In 1972, I voted for the first time, casting my ballot courtesy of the 26th Amendment, ratified that spring, which allowed young people to vote. That was also the last year a liberal Democrat won the New Hampshire primary — Ed Muskie from Maine, as liberal as the candidate soon surpassing him, George McGovern, who then endured an epic, 49-state loss in November.

McGovern, fueled by the youthful anti-war movement, staked his campaign on ending the Vietnam War, which, however, was already being ended — so far as Americans were concerned — by Richard Nixon. The country had moved on, but McGovern became fixated on the wrong issue.

Now, 44 years later, another liberal — a “Democratic socialist” and independent — won the New Hampshire primary far more convincingly than Muskie did, and against tougher opposition. In the aftermath, there’s disbelief among both Democratic and Republican establishments.

How did a 74-year old Jew from New York City, improbably relocated to Burlington, Vermont, as a young man, a one-time mayor, then congressman and senator, sweep to the head of the nominating list? It can’t be his personal qualities; he’s still the rumpled, now-white-haired, unpretentious speaker he always was, who takes no campaign money from anyone except small donors, passing up the billions let loose by Citizens United.

In a word: Ideas. Bernie Sanders, who’s said the same things for 20 years, has now captured the imagination and aspirations of young people. Sanders based his campaign around a single concept — inequality — and it’s working.

Inequality is what explains, in economic, moral and human terms, what’s wrong with this country, and Sanders shows a path toward setting it right. Young people aren’t deterred by the “socialist” tag. Soviet communism vanished before they were born, and the social systems of European countries have obvious appeal to the young, who’ve been told, over and over, they can’t expect the economic and personal security their parents, and their grandparents, enjoyed.

And why is that, they ask? Why, in the most powerful and wealthiest nation the world has ever seen, should they be forced to rely on their parents for health coverage? Why should they, before landing their first job, be handed a pile of student debt as large as many home mortgages? These are uncomfortable questions for the comfortably established leaders of both political parties. And the answers they give are unconvincing.

We’ve been told that, following the implosion of private pensions over the previous two generations — something we “couldn’t afford” because of global competition — that we must dismantle the public system as well. Social Security is never mentioned, of course. “Entitlements” need to be reduced, as any responsible politician must know.

So too with college. It’s really too bad college costs so much, that public resources are steadily cut rather than expanded — even while buildings donated by wealthy alumni proliferate at private colleges — but what can be done?

Young people are glimpsing the answers, and they sound a lot like what Bernie Sanders is saying. Everyone should receive health care, and we don’t need the confusing, expensive mess of for-profit health insurers and drug companies to do it. Tuition at public colleges should be free, as it once was in some states, and still is for most of our economic competitors.

How would we get the money to do this? In health care, all the money needed is currently sloshing around the existing system. It should be redirected to the public sector — as is already happening, at least with financing, under Obamacare. Free college will be harder, but hardly impossible.

Consider this: We all know that middle class living standards stopped rising around 1972 — that year again—despite continued economic growth. What we may not appreciate is where the money went. The Census numbers tell us.

In 1972, just over half the economy, 52 percent, consisted of wages. By 2013, that figure was just 42 percent.

Meanwhile, corporate profits rose from 4 percent to 10 percent, absorbing the bulk of that huge economic shift. How huge? Each year, compared with the economy 44 years ago, $1.4 trillion is taken from the pockets of labor and shifted, primarily, to capital.

The “1 percent” looks much less abstract when you see where the money went — almost directly from workers to today’s ubiquitous billionaires. This isn’t about whether we will have profit-making entities; private capitalism will endure. It’s whether private interests will overwhelm our common public life, as they clearly have.

Young people are beginning to understand important facts their elders missed, or ignored. And now that this has happened, it will be difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.

Douglas Rooks has covered the State House for 31 years. Comment is welcomed at [email protected]

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