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Bernie Sanders, Democratic Socialist for President—Hip Hip Hooray!

Senator Bernie Sanders, candidate for President
Senator Bernie Sanders, candidate for President

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.

Sanders offered this definition of socialism after winning his Senate seat in 2006 as an Independent:

AMY GOODMAN: And if people ask, “What do you mean, ‘socialist’?” what would you say?

REPBERNIE 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” listRolling 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.


  1. Lynn 2015-05-02 09:29

    Watching an interview with Sen. Sanders he said in his last election for Senate in Vermont that he did not spend a nickel on TV advertising but focused on a grass roots campaign. He won by 71%!

    The plain spoken, not beat around the bush, curmudgeon and now presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders. I hope he is able to pull off an upset and win! Go Bernie Sanders 2016!

  2. mike from iowa 2015-05-02 10:53

    Write it in stone-Sanders has my vote for Potus,even if he does not win the nomination. I refuse to hold my nose and vote for Hillary. I am way beyond Hillary fatigue and wish she would just go away.

  3. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-05-02 14:24

    Cory wrote: “Tea Partiers who shout Socialism! as casually and meaninglessly as people who shout F—! and S—! when no one is actually fornicating or defecating.”
    Hilarious! That’s a very funny sentence Cory. Thanks for the laugh.

    I don’t know enough about Pettigrew to claim him, but I can’t fathom not being a McGovern/E.Roosevelt/Wellstone Democrat. (I used to call myself an FOR Dem, but he got all his best ideas from Eleanor.) I can’t really say “I’m proud” to have my political beliefs, as if I earned them or something. Caring for and about those in the deepest need, being fully aware of our common humanity, seems like something I was born with. I can’t remember being otherwise.

    What is beyond my comprehension is how someone can not be moved by the suffering and death of others. How does a murderer do it? What is wrong with the brain of a mass murderer like Darth Cheney that he not only feels no remorse, but he actively strives to do it more?! That is truly frightening.

  4. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-05-02 14:25

    BTW, I completely support Bernie Sanders.


  5. Cranky Old Dude 2015-05-02 15:42

    Oooheee! Socialism! It has worked SO well everywhere its been tried.

    You people need to drop those gerbils and read some Orwell. There is no such thing as “Democratic Socialism”. As soon as some people figure out what a scam it is, they have to forced, coerced and made to comply with its polices. I think Bernie has his heart in the right place but his head in a dark, moist one.

    Even with all that, I think we need somebody to shake this process up. Of course, he’ll siphon off lots of votes in the process-or maybe that’s the whole idea.

  6. larry kurtz 2015-05-02 16:09

    COD: Cuba is number 2 in literacy on the globe while the US is tied for 20th. Finland, Sweden…should i go on? The Mormon Church is socialism and leads the world in caring for the least fortunate.

    Sanders may not have a prayer but South Dakota is a failed state and Land of Infinite Vermin.

  7. Lynn 2015-05-02 18:29


    Germany formally West Germany has done fairly well historically given the geographic size of their country though I doubt the US politically would ever go to their level of socialism in our lifetime. Volkswagen Group is the # 2 producer of motor vehicles in the world behind # 1 Toyota. Their goal is to be #1 Mercedes Benz and BMW are not in the VW Group but they along with other German products known for being well engineered and high quality are in high demand globally.

  8. Lynn 2015-05-02 18:37

    I’ve met a number of Germans visiting South Dakota taking their annual month long vacation with the nice benefits they have. They also lead the world in using renewable energy and that level is increasing.

  9. larry kurtz 2015-05-02 18:39

    Exactly, Lynn, Germany enjoys the three-legged stool constructed of labor, business and public service unheard of in a country like the US that yearns for the days of slavery…oh, wait: income inequality, Sanford, Pine Ridge, apartheid are the three-legged dogs in America’s legacy of success, right?

  10. mike from iowa 2015-05-02 19:42

    US depends on the three legged economy of wingnuts,korporate welfare and the koch bros. A three legged cluster #### and all three legs play pivot.

  11. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-05-02 20:39

    Cranky, you’re only looking at the extremes of socialism. If you read carefully, you’ll see that is not what Sanders is advocating. Finland, Norway, etc. are a few of the several examples of successful nations that operate under a humane mix of socialism and capitalism.

