Bernie Sanders talks democratic socialism, economic inequality

Media Credit: Dean Whitelaw | Staff Photographer

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. delivered a speech in the Marvin Center Wednesday.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., gave a speech defending democratic socialism at the Marvin Center Wednesday.

Sanders, one of more than 20 candidates vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination in next year’s presidential election, discussed several of his campaign’s signature issues – like income inequality and affordable health care and education – at the event. About 250 people attended the event, which was live-streamed on social media.

In case you missed it, here are some highlights:

The history of democratic socialism
Sanders said the moniker of ‘socialist’ is often used “as a slur” by conservatives to criticize policies that have proven successful in other countries. He cited President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, a plan that he said “created an economy that worked for all and not just the few,” as one historical example where conservatives attempted to block the passage of laws by branding them as socialism.

“Like today, the quest for transformative change was opposed by big business, Wall Street, the political establishment, by the Republican Party and by the conservative wing of FDR’s own Democratic Party,” Sanders said.

He added that some Republican politicians, like President Donald Trump, lambast democratic socialism but “don’t really oppose all forms of socialism” because they support policies like tax breaks for large businesses that redistribute money to wealthy Americans.

“Trump believes in corporate socialism, I believe in democratic socialism that works for the working families of this country,” Sanders said. “The American people deserve freedom.”

‘Life-threatening’ economic issues
Sanders said the small number of “incredibly powerful” U.S. billionaires that manipulate the economy and influence public policy is indicative of the rise of oligarchy and authoritarianism in the country. He said the resulting income inequality, perpetuated by corporations, has tangible negative effects on lower-income Americans.

“The issue of unfettered capitalism is not just an academic debate,” Sanders said. “Poverty, economic distress and despair are life-threatening issues for millions of working people in this country.”

Sanders drew a parallel between Trump and authoritarian regimes led by Vladimir Putin in Russia, Xi Jinping in China and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. He said the three world leaders shifted anger about poor economic conditions into hate directed against minority communities and noted that Trump’s rhetoric fits this pattern.

“In the United States, of course, we have our own version of this movement – which is being led by President Trump and many of his Republican allies who are attempting to divide our country up and attack these same communities,” Sanders said. “How sad it is that President Trump sees these authoritarian leaders as friends and allies?”

An economic bill of rights
Sanders discussed his plan to establish the right for all Americans to have access to free healthcare and education and to more affordable housing. He added that his campaign has and will continue to release “detailed proposals” addressing each of the initiatives in his plan.

Sanders said his vision of democratic socialism is “political and economic freedom in every community.” He urged the audience to get more involved in the political process to “reclaim our democracy.”

“At the end of the day, the 1 percent may have enormous wealth and power, but they are just the 1 percent,” Sanders said. “When the 99 percent stand together, we can transform society.”

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