For months, President Trump has tried to paint the 2020 Democratic presidential field as “far-left radicals” pushing a radical socialist agenda.
“Some of these people are stone-cold crazy,” Trump said in a speech last month. “They’re promoting the biggest socialist takeover in the history, really, of the world. Because, if you think, I mean, this is the United States.”
On Wednesday, Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermont senator and self-described democratic socialist, went all in on the socialist label, insisting it is the only way for Americans to confront the oligarchy and Trump’s authoritarianism.
In a speech at George Washington University, Sanders sought to define democratic socialism as a continuation of FDR’s New Deal.
“Over 80 years ago Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped create a government that made transformative progress in protecting the needs of working families,” Sanders said. “Today, in the second decade of the 21st century, we must take up the unfinished business of the New Deal and carry it to completion. This is the unfinished business of the Democratic Party and the vision we together must accomplish.”
“It means committing ourselves to protecting political rights,” he continued, “to protecting civil rights, and to protect economic rights for all of the people in our country.”
“We must take the next step forward and guarantee every man, woman and child in our country basic economic rights,” he said. “The right to quality health care, the right to as much education as one needs to succeed in our society, the right to a good job that pays a living wage, the right to affordable housing, the right to a secure retirement and the right to live in a clean environment. We must recognize that in the 21st century, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, economic rights are human rights. And that is what I mean by democratic socialism.”
Sanders received a standing ovation while quoting a famous Roosevelt speech in which he warned of a “government organized by money,” and said such forces were united against his candidacy.
“They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred,” Sanders said to applause.
The Vermont senator responded to Trump’s criticism by pivoting to another familiar target: Wall Street.
“Now let’s be clear: while President Trump and his fellow oligarchs attack us for our support of democratic socialism, they don’t really oppose all forms of socialism,” he said. “They may hate democratic socialism because it benefits working people, but they absolutely love corporate socialism that enriches Trump and other billionaires.”
Sanders then blasted what he called the “hypocrisy” exhibited by big banks when they needed to be bailed out.
“In 2008, after their greed, recklessness and illegal behavior created the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression — with millions of Americans losing their jobs, their homes and their life savings — Wall Street’s religious adherence to unfettered capitalism suddenly came to an end,” he said. “Overnight, Wall Street became big-government socialists and begged for the largest federal bailout in American history — some $700 billion from the Treasury and trillions in support from the Federal Reserve.”
“When Trump screams socialism, all of his hypocrisy will not be lost on the American people,” Sanders added. “He believes in corporate socialism for the rich and powerful. I believe in democratic socialism that works for American families.”
Sanders’s advisers hope his speech will help differentiate him from his progressive rival in the Democratic presidential race, Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The Massachusetts senator, who supports many of the progressive policies Sanders does, describes herself as a market capitalist.
“I believe in markets,” she told Vox in a recent interview. “I believe in the benefits that come from markets, that two people coming together, or two companies, or a company and a person coming together to exchange goods and services, yay! That’s how we build a lot of wealth in this country and a lot of innovation and create a lot of opportunity.
“But markets without rules are theft,” Warren added. “It’s absolutely crucial that if we’re going to have a market economy that works, that we’ve got to have a set of rules around it.”
Sanders’s ownership of the socialist label is seen by some as a political risk. According to a Gallup poll released last August, just four in 10 Americans over the age of 30 have a positive view of socialism.
But the same poll showed 51 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 view socialism positively. And Democrats have a more positive image of socialism than they do of capitalism, Gallup found.
It’s not the first time Sanders has delivered full-throated support for democratic socialism.
In 2015, during his first run for president, Sanders delivered a strikingly similar speech at Georgetown University.
“If we are serious about transforming our country, if we are serious about rebuilding the middle class, if we are serious about reinvigorating our democracy, we need to develop a political movement which, once again, is prepared to take on and defeat a ruling class whose greed is destroying our nation,” Sanders said on Nov. 19, 2015. “The billionaire class cannot have it all.”
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