Many people that support Bernie just want to see that widening gap stopped, because it's bad for the country. We're not looking for a handout.
But those 2 sentences are contradictory. In order for those at the bottom to catch up and narrow the gap the plan they always want is to take from those at the top and give to those on the bottom. That is wealth redistribution and a handout even if they don't call it that directly.
But, why do we always hear about people wanting everything for free (which isn't really accurate--most people just want reasonable prices for necessities such as healthcare and education), but nothing about the trillions of dollars we have dumped into the defense budget largely due to an ill-advised war?
Free stuff is a strong selling point for the left and one that is nearly impossible to overcome. Obama knew it and ran on it in 2008 very heavily. Bernie has gone beyond that now with his call for 'free' college and all the other items from his list in that picture on the post above. Millennials are the most likely to be drawn into this as they are young and love the messages they are hearing in regards to the free items they would receive. If I was still 18 I can see myself being drawn to that as I would have loved to have the free handouts too. But at 44 I've been around and know it's not possible and the only real way to get ahead is by getting an education and working really hard. I push my own kids to have a strong work ethic because I dont' want them growing up thinking they are entitled to someone else's money nor being dependent on the government from cradle to grave.
I don't dispute everything you say. When I say he has a populist appeal, I'm conceding a lot of what you're saying. People hear "free <insert anything here>" and they immediately want to support it without thinking of how it can be free.
My problem is that the opposing viewpoints tend to be, "We can't do that." Hard stop. OK, maybe we can't do everything he says as he says it. As glen has said many times, Bernie probably knows that too. Just because we can't implement something exactly as he has suggested it, doesn't mean that what he's talking about aren't legitimate issues that deserve being addressed.
The solutions that I want to see involve people that want to get ahead having the opportunity to get ahead. While I don't think free education is necessary for that to happen, it's worth noting that free education and hard work are not opposites. You don't measure how hard somebody works to get ahead by how much they spend on their education.
There are certain markets that have an extraordinarily high demand just by their nature. Education and healthcare are the two major examples, but there might be others. The problem with markets that are more or less necessities is that it creates a dynamic for price gouging. There's a reason that education and healthcare costs have skyrocketed. The solution to this doesn't need to be to make them free (at least education). But, the problems won't ever be solved if the people profiting from this dynamic are the same ones in the pockets of the people being elected.
To me, the real contradiction is to tell people that they need to work hard to get ahead, make it really really difficult for the lower class to afford the opportunity to get ahead, then blame social immobility on laziness. I think that misses the mark and enables a climate for a legitimate problem to not be fixed.