlled by the people."
Sanders campaigns for universal single-payer healthcare — in essence socializing the health insurance and healthcare industries, effecting massive wealth redistribution through a giant and growing sector of the economy.
His tax plan involves raising rates for the wealthy, hiking the payroll tax and increasing the capital gains tax and the inheritance tax. Sanders would create a new tax on health insurance and a new tax on "Wall Street speculation." All told, it adds up to $19.6 trillion over a decade — almost a 50 percent increase of the tax burden on Americans.
What does it mean that Sanders won the only primary so far, and basically tied Clinton in the Iowa caucuses?
For one thing, it suggests that the Democratic base is far left and increasingly calls the shots in the party. As The New York Times would say if this were the GOP, the inmates are running the asylum.
One recent poll in Iowa found that 43 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers would describe themselves as "socialist," compared to 38 percent who were comfortable with the label "capitalist."
"People may see him as radical," Andrew Hatt told me after voting for Sanders in Concord. "But to be frank, in order for this country to get back to a more equal system, there does have to be a radical change." Matt's wife, Mollie Landers Hatt, is fine with socialism as a label. "I'd say I have socialist tendencies."
Landers Hatt, like nearly ever Sanders supporter I spoke to, pointed out that socialism has a bad name in the U.S. because people think of the Soviet Union. Sanders isn't a Red, they say. He pushes "what is done in Europe — Democratic Socialism," as Fletcher Lokey put it just before a Sanders rally in Manchester on Monday.
Katie Ferrara, who was involved in the Occupy movement four years ago, calls herself a socialist, and says "the entire structure of our political system needs to be revamped." She points to Europe and Canada, with their national healthcare or single-payer plans, as models.
This is refreshing honesty after years of Democrats angrily denying these labels. In 2008, conservatives were scolded for using the word "socialist" to describe Obama's actions, such as nationalizing car companies and handing the ownership over to a union. ("Socialist" was a "racist smear," of course.) Back then, liberal readers told me not to describe Democrats' policies as "European-style," because that was an underhanded way of calling them un-American.
But Democrats are now openly European-style democratic Socialists.
Here's the thing about being a radical, though, and this is a point Republican voters figured out in 2010: These days, the center is so discredited and irresponsible that the fringes can seem sane and responsible by comparison.
Sanders' most notable breaks with his party include opposing the PATRIOT Act and the Iraq War. The PATRIOT Act has spun out of control, leading to unprecedented surveillance of Americans. The Iraq War stands as a monument to centrist incompetence. Throw in the 2008-09 financial crisis, and it's hard to argue that the bipartisan centrist establishment has the steadier hand.
If you were to dig deeper, you'd probably find that Sanders' leftism isn't his biggest appeal. The "very liberal" vote was about one-fourth of the New Hampshire Democratic electorate according to exit polls, and Sanders carried that slice by 20 points. But he also carried the rest of the vote by 10 percent.
Sanders' victory may be as much an anti-establishment win as a progressive win. On the GOP side, Trump's victory was more obviously populist rather than ideological.
People feel the elites have failed them. In such an enviroment, a little bit of radicalism doesn't seem so scary.
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.