Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders gave a speech at Georgetown University on Nov. 19 to explain his views on democratic socialism. Sanders began his speech by appealing to president Franklin D. Roosevelt, among others, as exemplars of America’s socialist past. “Against the ferocious opposition of the ruling class of his day… Roosevelt implemented a series of programs that put millions of people back to work, took them out of poverty and restored their faith in government,” Sanders said. “And that is what we have to do today.” “By the way, almost everything (Roosevelt) proposed was called ‘socialist,’” he added. “Yet, these programs have become the fabric of our nation and the foundation of the middle class.” The senator went on to lament the loss of faith in the modern American political system, which he claimed stemmed from the influence of wealthy special interests.
The solution, according to Sanders, is for the American public to unite to oppose this corruption. “We need to develop a political movement which, once again, is prepared to take on and defeat a ruling class whose greed is destroying our nation,” he said. That, in Sanders’s view, is his definition of democratic socialism. “Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy,” he said. In order to achieve this, Sanders said, Washington needs to refuse special favors to Big Business. “In my view, it’s time we had democratic socialism for working families, not just Wall Street, billionaires, and large corporations,” he said. Also critical to Sanders’s vision is the right of all Americans to healthcare, for which reason he expressed his support for a single-payer Medicare-for-all system.
“This is not a radical idea,” Sanders said of his healthcare proposals. “It exists in every other major country on earth.”The senator also lent his voice to the cause of tuition-free public university. “A college degree is equivalent to what a high school degree was 50 years ago,” he said. “Public education must allow every person in this country, who has the ability, the qualifications, and the desire, the right to go to a public colleges or university tuition free.” Sanders continued by describing several other of his policy goals, among them using public works programs to achieve full employment, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and combating climate change and corporate tax evasion. The senator summed up his economic views by distancing himself from caricatures of his positions. “I don’t believe government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal,” he said.
Sanders also took time to state his support for the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as for immigration reform. “I don’t believe in special treatment for the top 1 percent, but I do believe in equal treatment for African-Americans who are right to proclaim the moral principle that black lives matter,” he said. In the final minutes of his speech, Sanders discussed his views on foreign policy, stating in Roosevelt’s words that “unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.” He, however, opposed claims that he is a pacifist. “I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will never send our sons and daughters to war under false pretense or pretenses or into dubious battles with no end in sight,” he said. The senator also criticized what he called “past mistakes and missteps” in American foreign policy, among them the U.S.-led overthrow of governments in Iraq, Iran, Guatemala, Brazil, and Chile.
“These are the sorts of policies do not work, do not make us safer, and must not be repeated,” he said. In discussing the issue of combatting the Islamic State, Sanders said that America must not be expected to act unilaterally, and that Middle Eastern nations in particular must also be active in opposing radical Islamism.“ISIS must be destroyed, but it cannot be defeated by the United States alone,” he said. “A new and effective coalition must be formed with the Muslim nations leading the effort on the ground, while the United States and other major forces provide the support they need.” Sanders ended his remarks with a note of optimism. “The problems that we face are indeed very, very serious,” he said. “(But) if we stand together, if we do not allow ourselves to be divided… I have no doubt that there is nothing… that together we cannot accomplish.”