Much of the media run-up to the speech that some predicted would be a "defining moment" in the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders took note of how the word "socialism" has been demonized in the United States since the 1930s. For instance, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, told NPR:
"Every program that conservatives haven't liked for the past 40 years has been identified as a socialistic program and no one has been standing up to defend socialism. In effect the word has taken on very negative connotations because no one has taken the time to define it differently."
Today, to an appreciative audience at Georgetown University, Sanders invoked FDR, LBJ, and Martin Luther King Jr. to help define what democratic socialism means in his view. He also called for a broad coalition—a NATO-like organization "to confront the security threats of the 21st century." That organization should emphasize "cooperation and collaboration to defeat the rise of violent extremism and importantly to address the root causes underlying these brutal acts.” Here's a transcript of the speech "as prepared" without the numerous additions he made.
Sanders pointed out that many reforms instituted in the Roosevelt administration were called "socialistic" in some way or another. They have in fact, become the "fabric of our nation" and the "foundation of the middle class," he said. He focused on FDR's January 11, 1944, “Second Bill of Rights” speech in which Roosevelt said every person should have a right to a useful, adequately paid job, a decent home, adequate medical care, a decent education, adequate protections from the economic problems caused by old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.
As he does in most of his speeches, Sanders catalogued the many disturbing economic injustices now facing so many Americans, from stagnant wages to childhood poverty. And then he came to what everyone wanted to hear.
So let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me. It builds on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans. And it builds on what Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1968 when he stated that; “This country has socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor.” It builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor.
Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy.
Democratic socialism means that we must reform a political system in America today which is not only grossly unfair but, in many respects, corrupt. [...]
In my view, it’s time we had democratic socialism for working families, not just for Wall Street, billionaires and large corporations. It means that we should not be providing welfare for corporations, it means we should not be providing huge tax breaks for the wealthiest people in this country, or trade policies which boost corporate profits as workers lose their jobs. It means that we create a government that works for works for all of us, not just powerful special interests. It means that economic rights must be an essential part of what America stands for.
It means that health care should be a right of all people, not a privilege.
Sanders then turned to foreign policy, particularly the fight against extremists like those in ISIS. He said he would not hesitate to defend America under attack but blasted past misdeeds of the United States in coups and other actions, including the invasion of Iraq. The nation needs to take a different approach, he said, with military action always a last resort:
We must create an organization like NATO to confront the security threats of the 21st century – an organization that emphasizes cooperation and collaboration to defeat the rise of violent extremism and importantly to address the root causes underlying these brutal acts. We must work with our NATO partners, and expand our coalition to include Russia and members of the Arab League.
But let’s be very clear. While the U.S. and other western nations have the strength of our militaries and political systems, the fight against ISIS is a struggle for the soul of Islam, and countering violent extremism and destroying ISIS must be done primarily by Muslim nations – with the strong support of their global partners.
A new and strong coalition of Western powers, Muslim nations, and countries like Russia must come together in a strongly coordinated way to combat ISIS, to seal the borders that fighters are currently flowing across, to share counter-terrorism intelligence, to turn off the spigot of terrorist financing, and to end support for exporting radical ideologies.
What does all of this mean? Well, it means that, in many cases, we must ask more from those in the region. While Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, and Lebanon have accepted their responsibilities for taking in Syrian refugees, other countries in the region have done nothing or very little. [...] That must change.
What do others say about democratic socialism? The Democratic Socialists of America, a 33-year-old organization formed by a merger of two other democratic socialist groups, has endorsed Sanders for president, but he is not a member of DSA and never has been. DSA synopsizes its views in this Q&A at the group's website:
Democratic socialists do not want to create an all-powerful government bureaucracy. But we do not want big corporate bureaucracies to control our society either. Rather, we believe that social and economic decisions should be made by those whom they most affect.
Today, corporate executives who answer only to themselves and a few wealthy stockholders make basic economic decisions affecting millions of people. Resources are used to make money for capitalists rather than to meet human needs. We believe that the workers and consumers who are affected by economic institutions should own and control them.
Social ownership could take many forms, such as worker-owned cooperatives or publicly owned enterprises managed by workers and consumer representatives. Democratic socialists favor as much decentralization as possible. While the large concentrations of capital in industries such as energy and steel may necessitate some form of state ownership, many consumer-goods industries might be best run as cooperatives.
Democratic socialists have long rejected the belief that the whole economy should be centrally planned. While we believe that democratic planning can shape major social investments like mass transit, housing, and energy, market mechanisms are needed to determine the demand for many consumer goods.
Here is the entire speech and the Q&A that followed: