WASHINGTON – Bernie Sanders finally delivered a much-anticipated speech on his unique political affiliation -- Democratic Socialism -- hoping to address the skeptics and embrace the word that has stigmatized his candidacy since day one.
At times, his defense of the term focused on specific policy proposals, but he also used the moment to reiterate sweeping aspirations, economic and social equality in the country, incorporating lofty language befitting the arched molding and spiritual art in the ornate room at Georgetown University where which he spoke.
Sanders argued that “true freedom does not occur without economic security."
“People are not truly free when they are unable to feed their family," he said. "They are not truly free when they are unable to retire with dignity. People are not truly free when they are unemployed,” he added. This belief that the country should strive for economic justice and freedom from poverty, he argued, was shared President Franklin Roosevelt, who argued in his 1944 State of the Union speech that Americans should be entitled to health care, education, and a basic standard of living.
Sanders joked about the negative connotation of the word “socialist” in the United States.
"I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production," he said. "But I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of this country deserve a decent standard of living and that their incomes should go up and not down.”
He insisted he wasn't some “crazy-eyed” socialist, but said his proposals -- from equal pay for women to free tuition at public universities -- are "widely popular" and all fit under his umbrella of democratic socialism.
Sanders talked extensively about health care in particular.
“All over the world, countries have made the determination that all of their people are entitled to health care and I believe the time is long overdue for the US to join the rest of the world,” he said. “I hope all of you know this is not a radical idea, but a conservative idea. It is an idea that exists in every other major country on earth."
Sanders conceded that a Democratic socialist system would include higher taxes and more taxes for corporations and the country’s wealthy elite, in addition to expanded social programs.
“It’s time we had democratic socialism for working families, not just Wall Street, billionaires and large corporations," he said. "It means that we should not be providing huge tax breaks for the wealth people in this country."
Last, the progressive who has campaigned on the need for a “political revolution," said that Democratic socialism is, in his view, democratic. “Democratic socialism, to me, does not just mean that we must create a nation of economic and social justice. It also means that we must create a vibrant democracy based on the principle of one person, one vote,” he added.