The top 5 takeaways from Bernie Sanders’ big speech

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent

Sen. Bernie Sanders gave one of the most important speeches of his presidential campaign in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, outlining his “democratic socialist ideals.”

Speaking at Georgetown University, the Democratic candidate battled perceptions his ideas are foreign or “radical” and framed his proposals as a modern version of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

His remarks included much of his standard stump speech embedded in a broader narrative framework seeking to situate his policy pronouncements within a broader political vision and American historical context.

Sanders also discussed foreign policy in the wake of the Paris terror attacks that left 129 people dead last Friday. 

Here are five key points from the address:

1. Sanders doesn’t think his ideas are radical

A core issue for Sanders as he has mounted a surprisingly strong challenge to frontrunner Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary has been electability and the question of whether voters can get comfortable with his unorthodox political identity. In his speech, Sanders attempted to argue his “democratic socialist” views are in line with American traditions and ideals.

Sanders repeatedly referred to FDR and claimed his policies are similar and face similar opposition from the “ruling class.”

“He redefined the relationship of the federal government to the people of our nation. He combated cynicism, fear and despair. He reinvigorated democracy. He transformed our country,” Sanders said of Roosevelt. “And that is exactly what we have to do today. And by the way, almost everything he proposed, almost every program, every idea he introduced was called ‘socialist.’” 

Sanders also invoked Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope Francis as he made his case. 

In addition to arguing his ideas are not unprecedented within the country, Sanders pointed out that many of them are already in place abroad. When he discussed his plan for universal health insurance, Sanders noted that some people consider it “incredibly radical.” He pushed back against that characterization.

“This is not a radical idea. It is a conservative idea. It is an idea and a practice that exists in every other major country on Earth,” Sanders said.

2. Sanders thinks the system is rigged

Fighting income inequality and pushing for campaign finance reform are the two cornerstones of Sanders’ platform. 

In his speech, Sanders attempted to link these two things together and argued there is a “corrupt” and “rigged” political system that allows the incredibly wealthy and major corporations to solidify their position at the expense of the majority.

“The bottom line is that today in America, we not only have massive wealth and income inequality, but a power structure built around that inequality, which protects those who have the money,” Sanders said. “Today, a handful of superwealthy campaign contributors have enormous influence over the political process, while their lobbyists determine much of what goes on in Congress.“ 

3. Sanders doesn’t necessarily think this is a free country.

Sanders pointed to Roosevelt’s call for a “Second Bill of Rights” as he outlined his proposals. He noted Roosevelt believed “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.”

“In other words, real freedom must include economic security,” said Sanders. “That was Roosevelt’s vision 70 years ago. It is my vision today. It is a vision that we have not yet achieved, and it is time that we did.”

Sanders described a suite of policies that he said would give people a “living wage.” They included universal health coverage, free tuition at public colleges, paid sick and family leave, raising the minimum wage to $15 and prison reform. He also called for a “full-employment economy” and vowed to generate jobs by rebuilding our “crumbling infrastructure.” 

“So, the next time that you hear me attacked as a socialist — like tomorrow,” Sanders said, provoking laughs from the audience, “remember this: I don’t believe government should take over, you know, the grocery store down the street. But I do believe that the middle class and the working class of this country, who produce the wealth of this country, deserve a decent standard of living.”

4. Sanders believes America has made serious foreign policy mistakes 

The last part of Sanders’ speech was focused on foreign policy. In it, he vowed not to remake “the failed foreign policy decisions of the past.”

“I will never send our sons and daughters to war under false pretense or pretenses about dubious battles with no end in sight,” Sanders declared.

Sanders went on to reiterate his longstanding opinion that the Iraq War, which Clinton voted for as a member of the U.S. Senate, was one of these mistakes.

“Unilateral military action should be a last resort, not a first resort,” he said. “Ill-conceived military decisions such as the invasion of Iraq can wreak far-reaching devastation and destabilization over regions for decades.”

Sanders has faced questions about his relative lack of foreign policy experience compared to Clinton. By making the argument our past policies have failed, he seems poised to use Clinton’s experience as a former senator and secretary of state against her.

5. The Bernie doctrine

Sanders also detailed his plan to combat the jihadist group Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS.  

He outlined a multilateral approach to military action, calling for the creation of “a new organization like NATO to confront the security threats of the 21st century.” He also argued America should take a supporting role in the fight against ISIS and let Muslim nations lead the effort.

“The fight against ISIS is a struggle for the soul of Islam,” Sanders said. “Countering violent extremism and destroying ISIS must be done primarily by Muslim nations with the strong support of their global partners.”