The socialism Bernie Sanders is offering is democratic socialism. It’s not Stalin, it’s Sweden. (Christopher Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The socialism Bernie Sanders is offering is democratic socialism. It’s not Stalin, it’s Sweden. (Christopher Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner)

What having a brother with special needs taught me about socialism

From doctors to therapists to special schools, raising a kid like my brother nearly bankrupted my parents.

I’ve got a special needs brother. He’s high functioning and if you met him all you would think is “Well he’s a strange and funny fellow,” which he is. But he’s also never going to be intellectually or emotionally older than a 12-year-old, even though he’s currently in his late 30s.

From doctors to therapists to special schools, raising a kid like my brother nearly bankrupted my parents. I have distinct memories of my mom crying as she and my dad tried to figure out how they were going to pay for all his bills.

It took many years until my folks found an advocate who could navigate the labyrinthine healthcare system to get my brother on disability and SSI – meaning that now his medical bills are covered by Medicare and he gets a small stipend from the government to cover bills like rent and food since he can’t work. And it took my folks even more years to finally be able to pay off the advocate because she was expensive too.

I mean this in all seriousness: If my brother didn’t have the family and the support system that he has, if he didn’t have parents who were willing and, in a position, to fight tooth and nail for him, he would be one more disabled, unmedicated, desperate, heartbreaking and heartbroken homeless person that you pass every day on your way to work. He wouldn’t have the opportunity to be a “strange and funny fellow.”

This is not the American Dream. This is the American Nightmare. And it’s far too common. Every person reading this knows someone who has been ruined by medical debt. Or has contributed to a GoFundMe to help someone whose medical bills are obscene. Or has been afraid to go to the doctor because they simply couldn’t afford it. And if you don’t know someone who has, they just haven’t told you because they’ve been ashamed.

Why is it that we keep voting for politicians who believe a corporation’s right to make money is more important than our right to live and be healthy? Why is it that our government has no problem spending $2 trillion on a war in Afghanistan (which according to the Afghanistan Papers we knew we couldn’t win) yet thinks funding Universal Healthcare is impossible? Why have we allowed our government to practice socialism for corporations but tell us that wanting it for ourselves is un-American?

It’s time to stop being scared of the word socialism and start realizing that our country already practices it. The fact that we have a postal system, and roads to drive on, and firefighters to save us is because our tax dollars pay for them. That’s a form of socialism.

And when our government gives tax breaks to corporations so that billion-dollar companies like Amazon and Netflix don’t have to pay federal taxes, that’s a from of socialism too. Our government gives subsidies to oil companies, and factory farms, and retail megastores like Walmart, making it so our taxes cover their financial losses, yet they get to keep their financial gains. As the saying goes, “Socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor.” It sure doesn’t sound fair to me.

The socialism Bernie Sanders is offering is democratic socialism. It’s not Stalin, it’s Sweden. It’s a chance to live in a country where people don’t die or go bankrupt because they can’t afford health care. Where 23-year-olds aren’t saddled with $100K in debt just because they wanted to go to college. Where the federal government partners with cities to alleviate the housing and homelessness crises by helping to build more government-owned affordable housing.

Last week news broke that 22 separate studies concluded that Medicare for All would be the cheapest and most effective way to fix our broken healthcare system. According to a study by Yale University, the University of Florida and the University of Maryland, Medicare for All would “save $450 billion per year — about $2,400 in annual savings per family — and would prevent more than 68,000 unnecessary deaths each year.” While you should check out Bernie Sanders’ website for a further breakdown of how all these things are paid for, the short answer is by making the billionaires and corporations finally pay their fair share.

Our tax dollars shouldn’t be used to make billionaires and corporations richer; they should be used to take care of us. Even if that is called socialism.

After all, the whole point of socialism is to make sure people like my brother don’t fall through the cracks.

Stuart Schuffman is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at and join his mailing list at His column appears every other Thursday. He is a guest columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner.

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