Bernie Sanders says he needs to do a 'better job' explaining socialism as Republicans try to link his policies to Venezuela

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders told NPR it’s “nonsense” when people on the political right attempt to characterise democratic socialism as “authoritarianism and communism and Venezuela.”
  • Socialism remains a divisive term in US politics, and the presidential hopeful signalled he needs to do a “better job” explaining what it really means.
  • The Vermont senator is a self-described Democratic socialist.
  • President Donald Trump has sought to tap into the historically negative sentiments many Americans have toward socialism as the 2020 campaign season picks up steam.
  • Younger voters have complicated views toward both capitalism and socialism, especially when it comes to the specifics of each.

Sen. Bernie Sanders said it’s “nonsense” when his “right-wing colleagues” seek to “paint” democratic socialism as “authoritarianism and communism and Venezuela.”

But the Vermont senator and presidential hopeful also suggested he needs to do a “better job” explaining what he means by “socialism” and “democratic socialism.”

“I think what we have to do, and I will be doing it, is to do a better job maybe in explaining what we mean by socialism – democratic socialism,” Sanders said on NPR’s “Morning Edition” on Monday. “Obviously, my right-wing colleagues here want to paint that as authoritarianism and communism and Venezuela, and that’s nonsense.”

Sanders said that when he calls himself a “democratic socialist” he simply means that he wants “a vibrant democracy.”

Read more:
Here’s the difference between a ‘socialist’ and a ‘Democratic socialist’

“I find it interesting that people who criticise me are busy actively involved in voter suppression trying to keep people of colour or low-income people from voting, because they don’t want a vibrant democracy. I do,” Sanders added.

Sanders then broke down what democratic socialism means to him from a policy standpoint.

“What it means … is that in the wealthiest country in the history of the world we can provide a decent standard of living for all about people … That’s not Utopian dreaming; that is a reality. Health care for all can be done, and we can save money in doing it,” Sanders said.

“We can have a minimum wage which is a living wage, and I’m delighted to see that … five states already passed $US15 an hour minimum wage,” the senator added. “The House of Representatives is gonna do it. We have got to do that.”

President Donald Trump has sought to tap into the historically negative sentiments many Americans have toward socialism as the 2020 campaign season picks up steam. Just 16% of Republicans have a positive view of socialism, according to an August 2018 Gallup poll, while 71% view capitalism favourably. The president is seemingly looking to take advantage of this by tying Democratic candidates to Venezuela-style socialism.

After Sanders announced he’s running for president again last month, Trump’s campaign said, “Bernie Sanders has already won the debate in the Democrat primary, because every candidate is embracing his brand of socialism.”

“But the American people will reject an agenda of sky-high tax rates, government-run health care and coddling dictators like those in Venezuela,” the campaign’s statement on Sanders’ added. “Only President Trump will keep America free, prosperous and safe.”

The policies of Venezuela’s authoritarian socialist leader, Nicolas Maduro, have driven the country into utter chaos. The president has essentially contended that if Americans elect someone like Sanders, they will see similar conditions arise in the US.

“We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom – and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair,” Trump said during his State of the Union address in February.

Read more:
Trump’s latest line of attack against 2020 Democrats is to tie them to socialism

Trump added, “Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence – not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”

While this message might resonate well with Republican voters, Democrats have a more favourable view of socialism. Gallup’s poll from August showed 57% of Democrats have a positive view of socialism, compared to 47% who said the same about capitalism.

Meanwhile, recent polling shows Millennial and Generation Z voters have overwhelmingly positive views of socialist-associated policies such as universal healthcare and tuition-free college. Correspondingly, a January 2019 poll from Axios showed 61% of Americans between 18 and 24 have a positive reaction to the word “socialism,” compared to 58% who responded the same way to “capitalism.”

Polling also suggests young voters are still strongly in favour of entrepreneurship and free enterprise, but aren’t as enthusiastic about big business, highlighting the complexities of their views.

A 2016 Gallup poll, for example, found 98% of Millennials have a positive image of small business, while 90% said the same of entrepreneurs. The poll showed 78% of Millennials held a positive view of free enterprise compared to 57% who felt the same way about capitalism and 57% about big business. The same poll found 55% of Millennials had a positive view of socialism. Comparatively, just 24% of people 65 and older said they had a positive view of socialism.

In short, there’s both a partisan and generational divide on how Americans view and define socialism, which could have a major impact on the ultimate result of the 2020 election. At the same time, while younger voters are warming up to socialistic policies, they don’t necessarily endorse an economic model that sees government take control of all industry.

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