Sen. Bernie Sanders, who decided he was a Democrat a few months ago, has spent much more time calling himself a socialist.

When asked about that, he inserts the softening adjective “democratic” in front of the hard-core noun, presumably to differentiate himself from “undemocratic socialists” like Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez, among many others.

When even Hillary Clinton and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz either can’t or won’t explain how being a Democrat is different from being a socialist (both sloughed off the question in recent interviews), one assumes their reticence is conditioned by their desire not to upset their party’s base.

Sanders’ stance has considerable support among people on the left who think “liberal” is antediluvian and “progressive” a dodge for weasels. That’s especially so for the millennial generation, roughly those under 30, who voted for Sanders at or above the 80 percent level in recent primaries.

Yet, few of that group (less than 20 percent in a 2010 poll) could cite socialism’s standard definition, “government control of the means of production.”

Which means they don’t understand that when government controls all the jobs, it controls everyone and everything.

Young people seldom are reminded that where real socialism reigned, freedom was nonexistent and prison camps and cemeteries were kept full by the all-powerful state.

Indeed, “democratic socialism” can be defined as a half-dozen armed robbers stealing a victim’s wallet and justifying their crime because it was decided by a 6-1 vote.

Still, that isn’t what Sanders means, we’re told.

Instead of dictatorships, we should be copying countries like Denmark or Sweden, where health care and higher education are “free,” and citizens are kept wrapped up safe and warm in a blanket of mandated wages and benefits that keep them fully insulated from life’s vicissitudes.

But as a Feb. 15 commentary on The Federalist website noted, “These countries actually are not socialist, but ‘socialistic.’ To accommodate their massive social welfare spending, these countries opened their economies to free-market forces in the 1990s, sold off state-owned companies, eased restrictions on business startups, reduced barriers to trade and business regulation, and introduced more competition into health care and public services.”

In truth, the article points out, the things that millennials find harsh about the United States today – lack of entry-level jobs, the uselessness of many college majors coupled with sky-high tuition rates, and expensive health insurance and housing costs – are primarily because of government interference in the economy.

As Paul Starr, a Princeton professor of social policy and public affairs, wrote on the Politico website Feb. 22, “Sanders’ portrayal of democratic socialism as nothing but the New Deal is a disingenuous sleight of hand that plays on foggy historical memories.”

He added, “He is still calling for a ‘revolution’ to achieve socialism, blasting the ‘ruling class,’ endorsing taxes at confiscatory levels and proposing a health plan that would effectively nationalize a sixth of the economy. Summing up his proposals, left-of-center economists estimate that (they) would increase the size of the federal government by 40 percent to 50 percent.”

And millennials’ hopes that “the rich” will pay the bills run afoul of two facts: First, broad-based welfare requires broad-based revenues. Social Security and Medicare pay their bills by taxing almost every worker and employer, and still face empty coffers in a decade or so. Adding now-exempt income levels would only postpone the inevitable, and Sanders’ “Medicare for all” plan is a red-ink chimera.

The second is that money is portable, and as fast as one loophole closes, another opens – and foreign nations will offer shelters far beyond the current ones if the demand for them increases.

Patrick Deneen, a Notre Dame professor of constitutional studies, admires his students greatly.

And yet, on the Minding the Campus website Feb. 2, he writes, “But ask them some basic questions about the civilization they will be inheriting, and be prepared for averted eyes and somewhat panicked looks. Who fought in the Peloponnesian War? Who taught Plato, and whom did Plato teach? How did Socrates die? … Who was Saul of Tarsus? What were the 95 theses, who wrote them, and what was their effect? Why does the Magna Carta matter? How and where did Thomas Becket die? Who was Guy Fawkes, and why is there a day named after him? What did Lincoln say in his Second Inaugural?”

Deneen concludes, “It is not their ‘fault’ for pervasive ignorance of Western and American history, civilization, politics, art and literature. They have learned exactly what we have asked of them – to be like mayflies, alive by happenstance in a fleeting present.”

By learning history, we are supposed to avoid its mistakes and copy its successes. Sanders and his supporters, however, are getting that exactly backward.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:

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