The Transitive Defense for Democratic Socialism

I doubt I’m going to get hold of a transcript of Bernie Sanders’ speech at Georgetown this afternoon before I sign off today. So I’ll just offer one basic thought after looking at some press summaries. It seemed Sanders’ main tactic was to describe some successful and popular FDR policy, note that it had been called “socialist,” and then invoke his own idea of democratic socialism as nothing but FDR redux. It’s a sort of transitive defense of his ideological label.

Since FDR was not himself in the habit of using the s-word (though he was pretty comfortable associating with socialists and even communists), that’s probably about the best Bernie could do. It does, however, inevitably make the listeners wonder why Sanders hasn’t just called himself a “progressive” or a “liberal” like all those other FDR-worshiping Democrats.

I assume the answer to that has its roots deep in Bernie’s young adulthood and in the factional politics of his adopted state of Vermont, which he moved to in the rather polarizing year of 1968. I think it’s reasonably plain he’s continued to embrace “democratic socialism” all these years along with refusing to affiliate with the Donkey Party because it establishes him as being to the left of Democrats by most conventional understandings of the term. Some Democrats probably think the FDR tradition is left of the party’s center, too; others would strongly disagree. In any event, yes, Republicans are being grossly demagogic in treating Bernie like he is Karl Kautsky, but it is a problem he brought onto himself. I hope those who actually listen to him get some education and inspiration; FDR quotes are good for the soul.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.