Bernie Sanders’ Democratic Socialism

There was a time when the United States (US) fought against communist ideology of the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The cold war mantra was dominated by holding capitalism dearer and then came a day when the US stood victorious. It was not the victory of the US precisely but the capitalism as a preferred ideology. But as an observer of the US foreign and domestic policies, one stands oblivious of the fact that the same US citizens have been calling for socialism on the US soil when they come in large numbers supporting Bernie Sanders, a Vermont senator. He is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President of the US in the 2016 presidential election. By running in the Democratic primaries, Sanders is set to challenge the dominant discourse of neoliberal Democrats that privileges corporate business interests over those of all working people. Senator Sanders has been a lifelong supporter of the public programs and democratic rights that empower working class people. His fame seems multiplying when he criticizes the US Congress, which according to him is dominated by “Wall Street” and big money interests.

Aged 74, he has been a staunch supporter of socialism throughout his life, Senator Sanders has really shaken the US establishment lately. He has been vocal on economic inequalities in the country. He strongly criticizes the Wall Street, which has brought America onto its knees, according to Sanders. He believes that “the American people no longer want to see an economy in which the average American works long hours for low wages while all income and wealth is going to the top one per cent.” His main focus has been on middle class Americans where more often than not he talks about their problems getting multiplied every day at the cost of a few billionaires. His thoughts on healthcare and equal opportunity for education for all and sundry do appeal to the rank in file in the US. His use of term “democratic socialist” has proved both his strength and his weakness. He seems busy defending his idea of “democratic socialism” not only in the media but in his debates too. Sanders reiterates almost everywhere that “democratic socialism means that [US] must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy.” The fact is people do like him when he stands for implementing “broad-based reforms, including free tuition at public universities, campaign finance reform and single-payer healthcare.” But no matter how much people may like Sanders’s revolutionary ideas and wish to see him as their President, the US establishment would really wish to see him out as he is talking about “socialism”, which is unknown to American people.

Precisely, his thoughts are revolutionary but lacking magic wand as opposition to his ideas is enormous, especially his political rivals ask how Sanders will pay for all his policies to create a just and equal society? But Sanders plans to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for his seemingly trillions of dollars reform programme, if elected as President. If one looks at the pages of the US history, one would find that the US has welcomed change that has been beneficial to its masses. Even President Obama, during his previous election campaigns, talked about change no matter how empty his slogan of change has proved till today.

Having said that, the question now arises as to who shall be the nominee of Democratic Party? Hillary or Bernie? Though there is fairly a close contest between the two opposite extremes, one (Hillary) for status quo and other (Sanders) for a change and that too ideologically unknown to the people of the US. Despite Sanders ideas having appeal to the public, Hillary stands a fair chance this time as the word “Socialist” is a heavy pie to be digested in the US. Whatever reasons Senator Bernie may give of being a different socialist unlike Chavez of Venezuela and Castro brothers of Cuba, the media covers him in headlines, i.e. “A socialist is challenging Hillary” (The Daily Caller), “Bernie Sanders: Socialist from Vermont set to announce campaign to be US President and challenge Hillary Clinton” (The Independent), and “Why Bernie Sanders, socialist senator from Vermont, will run for president as a Democrat” (Vox). Bernie is being questioned more on why he has such ideas in the US rather than how he would implement his programme once elected as President. But Bernie has an answer that assures the US citizens that by saying “democratic socialism” he means that at the root of his idea is a profound commitment to democracy, as a means to an end.

[Pakistan Observer: February 28, 2016.]

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.

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About the Author

Khalid Hussain Chandio has been working as Research Fellow at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). Previously, he had joined IPRI as Assistant Research Officer (ARO) in October 2007. He was then promoted as Research Officer (RO) in February 2013. Before joining IPRI, he worked in different capacities i.e., Media Analyst and Junior Analyst in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Pakistan, which gave him greater insight in the research and analysis fields. His areas of research include the United States of America (USA) [Its Foreign and Defence Policy, Pak-US Relations, Role of Lobbies in the USA, and Domestic Politics in the USA]. Khalid regularly contributes articles on current strategic issues in English Dailies of Pakistan. He holds M.Phil in International Relations (IR) from School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR), Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad, Pakistan and M.Sc in Defence and Strategic Studies (DSS) from the same university.

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