Invoking FDR, Sanders lays out his agenda for “democratic socialism”
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at George Washington University in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2019, on democratic socialism, the economic philosophy he says has guided his political career. | Andrew Harnik / AP

WASHINGTON—Invoking the “unfinished business” of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders laid out a comprehensive “democratic socialist” platform of an “Economic Bill of Rights” to benefit the entire country, rather than the oligarchs, right-wing politicians, and corporate elite at the top.

That platform would mandate “quality health care for all,” fully paid-for education “as far as you need to go,” a “quality job with a living wage” and the right to unionize, “affordable housing, a secure retirement, and the right to live in a clean environment,” he said.

Sanders laid out the agenda in a major address on June 12 in D.C. The Vermont senator, an independent who has been a declared socialist ever since his days in college and later as Mayor of Burlington, pitted his agenda against economic oppression and divisive hate pushed by the oligarchs and the political and corporate elite. He singled out President Donald Trump as a particular practitioner of both.

Sanders also used his address to once again differentiate himself from the other 22 Democratic presidential hopefuls. With opinion polls reflecting current name recognition, Sanders polls in double digits, but trails former Vice President Joe Biden. Both, however, trail “undecided.”

“Economic rights are human rights, and that is what I mean by democratic socialism,” Sanders said.

Sanders proudly donned the socialist mantle, while warning that detractors use “socialism” as a dirty word—just as they used it against Social Security and Medicare and now use it against unions, living wages, and jobless benefits for workers.

And they’ll use it against him, too, he told the capacity crowd in a D.C. auditorium. In irony, Sanders noted the Wall Street and the elite responded to the Great Recession they caused a decade ago by welcoming socialism—for themselves.

“While President Trump and his fellow oligarchs attack us for our support of democratic socialism, they don’t really oppose all forms of socialism. They may hate democratic socialism because it benefits working people, but they absolutely love corporate socialism that enriches Trump and other billionaires.”

Sanders bluntly grouped Trump, again by name, to dictators such as Vladimir Putin of Russia and Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. Those rulers use hatred, xenophobia, persecution of minorities, and divide-and-conquer tactics to stay in power, Sanders declared. So does Trump, he said.

The other Democrats, while blasting Trump’s hate, xenophobia, racism, and other policies have rarely mentioned him by name.

“The authoritarian playbook is not new,” Sanders said of the current crop of dictators and of Trump. The difference between now and the decades of the Great Depression was that the U.S. rejected authoritarianism—despite a mass pro-Nazi rally 80 years ago in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The U.S. instead followed FDR, according to Sanders, who opposed the dictators, battled the oligarchs, and welcomed their hatred.

Again quoting Roosevelt, Sanders said, “They (oligarchs) are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.” When that line drew a big cheer from the crowd, Sanders smiled and ad-libbed: “It does sound a little contemporary, doesn’t it?”

Above: Video of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ June 12, 2019, speech on democratic socialism.

News stories recently reported that major Democratic Party donors, whom Sanders shuts out, are creating a specific stop-Bernie movement. But even more, corporate, elite, and right-wing political interests have created “a defining and pivotal moment,” Sanders warned, not just in the U.S. but worldwide.

That leaves everyone a choice between two paths. One is led by “the oligarchs and authoritarians” who scheme to control all aspects of people’s lives. “It is up to us to reject that path and choose a higher path towards truth, justice, and love,” he added. “And that is the path I call democratic socialism.”

The democratic socialist path is carved not by the elite but by workers, people of color, and the young, who are “fighting for justice,” economically, politically, and socially. And that fight would be for what Sanders proudly called the “democratic socialist platform.”

The oligarchs, including Big Pharma, the insurance industry, Wall Street, and agribusiness, would fight that agenda, especially since they’ve reaped billions from the current system they’ve rigged, Sanders warned.

His examples, again, included Trump: Sanders said the president, a real estate developer, and his family, built a multi-million-dollar empire using government tax breaks and subsidies for housing.

Meanwhile, Sanders noted, Trump and his developer father, Fred, barred African Americans from buying or renting housing in their developments. The two Trumps pleaded no contest several decades ago to violating federal fair housing laws.

The oligarchs and their political partners may have the money, “but we’ve got the 99%,” Sanders said. But there must be a “democratic revolution” to take back power from the oligarchs, he declared. And he urged the crowd to lead it.

“What the political revolution means to me, above and beyond democratic socialism, is getting millions of people who have given up on the political process, working people and young people, to stand up and fight for their rights,” he said.

Sanders claimed FDR, Harry Truman, and even Lyndon Johnson—whose Vietnam War Sanders opposed—as policy ancestors of his form of democratic socialism. And he added Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., unconsciously echoing a point speakers made at last year’s observance of the 50th anniversary of King’s murder. King was assassinated while marching for justice, and the right to unionize, for African-American sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn.

“As Dr. King said, ‘Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth in this country for all of God’s children.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.