This is just a theory, but it’s also absolutely correct and pretty much inarguable: Bernie Sanders ran for president so that he could turn several hours of talking about democratic socialism into a news event. Proof: Bernie Sanders spent a little over an hour Thursday making a speech about Democratic socialism, and here we are, actually talking about it.
Sanders’ address to a group of college students at Georgtown University was meant to confront the idea that he’s too kooky to be president, as the New York Times reports, using more Times-y wording than that.
Sanders did that by pointing out that Democratic socialism is based in the idea that citizens have “economic rights” to basic things like healthcare and fair pay, that a social safety net is part of what makes a strong and functioning democracy. He quoted from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union, calling it “one of the most important speeches ever made by a president but, unfortunately, it has not gotten the attention that it deserves:”
In that speech, Roosevelt described the economic rights that he believed every American was entitled to: The right to a decent job at decent pay, the right to adequate food, clothing, and time off from work, the right for every business, large and small, to function in an atmosphere free from unfair competition and domination by monopolies. The right of all Americans to have a decent home and decent health care.
He added that the same principles hold true today:
People are not truly free when they are unable to feed their family. People are not truly free when they are unable to retire with dignity. People are not truly free when they are unemployed or underpaid or when they are exhausted by working long hours. People are not truly free when they have no health care.
Follow-up theory: Bernie Sanders ran for president because of his enthusiasm for FDR’s 1944 State of the Union, and because he was tired of people drifting away at parties when he started talking about it. Oh my goodness is that Cindy I see over there — I really must — I mean— nice talking to you Bernie, bye bye!
The full speech, which you can read here, pointed out, too, that every major idea Roosevelt had relating to the social safety net in this country was dismissed as “socialist” when it was first proposed. Roosevelt, Sanders added, was undaunted:
Against the ferocious opposition of the ruling class of his day, people he called economic royalists, Roosevelt implemented a series of programs that put millions of people back to work, took them out of poverty and restored their faith in government. He redefined the relationship of the federal government to the people of our country. He combatted cynicism, fear and despair. He reinvigorated democracy. He transformed the country.
And that is what we have to do today.
And, by the way, almost everything he proposed was called “socialist.” Social Security, which transformed life for the elderly in this country was “socialist.” The concept of the “minimum wage” was seen as a radical intrusion into the marketplace and was described as “socialist.” Unemployment insurance, abolishing child labor, the 40-hour work week, collective bargaining, strong banking regulations, deposit insurance, and job programs that put millions of people to work were all described, in one way or another, as “socialist.” Yet, these programs have become the fabric of our nation and the foundation of the middle class.
Just another follow-up, addendum theory: Bernie Sanders dresses like FDR each and every Halloween. He goes door to door, talking about the 1944 State of the Union, the implementation of the 40-hour work week, and the Works Progress Administration, and he’s just so damn tired of everyone slowly, quietly closing the door while murmuring regretfully Sorry Bernie no more candy here, you take care, OK? Give our love to Jane, uh huh, no, sorry, I hear you saying something about Glass-Steagall through the door but I’m going to pretend I don’t and quietly slide the deadbolt, stay warm out there!
Sanders closed by taking a little detour away from Democratic socialism and into foreign policy, pledging to defeat ISIS with the help of an international coalition: “To my mind, it is clear that the United States must pursue policies to destroy the brutal and barbaric ISIS regime, and to create conditions that prevent fanatical extremist ideologies from flourishing. But we cannot - and should not - do it alone.”
According to Think Progress, Sanders also deviated from his prepared remarks to stress that he is not a regular socialist, and he is not coming for your grocery stores:
“The next time you hear me attacked as a socialist — like tomorrow — remember this: I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street, or own the means of production,” he said. “But I do believe that the middle class and the working families of this country who produce the wealth of this county deserve a decent standard of living, and that their incomes should go up, not down.”
Theory, last one: Sanders delivered a full hour and a half about Democratic socialism, solely so that his neighbors will stop complaining about the more-than-lifesize FDR cutout in his front yard — it’s a property value, issue, Bernie, not a personal thing — but also so Rand Paul will stop publicly comparing his ideas to Pol Pot, Chairman Mao, and Joseph Stalin, all while calling socialism “unsexy.” Just kidding, that one’s too wild to be believed.
Here’s the whole entire thing:
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Sanders during his address at Georgetown, November 19, 2015. Photo via AP Images