Many headlines, political pundits, and even Tweets have had a field day calling Bernie Sanders a socialist. In some cases, the tone of the description is so virulent that it almost seems like the independent from Vermont intends to herald an invasion of Cold War Russians who will turn American into a communist state. Yes, Bernie Sanders does describe himself as a democratic socialist, but is it fair to leave the first word of that phrase out of the description? What does Mr. Sanders mean when he calls himself a democratic socialist?
What Does Bernie Sanders Mean When He Calls Himself A Democratic Socialist?
The easiest way to understand what the Vermont senator means is to consider the social democracies that he says that he admires and hopes to move America closer to emulating. He mentions progressive countries, like Finland and Denmark. Indeed, these nations have scored very well as progressive societies that tend to rank very high in studies of equality and even overall happiness. People in these countries enjoy solid social safety nets and protection of their rights.
It might also be helpful to consider what Mr. Sanders says about his own core political beliefs. In his own statements, he defines his political ideology as one that uses government as a critical tool to ensure that everybody has healthcare and a fair chance at an education. He wants to use government to keep well-funded interests from destroying the environment, taking advantage of vulnerable citizens, or slipping bad ingredients into food. According to Mr. Sanders, being a democratic socialist is the same as believing that America should be a fair democracy.
How Do Senator Sander’s Critics Describe His Politics?
It’s fair to say that even some of his milder critics complain that Sanders is too idealistic. For example, Sanders is Hillary Clinton’s main rival in the primary. Hillary Clinton describes herself as a progressive democrat. This term seems to be a bit further right than democratic socialist is in the continuum of liberal politics. However, both of them have saved their harsher attacks for candidates in the other major party.
Still, during one of the debates, Secretary Clinton said that a system that might work well in Denmark will not work in the more complex, diverse, and populous United States. Since Hillary Clinton considers herself a progressive, her criticism is actually mild when compared to those on the far right who consider Senator Sanders a communist who hates rich people. In other words, Clinton doesn’t claim that Bernie Sanders has bad ideals. She just believes that his platform is impractical in this time and place.
Is America Already a Social Democracy?
Here’s something shocking. The United States is already a social democracy. It just isn’t one on the level of the Nordic countries that Senator Sanders likes to use to illustrate his own ideals. Consider government programs like Medicaid, college grants, and even the Federal Trade Commission. Bernie Sanders is no communist, but he does hope to take the type of democracy that the U.S. already has a bit further to help protect the citizens.