Sanders: 'Democratic socialism' means security, freedom
WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said Thursday that economic security is essential to Americans achieving true freedom, a central tenet in his political philosophy of "democratic socialism."
The Vermont senator said the idea has roots in the legacies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"Real freedom must include economic security. That was Roosevelt's vision 70 years ago. It is my vision today," Sanders said in a speech at Georgetown University. "It is a vision that we have not yet achieved and it is time that we did."
Sanders' comments came during a defining speech about his views as he seeks to challenge front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton for the party's nomination. Clinton has built a large lead over Sanders in national polls and has an edge in Iowa, the first presidential caucus. Sanders hopes victories in Iowa and in the New Hampshire primary will help him undermine Clinton's dominance and create momentum in a lengthy fight for delegates.
Clinton in recent days has offered a veiled critique of Sanders for his support of a single-payer health care system, which she says will require middle-class Americans to pay higher taxes. Much of Sanders' agenda would be paid for by steep tax increases on the wealthy and Wall Street transactions. He has said his health care proposal would save families significant amounts of money by eliminating waste in the system.
"Health care should be a right of all people, not a privilege. This is not a radical idea," he said.
In explaining his views, Sanders chose in Roosevelt an icon of the Democratic party and sought to connect his values with Democratic voters, presenting himself as a vessel for some of the late president's unfinished business. The speech cited Roosevelt's "Second Bill of Rights" from his 1944 State of the Union address which asserted Americans should have the right to a job with a living wage, health care, education and economic protections for the elderly.
Sanders was not the first to seek a symbolic connection to FDR: Clinton formally kicked off her campaign at New York's Roosevelt Island last spring in a speech that touched on her "four fights," a reference to the "four freedoms" Roosevelt laid out in 1941.
Sanders said Roosevelt was responsible for much of the social safety net enjoyed by millions of Americans today, from Social Security, the federal minimum wage, unemployment insurance, the abolition of child labor, the 40 hour work week, collective bargaining and strong banking regulations.
He said at the time, "almost everything he proposed, almost every program, every idea he introduced was called 'socialist.'" But he said the federal government's role in providing economic security for Americans had become "the fabric of our nation and the foundation of the middle class."
Without mentioning Clinton by name, Sanders said his candidacy was based on creating a political revolution of supporters to demand a better deal for the middle class.
He added, "So the next time that you hear me attacked as a socialist — like tomorrow — remember this: I don't believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families of this country who produce the wealth of this country deserve a decent standard of living."
The address included a reference to what some Democrats view as Clinton's inevitability. "I am not running for president because it is my turn," Sanders said. "That's not why I'm running for president. But I am running for president in order for all of us to be able to live in a nation of hope and opportunity."
During a question-and-answer session, Sanders said he identifies as a democratic socialist because "that, in fact, is my vision. My vision is not just making modest changes around the edge. It is transforming American society."
Sanders also addressed the recent attacks in Paris, urging the U.S. to lead a "new and strong coalition of Western powers, Muslim nations and countries like Russia" to fight the Islamic State in a coordinated way. He said that effort should include the sharing of counter-terror intelligence, stop terrorist financing and end the exporting of "extremist ideologies."
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