The Daily Bern: How Bernie Sanders Should Have Answered the Socialist Question

photo by ND

The crowd at the Oct. 13 Democratic debate party held at East Nashville’s Lipstick Lounge whooped and cheered for Bernie Sanders’ performance. (Organizer Lori, pictured at right, was among the Berners. She did a super job!)  I think Bernie did a great job communicating his message and distinguishing himself from the other four candidates on the stage. He had numerous standout moments: Like him, I’m tired of hearing about Hillary’s damn emails; good for him for saying so. He said loudly and without equivocation: Black lives matter. His passion for the people and for fighting against income inequality were evident for all to see. And this… this crushed:

“Congress doesn’t regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress.”

While the mainstream media kowtows to the Clinton machine — yes, she was polished and prepared — their claim that she won handily and that Bernie looked like a flailing old man is, to quote an uncharacteristically angry Tim Gunn, bullshit. Sanders rocked. The lamestreamers at Time Warner (one of Hillary’s biggest contributors) and NPR may wave the Hillary Won! banner, but many polls say something different.

However, there is always room for improvement. For  today’s Daily Bern, we present a guest writer who offers what may have been a better answer when Anderson Cooper asked him about being a socialist.

First: Here is what Bernie said in Las Vegas Tuesday night:

Progressive historian and contributor Bernard Weisberger shares what he thinks Sanders should have said to answer the question. He also notes, in response to Hillary’s insistence that “We are not Denmark,” that this country being the US doesn’t preclude us from learning something from Denmark.

Well, first of all, the last I heard Vermont was still an American state and the people of Burlington elected me as mayor four times and were satisfied because I gave them an honest and efficient administration. Then the people of the state as a whole sent me back to the House of Representatives several times, and next to the Senate. They responded to substance, not labels. I think we’re still smart enough to do that.

[As for our not being Denmark, I am not trying to turn the United States into Denmark or any other country in the world. But if we look and see that Denmark has a health care system that treats its people better than ours at lower cost, just as an example, are we forbidden to try it because it hasn’t got a “Made in America” label on it? We’re a lot smarter than that — and saying otherwise is a slander on our people.]

I consider myself a social democrat, yes. And for me, what social democracy simply means is a system that leaves room for small enterprises and individual liberty but also recognizes the fact that we’re all part of a larger community, and what hurts any one group of us eventually hurts us all. So there are some things we don’t leave to the so-called free market. We don’t want people going hungry or suffering from sickness or at the bottom of the ladder in educational attainments because they can’t afford them — especially when in economic downturns millions of us lose jobs through no fault of our own. So we tax ourselves to put money into a common kitty to make sure those things don’t happen and we’re all the better off for it. In other words we agree to bear each others’ burdens and make others’ suffering our concern, bound in “brotherly affection.” A far cry from the virtues of unrestricted and unregulated winner-take-all competition.

And do you know that that’s a basic American idea? What I just said comes straight from a sermon preached by minister John Winthrop to the band of fellow Puritans landing in Massachusetts in 1634. And it’s an idea picked up again and again throughout our history, from early state laws providing for public health and safety and punishing fraud, right on through to the Progressive period and the New Deal when we provided security for our elders, strengthened the bargaining power of workers, created public works programs to stimulate employment and spending, opened space for small business by breaking trusts, and reduced inequality to reasonable levels — without touching the basics of capitalism. That’s the American way and always has been, and I could name a long list of American heroes who embraced it if there were time. So let’s move past labels and start addressing the crises we face now.

Originally published at and shared via a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

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