Senator Bernie Sanders offered a vigorous defense of the democratic socialism that has defined his five decades in political life today, while tying his presidential campaign to the legacies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr.
Sliding in public polling and seeking to seize attention in a sprawling Democratic primary field, Sanders cast himself at times in direct competition with President Trump, contrasting his own collectivist views against what he called the “corporate socialism” practiced by the president and the Republican Party.
And Sanders, 77, declared that his version of socialism was a political winner, having lifted Roosevelt to victory four times and powered his own career in government.
“Today in the second decade of the 21st century, we must take up the unfinished business of the New Deal and carry it to completion,” Sanders said.
The issue of socialism has taken on outsize importance for a party being pulled to the left by an energized wing of progressives seeking transformational change.
Trump has repeatedly called Sanders “crazy” and extrapolated the socialist label to all Democrats.
He and other Republicans have seized on proposals like “Medicare for all” to portray Democrats as far out of the mainstream, signaling clearly that it will be a major line of attack in the general election.
Speaking in a small theater on the campus of George Washington University, Sanders struck back at these negative characterizations.
“Let me be clear, I do understand that I and other progressives will face massive attacks from those who attempt to use the word ‘socialism’ as a slur,” he said, “but I should also tell you that I have faced and overcome these attacks for decades, and I am not the only one.”
Sanders — an independent who has not joined the Democratic Party but is making his second bid for its presidential nomination — presented his vision of democratic socialism not as a set of extreme principles but as a pathway to “economic rights,” invoking the accomplishments of Roosevelt and King.
He argued that his ideology is embodied by longstanding popular programs, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, that Republicans have labeled socialist.
Saying that the United States must reject a path of hatred and divisiveness, he said it must “instead find the moral conviction to choose a different path, a higher path, a path of compassion, justice and love.”
“And that is the path that I call democratic socialism,” he continued.
Sanders mentioned Trump by name eight times during his remarks, once more than he said the words “democratic socialism” — mirroring the playbook of Joe Biden Jr., the current Democratic front-runner, who has squarely portrayed himself as being in a direct showdown with the president.
Sanders said Trump “believes in corporate socialism for the rich and powerful; I believe in a democratic socialism that works for the working families of this country.”
Sanders delivered his remarks at a moment his campaign is flagging in early polls.
A Monmouth University survey released today showed that Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts had surpassed Sanders among Democratic voters in Nevada, a key early state, with 19 percent support to Sanders’s 13 percent.
Biden led with 36 percent, but the results mark the first time Warren has led Sanders in a major poll of 2020 voters.
A poll over the weekend from The Des Moines Register and CNN showed that Mr. Sanders was running second but that he had lost ground over the last three months among likely Iowa caucusgoers, as Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., surged to within a point or two.
The rise of Warren has worried Sanders supporters, who see her as an ideological ally who is nevertheless targeting some of the same voters who were drawn to Sanders in 2016.
Attribution:The New York Times