By Paul Steinhauser
Published June 12, 2019
Bernie Sanders on Wednesday delivered a no-apologies address embracing and defending “democratic socialism,” as he unveiled what he dubbed an “economic bill of rights” to deal with an economy he claims is “fundamentally broken and grotesquely unfair.”
The longtime independent senator from Vermont – who’s running a second straight time for the Democratic presidential nomination – sought to counter President Trump’s claims of a booming economy as he delivered his most detailed public explanation to date of why he brands himself a democratic socialist.
Calling his beliefs a path of “justice and love” while painting a bleak picture of the country’s current economic conditions, Sanders said that “income and wealth inequality today in the United States is greater than at any time since the 1920s.”
In a speech heavy on FDR references that called for finishing the work of the New Deal, Sanders cast his policies as a necessary counter to “right-wing” forces.
“The challenge we confront today as a nation, and as a world, is in many ways not different from the one we faced a little less than a century ago, during and after the Great Depression in the 1930s. Then, as now, deeply rooted and seemingly intractable economic and social disparities led to the rise of right-wing nationalist forces all over the world,” he said.
The speech represented for Sanders a defiant embrace of an ideology that has not only raised questions about his general election appeal but has been used as a brush by the Trump campaign to paint the entire Democratic field as far-left. Indeed, many of Sanders’ primary rivals have adopted his democratic socialism-inspired policies like “Medicare for all,” though some of those same candidates have avoided the ideological label.
However, Sanders, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has made no apologies about being a democratic socialist.
And on Wednesday, he fired back at Trump and other Republicans for trying to use “socialism” as a “slur.”
“While President Trump and his fellow oligarchs attack us for our support of democratic socialism, they don’t really oppose all forms of socialism,” Sanders charged. “They may hate democratic socialism because it benefits working people, but they absolutely love corporate socialism that enriches Trump and other billionaires.”
Taking a direct shot at Trump, Sanders claimed that the difference between himself and the president is that “he believes in corporate socialism for the rich and powerful.”
Sanders also called Trump a “demagogue” and accused him up trying to “divide people up and legislate hatred” to deflect attention from “real crises.”
The senator, one of the leaders right now in the race for the Democratic nomination, said that the country must reject “that path of hatred and divisiveness -- and instead find the moral conviction to choose a different path, a higher path, a path of compassion, justice and love. It is the path that I call democratic socialism.”
The populist senator argued that despite positive overall GDP and stock market numbers, “millions of middle class and working people struggle to keep their heads above water, while the billionaire class consumes the lion’s share of the wealth that we are collectively creating as a nation.”
Sanders explained that he was following in the footsteps of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Democrat who created Social Security as part of his New Deal during his four terms in the White House during the 1930s and 1940s.
“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,” Sanders said.
And he spotlighted FDR again as he announced his “economic bill of rights,” noting that “in 1944 FDR proposed an economic bill of rights but died a year later and was never able to fulfill that vision. Our job, 75 years later, is to complete what Roosevelt started.”
Punching back against GOP attacks, Sanders noted that Republicans once labeled Social Security a socialist proposal.
But the address is sure to fuel Republicans eager to cast the entire field as sympathetic to a government-heavy, big-spending agenda. Further, it exposes Sanders to more criticism about his past praise decades ago for the Cuban and Soviet regimes, though today the senator has sought to distinguish democratic socialism from socialism practiced by Communist governments.
Ahead of Sanders’ speech, the Republican National Committee called it a “sermon on socialism” as they described “just how extreme Sanders really is.”
And tying Sanders to rest of the nearly two-dozen rivals running for the White House, the RNC charged that “Bernie’s radical views have become mainstream in the Democrat Party.”
It wasn’t just Republicans attacking Sanders.
One of his rivals for the nomination, former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, also was critical.
Delaney, one of the more moderate candidates, said: “I believe he is wrong. The United States has been an economic and innovation marvel and our national wealth has been good for our citizens and enabled us to be a force of good throughout the world. Socialism -- or any new name Senator Sanders has for it -- is the wrong answer.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s been repeatedly attacked by Sanders, didn’t engage.
The clear front-runner in the nomination race right now said Wednesday morning in Iowa prior to Sanders’ speech that “I don’t put a whole lot into the labels. I’m not going to comment on Bernie’s characterization of who and what he is. He’s sincere about what he thinks and I think he should go out and say it.”