Multiple town halls were hosted in Manchester, N.H. on Monday evening with five 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, and Sen. Bernie Sanders found himself answering tough questions about his socialist ideals from a Harvard University student whose family fled Soviet Russia.
Samantha Frankel-Popell told Sanders about how socialism impacted her family's life and grilled him on how his version of Democratic socialism will aim to be different from the socialist regimes of other countries.
“My father’s family left Soviet Russia in 1979 fleeing from some of the very same socialist policies that you seem eager to implement in this country,” the young woman said during the CNN event. “How do you rectify your notion of Democratic socialism with the failures of socialism in nearly every country that has tried it?”
Sanders smiled as Frankel-Poppel asked her question, which was met with mixed applause from the crowd.
"Thank you for asking that question,” Sanders said, before responding with a question himself. “Is it your assumption that I supported or believe in authoritarian communism that existed in the Soviet Union? I don’t. I never have, and I opposed it. I believe in a vigorous democracy."
Sanders went on to expand on his frequent tirade against the nation's billionaires, discussing the polarization of wealth in the country and rallying for government-funded social initiatives like universal healthcare and tuition-free public education.
"It's a radical idea," he said. "Maybe not everyone believes but it's what I believe. We should have a government that represents working families and not just the 1 percent and powerful corporations."
He concluded by summarizing to the student the differences between what his version of socialism is, and that which the student's family experienced in Russia decades ago.
“What Democratic socialism means to me is we expand Medicare, we provide educational opportunity to all Americans, we rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. In other words, the government serves the needs of all people rather than just wealthy campaign contributors. That’s what it means to me," he said.