By Time magazine correspondent Charlotte Alter, author of "The Ones We've Been Waiting For: How a New Generation of Leaders Will Transform America" (Viking):
After two strong showings by Bernie Sanders in the last two weeks, many of you may be wondering why so many young people are enthralled with this 78-year-old socialist.
Here's the thing: Baby Boomers who grew up during the Cold War were taught that socialism led to communism, and communism threatened American freedom. When they think of socialism, they think of the Soviet Union – its gulags and bad economy.
But the millennials who support Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren, didn't grow up with that history. The oldest of them turned eight. To many of them, "socialism" means universal health care, child care, and free college – like in many parts of Europe.
In fact, for many people my age, it's runaway capitalism – not creeping socialism – that's had the worst impact on their lives.
Millennials came of age during the 2008 financial crisis. They're burdened by soaring college debt and can't afford many of the things their parents took for granted, like owning homes or cars. They're confronting a climate crisis that will leave parts of the world uninhabitable for their children. That's why they're tilting to the left.
I'm not arguing in favor of democratic socialism. I'm a journalist, not an activist. But I do think that many Americans fundamentally misunderstand the trend.
When millennials say they're socialist, they mean they want to elect leaders who will address the affordability crisis in housing, health care, child care and college tuition, and move aggressively on climate. And yes, they want higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for it.
It used to be that the American government was actually ambitious about solving social problems. The progressives started the minimum wage and the income tax, and ended child labor. FDR established Social Security, and put millions of people to work building roads, bridges and schools. LBJ enacted Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor.
Right or wrong, those "big structural changes" Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren talk about so much are just as American as any of those other bold reforms in our history. You may not like what they are asking for, but at least these progressives are trying to meet big challenges with big ideas for a better world.
For more info:
- "The Ones We've Been Waiting For: How a New Generation of Leaders Will Transform America" by Charlotte Alter (Viking), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, available via Amazon
- Charlotte Alter at Time Magazine
- Follow @CharlotteAlter on Twitter
Story produced by Aria Shavelson.