Opinion - Politics

Op-Ed: Bernie Sanders is the front-runner because of how we raised our kids

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  • How did an avowed socialist get to the top of the Democratic Party? He is supported by millions of younger voters who have been raised to support Bernie Sanders, even if their parents don't realize it, writes Jake Novak.
People cheer as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) arrives onstage during a campaign event at the Whittemore Center Arena on February 10, 2020 in Durham, New Hampshire.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images

With his convincing victory in Saturday's Nevada caucuses, Sen. Bernie Sanders is solidifying his status as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination more than ever before.

So how did a life-long avowed socialist and someone who's never actually won an election as a Democrat get to the top of the party's mountain?

The simple answer is that he's being supported by millions of younger Democratic voters, and those voters have been raised to be Sanders voters, even if their parents don't realize it.

Here's how it happened:

We convinced everyone college was 100% necessary, and then we made college unaffordable. Since the end of World War II, the chorus of educators, politicians, and journalists making it sound like college was essential for career success only became louder and drowned out any counterargument.

At the same time, college tuition costs have exploded thanks greatly to government programs that produced unintended, but predictable consequences. It mostly started in 1978 when more loans and subsidies became available to a greatly expanded number of students. The cost of college tuition has risen by six times more than the rate of inflation since the 1970s.

Now, millions of American young people are straddled with college loans that look impossible to repay. The total student loan debt in the U.S. now stands at more than $1.6 trillion.

Is it any wonder so many of them are attracted to a candidate who not only promises to forgive their student debts, but presents their predicament as the result of corporate greed and misplaced government priorities?

Luckily for Sanders, young voters supporting him for his college tuition forgiveness promises don't seem to be too interested in his own family history. His wife Jane Sanders was president of the now defunct Burlington College and she and other administrators were reportedly the subjects of a long-running FBI probe that they misled bank loan officers about the real number of donations pledged to the college.

The FBI probe of the matter ended in 2018, and Jane Sanders was not charged. But the policies she oversaw, which included pushing for major campus expansions, were indicative of some of the root causes of increased college costs in America.

The establishment in both parties ignored young voters. As sacred as our politicians make college education sound, it's nothing compared to the way leaders from both parties talk about programs for older Americans like Social Security and Medicare.

None of that is a mystery, as older Americans have always been more likely to vote. Even though voters aged 18-29 have been showing increased turnout numbers in recent elections, senior citizens still stand atop the heap. In 2016, 71% of Americans 65 and older voted compared to just 46% of 18-29-year-olds. In the 2018 midterms, that gap narrowed to 66% to 36%, but it's still a wide gap.

All of this focus on older voters and their retirement funds is a nice sentiment but it's misplaced. Older Americans aren't just doing okay. A 2017 study of age-based wealth in the U.S. shows that a typical household headed by an adult 65 and older has 47 times the net worth of a household headed by younger Americans. Yep, Papa and Granny are loaded.

Now, helping older people who happen to be poor or on the margins of poverty is something different. But the cultural assumption many of us have about elderly folks needing more financial help in America is pretty much the opposite of the truth.

Throw in the Affordable Care Act, which literally and foolishly leaned on younger and healthier Americans to foot the bill for covering older and sicker people, and you see a pattern here.

Sanders talks plenty about Social Security, and he's obviously a senior citizen himself. But he usually expands his campaign promises to include younger people, as he did when he took the lead on the Medicare for All promise in 2017.

We told them America's house was on fire. For all the policy differences and political minutiae Democrats delve into when criticizing President Trump, the most enduring attacks on Trump from the Democratic establishment remain accusations that Trump is supporting white supremacy and is controlled by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

These are over-the-top accusations, and it's hard to accept that even most elected Democrats actually believe them. But pushing that message on America for the last three-plus years comes at a price for both sides.

For the Democrats, the price is becoming clear: it's made moderate presidential candidates look less viable than ever.

Think about it: if you really believe the president is a traitor and supporting violent plots against non-white Americans, is this really the time to support mainstream Democrat or Republican candidates?

Sanders may be a career politician, but he's never been a mainstream politician. His persona and political brand fits much better into the current Democratic narrative that we're living in desperate times.

Establishment Democrats are reaping what they sowed.

As a result, it's looking more and more like Sanders has unstoppable momentum going into the Super Tuesday primaries and beyond. The big question now is whether that Democratic establishment will try to derail Sanders before or during the Democratic National Convention.

But either way, the party would be playing with fire and risking alienating those younger voters forever.

Jake Novak is a political and economic analyst at Jake Novak News and former CNBC TV producer. You can follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.