"I don't believe in some foreign "ism", but I believe deeply in American idealism."
– Senator Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders billed his talk Thursday at Georgetown University as a speech on "democratic socialism," but it was immediately clear that what Sanders was really talking about were not the ideologies of a Cold War adversary but deeply American traditions of fairness that have been under attack by ideologues brandishing American flags.
Sanders anchored his speech as building on President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1944 "Second Bill of Rights" address. "Real freedom must include economic security." he said. "That was Roosevelt's vision 70 years ago. It is my vision today. It is a vision that we have not yet achieved. It is time that we did."
Sanders went on, "In that speech, Roosevelt described the economic rights that he believed every American was entitled to: The right to a decent job at decent pay, the right to adequate food, clothing, and time off from work, the right for every business, large and small, to function in an atmosphere free from unfair competition and domination by monopolies. The right of all Americans to have a decent home and decent health care."
(The following are abbreviated excerpts from the prepared transcript. You must watch his whole speech.)
"So let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me. It builds on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans. And it builds on what Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1968 when he stated that; "This country has socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor." It builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor.
Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy.
Democratic socialism means that we must reform a political system in America today which is not only grossly unfair but, in many respects, corrupt."
Quite A System!
"Wall Street used their wealth and power to get Congress to do their bidding for deregulation and then, when their greed caused their collapse, they used their wealth and power to get Congress to bail them out. Quite a system!
And, then, to add insult to injury, we were told that not only were the banks too big to fail, the bankers were too big to jail. Kids who get caught possessing marijuana get police records. Wall Street CEOs who help destroy the economy get raises in their salaries. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. meant by socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for everyone else."
Democratic Socialism For Working Families
"In my view, it's time we had democratic socialism for working families, not just Wall Street, billionaires and large corporations. It means that we should not be providing welfare for corporations, huge tax breaks for the very rich, or trade policies which boost corporate profits as workers lose their jobs. It means that we create a government that works for works for all of us, not just powerful special interests. It means that economic rights must be an essential part of what America stands for."
So When People Call Me A Socialist
Sanders talked about health care and his "Medicare-for-All" approach known also as "single-payer." He talked about his proposal for tuition-free education and the benefits this would bring the country. He talked about bringing full employment and creating good working conditions and good wages. He talked about social justice and why Black Lives Matter. And he talked about taxing the rich.
Sanders said that people will try to brand him with labels, saying, "So the next time you hear me attacked as a socialist, remember this:
"I don't believe government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a decent standard of living and that their incomes should go up not down.
"I believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America instead of shipping jobs and profits overseas and exploiting low-wage labor abroad.
"I believe that most Americans can pay lower taxes - if hedge fund managers who make billions manipulating the marketplace finally pay the taxes they should.
"I don't believe in special treatment for the top 1%, but I do believe in equal treatment for African-Americans who are right to proclaim the moral principle that Black Lives Matter.
"I despise appeals to nativism and prejudice, and I do believe in immigration reform that gives Hispanics and others a pathway to citizenship and a better life.
"I don't believe in some foreign "ism", but I believe deeply in American idealism.
"I'm not running for president because it's my turn, but because it's the turn of all of us to live in a nation of hope and opportunity not for some, not for the few, but for all."
A Political Revolution
Sanders devoted a second part of his speech to the in-the-news topic of dealing with terrorism. That is a topic for a different post.
In the question-and-answer session following the speech he offered this comment, which makes for a good conclusion:
"These are not radical extremist ideas. Look at the issues. Raising the minimum wage - wildly popular. Create jobs by rebuilding infrastructure - wildly popular. Colleges tuition-free and lowering student debt - wildly popular. Addressing climate change - wildly popular. Making the rich pay more taxes - wildly popular.
"The real point is why is Congress so far out of touch with where the American people are at? Republicans want to cut Social Security, Medicaid, Medicaid, give tax breaks to billionaires and ignore the climate crisis.
"So we need a political revolution, to transform American politics. I am talking about bringing in the voices of millions who have given up on the political process. When that happens everything that I talk about will be passed. If it does not virtually nothing will.
"It’s not just about electing Bernie Sanders, it is much more than that. No president can implement the kinds of changes we need in this country unless millions stand up and fight back."
The Populist Majority website tracks public polling on a number of issues. The public polling shows that the things Sanders talked about in his speech are things that people agree with and approve of – or, as Sanders worded it, are "wildly popular."
The people who support Sanders do not support him because he calls himself a "democratic socialist"; they support him because he talks about the problems and power in the country and what we have to do about it to return a democracy that serves the people. Sanders' asks for reforms that many European democracies have accomplished.
Our country would do well to return to being a country of, by and for We the People. We shouldn't allow "America" to be defined by the reality of a country that nurtures its rich and powerful and allows everyone else to languish in deprivation and powerlessness. That looks like the countries the right gleefully brand as "socialist." Sanders may call his vision "democratic socialism," but the rest of us should call it America as it is supposed to be.