Bernie Sanders and the Electric Kool-Aid Socialist Test

Bernie Sanders and the Electric Kool-Aid Socialist Test
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If you watched Tuesday’s Democratic debates, you probably noticed a whole lot of yelling. Indeed, the event, sponsored by CNN, was a veritable white-knuckle ride of hollering, with most of it coming from just one guy—a guy who looked like he just received a nasty shock trying to jump-start his DeLorean in a shed filled with half-baked inventions and sad, peeling posters celebrating the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. This guy also specialized, I should add, in occasional, disgusted harrumphs.

I’m talking, of course, about Bernie Sanders, who may not have won the debate, but who certainly set the tone. It was amazing to behold: In a country where just 26 percent of voters describe themselves as “liberal,” the Democratic Party has apparently gone full-bore, hair-on-fire Oberlin dorm room progressive.

Sanders’ poll numbers with Democratic voters—which hover around 25 percent, according to the latest RealClearPolitics average—are astounding, given the fact that he aims to haphazardly micromanage our country back to the economic Stone Age. According to one Washington Post estimate, “America is Bernie Country more than it is Trumpland.” That is to say that in terms of raw numbers, Sanders, the socialist wonder, might have even more fans than our nation’s other favorite wacko, Donald Trump.

So when Hillary Clinton was asked if she was a moderate or a progressive at Tuesday’s debate, she got so excited she almost ate her microphone. “I don’t take a back seat to anyone when it comes to progressive experience and progressive commitment,” she declared, her long-repressed inner life force flaring, despite the fact that this wasn’t actually true. “I’m a progressive, but I’m a progressive that knows how to get things done.” 

The subtext of this statement, which came out loud and clear, was this: “I’m a progressive, voters, but not a loopy, reality-challenged, inept one, like Old Half-Baked Quasi-Redistributed Tuft-Haired Vermont Maple Crumble Cake over there.” This would be wonderful and reassuring if progressivism weren’t by definition loopy, reality-challenged, and inept.

And so on Tuesday night, we watched people cheer for free college, perhaps funded by the elusive Gender Studies Phantom who dwells in the basement of the National Endowment for the Arts. We watched candidates call for free college for illegal immigrants, too, because hey, why not? We watched repeated implications that climate change is going to annihilate us all, likely by next year, unless we vote correctly. We saw people gathered in an air-conditioned auditorium in Las Vegas—Las Vegas, that strange and mysterious capitalist beast, a place where a million glitzy desert lights shine, and to which many in the audience had flown into on a gas-guzzling, cocktail-addled, bargain-basement flight—cheer at the thought of giving up fossil fuels.

We also saw Bernie Sanders commit a form of ritual self-sacrifice, shouting that “the American people are sick and tired” of hearing about Hillary Clinton’s emails. For one brief, shining moment, I thought he might follow up with a verbal dagger: “So be gone, scandal-plagued Hillary, you Machiavellian mess, and take your emails with you!”

Alas, Bernie is not a political animal; sadly, that did not happen. Multiple lies, the potential hacking of state secrets, and embarrassing incompetence from a potential commander-in-chief apparently matter not. Bernie moved on, unsurprisingly, to more socialism. The audience—and the press gallery—erupted in cheers.

Here’s what poor Bernie Sanders might not realize: He’s only as popular as he is because Hillary Clinton is a terrifying facsimile of a normal person, and an even worse candidate. Here’s what we, the awed audience to this spectacle, should also digest: The people who attend a Democratic Party debate at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas are not your average American bear. First of all, they must have an extraordinarily high tolerance for pain. Second of all, unless they were paid to be there, they have seriously messed-up priorities. Instead of listening to ideas that would bankrupt the country, they could be down the hall people-watching and playing $5 roulette in exchange for free drinks.

In “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” Tom Wolfe takes readers on a marvelous trip with Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, '60s-era hippies who live outside the boundaries of “normal” American life and roll around on a psychedelic bus. The Pranksters don’t buy into any societal rules; they’re not constrained, or at least they claim, to the narrow narrative life hands them. “Everybody, everybody everywhere, has his own movie going, his own scenario, and everybody is acting his movie out like mad,” Wolfe writes, “only most people don’t know that is what they’re trapped by, their little script.” 

The script on Tuesday night was clear, at least for Bernie and Hillary: All socialism, all the time. How ironic to see two '60s retreads—people who see themselves as progressive, open-minded, forward-looking, and advanced—so terribly confined by a tired, failed narrative. Let’s hope they’re also sorely mistaken as to what the rest of America’s preferred script might be.

Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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