So, I tried to watch Bernie Sanders’ big speech yesterday, which was entitled “How Democratic Socialism Is the Only Way to Defeat Oligarchy and Authoritarianism.”
The speech was touted (preposterously, IMO) by at least one pundit as akin to then-candidate Obama’s famously effective “race” speech in Philadelphia. Obama’s speech, if you’ll recall, allowed the candidate to put the Reverend Wright flap behind him. Sanders’ speech was allegedly delivered to quell the specter of “socialism” that hangs over Sanders’ campaign.
I think Republicans are defanging the negative connotations associated with the word “socialism” by slapping the label willy-nilly on everything that benefits a non-corporate person. But while there’s zero chance I’ll vote for Sanders in the primary, I was interested to hear what he had to say about democratic socialism because I figured he’d use the occasion to stake out a difference between himself and a candidate I am interested in voting for: Elizabeth Warren.
I’ll level with y’all: I got bored and wandered off early in the speech. But I did read the transcript, and you can too here, if you’re interested. I can’t really recommend it, though, because it was basically a recycled stump speech from the 2020 race, which is basically a recycled stump speech from the 2016 race.
Americans in general have a hazy understanding of what the word “socialism” means. I am no exception, but here’s my definition: The distinction between social democracy as practiced in, say, Sweden, and democratic socialism has to do with ownership of the means of production. Democratic socialists want the people to own the means of production — eventually, and by democratic consensus — whereas social democrats are mostly focused on regulating capitalism and ensuring its fruits are shared more equitably.
If that’s the correct definition, Sanders is a social democrat, not a democratic socialist, according to his speech yesterday, as was FDR, whose political heir Sanders says he aspires to be. Elizabeth Warren is also a social democrat by that definition, and so is every candidate who wants to transform the way wealth is distributed in the United States in a truly significant way.
Anyhoo, since Sanders failed to make a case for himself over Warren in a definitional sense, the job was left to his paid and unpaid media spokespeople, including one perched over at The Post, Elizabeth Bruenig, who had to resort to misrepresenting Warren’s views in a column entitled “So, what’s the difference between Warren and Sanders?” Bruenig accuses Warren of tinkering around the margins in the conclusion:
But for those who see our political moment as a crisis greater in breadth and content than a few unenforced or misbegotten laws, Sanders’s wide-ranging, historical approach may have greater appeal on its second try than its first.
Ms. Bruenig shouldn’t count on that. The real difference between the two is getting clearer by the day.