    We can see via Russia, Nigeria and other nations that the economic system known as oligarchy that the US has recently adopted is a smashing Failure. Yet tea baggers and other righties are clamoring for it.

    Mike, I wish your description of America’s 3-legged stool was not so accurate.

  12. Roger Elgersma 2015-05-02 22:53

    Sanders and Warren are the best at articulating the problems in the economy. He is also honest about it rather than beating around the bush. Bill and Hilary did Nafta which is real hard on workers pay and she says that the same with Pacific rim countries would be the golden rule. She says she is for workers, but Nafta is not.
    Some say that Hilary has to reinvent herself. I saw one of her small group meetings on TV. She does have a different campaigning method, but I do not think she is becoming someone else. She grew up in a rich elitist situation. But she does not look at ones past but looks at ones potential. Examples of this: she married a son of a poor single mother because of his potential, she opened her emails while first lady since she was interested in hearing from the masses, and she looked at the potential and was for better wages for the people in the New Hampshire factory she was having a discussion with on her recent add. So she is still looking at the potential of people who do not necessarily have a good situation now. That is a good trait and she has been consistent on that for a long time.
    On the other hand, while she was for better wages and for retooling America, since she noticed that the machines in the factory were foreign made rather than made here, she needs to have a plan to do that. Being for Nafta is not a plan that fits this scenario. So she should come up with a plan to do this. It is early in the campaign to still do this in a timely basis.
    Bernie has the basics of what it will take and just has to follow what he already knows. The basics of challenging the elitist rich guys is necessary but I do not know if Hillary has that in her.
    Go Sanders.

  13. Roger Cornelius 2015-05-02 23:10

    South Dakotans will look under their beds for Hitler when they hear Bernie is a socialist.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-03 07:01

    Lynn, in campaign strategy, style, and policies, Sanders provides enormous contrast with Clinton. That contrast makes him an excellent primary opponent. Part of me hopes the other, more conventional possible candidates (O’Malley, Chafee…) stay out of the race so the media have just these two candidates to focus on.

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-03 07:08

    Cranky, do heed Deb’s response to your allegation that socialism never works and that democratic socialism doesn’t exist. Our Scandinavian friends have done a wonderful job of settling down from their Viking bloodlust and taking care of each other with highly socialist policies chosen by democratic processes. We Americans aren’t as good at democratic socialism, but we did a pretty good job of creating Medicare amidst democracy.

    And of course, if Cranky wants to run the Soviet critique on socialism, we can run the corporate fascist critique on capitalism. We can argue that capitalism undermines democracy by inevitably (now we all sound like Marx!) evolving into bigger corporations who use their capital to co-opt the levers of government and exclude the popular will from decision-making. Capitalism is supposed to give each citizen more liberty, and perhaps it does in its early stages, but once competition leads to corporate consolidation and concentration of power, capitalism and democracy become opposing forces.

    So Cranky, is democratic capitalism impossible?

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-03 07:13

    Roger, I appreciate that balanced, policy-based critique. You make a really interesting observation that Clinton has a history of searching for people’s potential and seeking to give them opportunity, but you show us her support for NAFTA undermining potential.

    I wonder: does Sanders have a Thune-like advantage by having been in Congress but not really gotten any major legislation passed that opponents could hang around his neck (not that “socialist” isn’t enough to hang around a candidate’s neck in typical American political discourse)?

  17. mike from iowa 2015-05-03 09:11

    In Clinton’s favor,she would have at her disposal the added intelligence of a Rhode’s Scholar in her bed some nights. The best brains dumbass dubya had available were road apples. I don’t see why wingnuts were so hard on Bill.(pun intended) He was elected to manage the affairs of this nation and from all accounts was successful in those affairs. Must be impotent wingnut jealousy.

  18. John 2015-05-03 19:26

    Very ironic reading South Dakota’s sons and daughters of Norway, Sweden, and Germany whine and cry about their false perceived evils of socialism. (Yes, I’m all 3.) And COD is: anglisch? rushan? (which was named by the Norse Vikings from their conquests, thus many rushans carry Viking genes) or . . . .

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