Bernie is Not a Socialist–He’s a Traditional FDR Democrat

The race for the Democratic nomination for president has very quickly whittled down to two contenders: former Vice President Joe Biden and Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Whether or not Bernie Sanders clinches the nomination, he’s going to continue having to withstand being called a “Socialist.”

For that matter, even Joe Biden will have to confront it since it has been resurrected as the du-jour Cold War, Red Scare-era epithet against anyone not pledging fealty to Donald Trump.

Yet while Sanders correctly and proudly declares himself a Democratic Socialist, the corporate media only repeats the latter half of the term, thus allowing opponents to equate it with right-wing dictatorships like Venezuela.

The journalistic malfeasance in the failure to differentiate between “Socialism” from “Democratic Socialism”, although not surprising, is another tool Trump and the Republican party can use against us.

A “Socialist” is someone who believes in nationalizing private industry, like banks, power plants, businesses, auto factories, clothing manufacturers, and farms.

It’s basically the antithesis of a Libertarian, who advocates total privatization of everything from roads, schools, police and fire departments, leaving them under “free-market” control.

Socialism does not mean elimination of private ownership.

That’s Communism.

There is still private ownership under Socialist governments.

A “Democratic Socialist,” on the other hand, only wants one thing–a fair, equitable society and economy in which all its members’ basic needs are met.

As the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) explains:

“Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.”

In a 2018 piece for Jacobin, Neal Meyer explained:

“We want to build a world where everyone has a right to food, healthcare, a good home, an enriching education, and a union job that pays well. We think this kind of economic security is necessary for people to live rich and creative lives—and to be truly free.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) added:

“What [Democratic Socialism] means to me is health care as a human right; it means that every child no matter where you are born should have access to a college or trade-school education if they so choose it. I think that no person should be homeless if we have public structures or public policy to allow for people to have homes and food and lead a dignified life in the United States.”

Think of it as a safety net through which no one can fall, a check on capitalism when it inevitably fails.

There are still rich people, but there is an expectation they will put a fair share of their wealth toward making sure society provides citizens everything they need to survive and achieve the potential they’re told from kindergarten up is feasible in a functioning democratic republic.

Unlike Libertarianism that promotes the idea that any form of government intervention is intrusive, Democratic Socialism understands that no thriving democracy has ever existed without strong government-subsidized common infrastructure.

This means healthcare, housing, food, wages, and education should be protected from the profit motive.

Talk to anyone decrying the “evils of Socialism,” and we will find they drive every day on roads for which their taxes have paid.

They probably attended public schools, as their kids likely do. Those sending their kids to private schools or college are still expected to pay school taxes on top of tuition.

If they have fire in their homes, they pick up the phone and call 911 without expecting a bill.

If they need police, they don’t have to worry about how much the officer is going to charge them.

If they’re suddenly rendered disabled, the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) they have been contributing to all their working lives protects them.

If they’re 65, they can start collecting Medicare.

They (most of them, anyway) pay their taxes every year with the knowledge some is going to fund the military.

They have likely utilized their local public libraries at some point.

But if they or members of their families get seriously sick, they hope their insurance policies are comprehensive enough to cover everything.

If their wages are reduced because their bosses decide to cut corners to increase their own profits, they’re going to start worrying about how to pay the bills and eat.

If they’re laid off, they might take any low-wage job they can to try to avoid descending into poverty–even though that’s getting harder to do.

We expect certain aspects of our lives to be regulated to avoid being taken advantage of.

We take for granted the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has inspected the food we purchase.

Likewise, we assume the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the Ibuprofen or Tylenol we take for occasional aches and pains and headaches.

The same thing with the prescription drugs our doctors tell us we need.

We expect our public schools to be filled with highly educated licensed professionals who have met rigorous standards.

We want traffic lights at intersections to prevent chaos.

We expect laws to enforce infractions like speeding, driving cars without proper safety inspections, and drunk driving.

We assume when we turn on faucets, clean water will flow.

Consider what happened in Flint, Michigan when this assumption was challenged.

Consider also the fact that wealthy corporations really have no problem with Socialism despite all their grumbling about it.

Conservatives love to blame our economic woes on social safety nets, specifically Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), aka “food stamps.”

They have convinced large swaths of supporters and talking heads on Fox News that by cutting off “welfare” to low-income, mostly minority, Americans they are not hurting but helping by providing an incentive to work harder and stop relying on the government for “handouts.”

But when massive transnational corporations come to Congress pleading for financial assistance, or corporate welfare, there isn’t a moment’s hesitation.

As myriad wealthy corporations buy back their stocks and compensate their shareholders, scores of their employees paid paltry wages are left no choice but to rely on government assistance to survive, thus qualifying the companies they toil for for federal reimbursement.

Not even Democratic Socialists want the government making their cars, clothing, or food.

Yet we all–Democratic Socialists to Libertarians–want our cars, clothing, and food safe and high quality.

As the DSA clarifies:

“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.”

Bernie Sanders has not once advocated nationalizing industries.

Arguably, the closest he has come to this is his call to eliminate private health insurance by instituting a Medicare-for-all-type single-payer healthcare system like every other Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nation.

Under a Sanders administration, private health insurance would still exist; it would just no longer be able to decide who gets care nor how much it will cost. The federal government would be responsible for writing the checks.

What Sanders is proposing is simply a return to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

It’s capitalism with empathy.

Perhaps Sanders needs to start pivoting to that message instead of invoking European social democracies. It might help the electorate terrified of “Socialism” understand.

But we all could use a little education on the Democratic and garden-variety forms of Socialism.

So the next time someone trolls you about Socialism, ask, “Which public service would you like to cut first? The Socialist fire department? The Socialist libraries? The Socialist police departments? The military? Public schools? Social Security?

You probably won’t get an answer.

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to Op-Ed News, Liberal Nation Rising, and Zoedune.