Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is running for President. As a Pettigrew Democrat, I say thank goodness. Bernie Sanders can lead conversations about the real threats to our political and economic liberties that will never happen if Hillary Clinton goes unchallenged in the Democratic presidential primary.
Many of the topics Sanders will discuss can be framed in a discussion of what the word socialism means. Instead of reinventing himself, Sanders will continue to call himself a democratic socialist. He may use the word socialism loosely to describe his politics, but he isn’t using it as loosely as the Tea Partiers who shout Socialism! as casually and meaninglessly as people who shout F—! and S—! when no one is actually fornicating or defecating.
AMY GOODMAN: And if people ask, “What do you mean, ‘socialist’?” what would you say?
REP. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, I think it means the government has got to play a very important role in making sure that as a right of citizenship, all of our people have healthcare; that as a right, all of our kids, regardless of income, have quality childcare, are able to go to college without going deeply into debt; that it means we do not allow large corporations and moneyed interests to destroy our environment; that we create a government in which it is not dominated by big money interest. I mean, to me, it means democracy, frankly. That’s all it means. And we are living in an increasingly undemocratic society in which decisions are made by people who have huge sums of money. And that’s the goal that we have to achieve [Bernie Sanders, interview with Amy Goodman, “Vermont’s Bernie Sanders Becomes First Socialist Elected to U.S. Senate,” Democracy Now, 2006.11.08].
When he calls himself a socialist, Sanders is saying he’ll back the laboring masses over wealth-hoarding corporate management. He can put his money where his mouth is on that claim: compare his “union union union” list of top donors with Hillary Clinton’s “bank bank bank” list. Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi, who developed a strong distaste for the word socialism after living for a decade in post-Soviet Russia, says that everyman focus is not so radical:
But Bernie Sanders is not Bukharin or Trotsky. His concept of “Democratic Socialism” as I’ve come to understand it over the years is that an elected government should occasionally step in and offer an objection or two toward our progress to undisguised oligarchy. Or, as in the case of not giving tax breaks to companies who move factories overseas, our government should at least not finance the disappearance of the middle class [Matt Taibbi, “Give ‘Em Hell, Bernie,” Rolling Stone, 2015.04.29].
Anyone who hears Sanders say socialist and who responds Extremist! isn’t paying attention to the real, practical, democratic principles Sanders advocates (principles that sound an awful lot like mine) or making any honest comparison to the real extremists the opposing party harbors. I welcome Sanders’s reasoned socialism to the Presidential race and the conversations he will inspire.