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Bernie Sanders Delivers Anticipated Speech On Democratic Socialism

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Bernie Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist. He's been using that label for decades. But Sanders is a contender in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. So today, he gave a big speech to explain what democratic socialism means to him. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: In a packed auditorium at Georgetown University, Bernie Sanders drew heavily on the examples of Martin Luther King Jr. and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president behind the New Deal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE SANDERS: And by the way, almost everything he proposed, almost every program, every idea he introduced was called socialist.

(CHEERING)

SANDERS: I thought I would mention that just in passing.

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH: You see, Bernie Sanders was trying to de-weaponize socialism, a term that has been used in America with negative connotations for generations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SANDERS: Real freedom must include economic security. That was Roosevelt's vision 70 years ago. It is my vision today. It is a vision that we have not yet achieved, and it is time we that we did.

KEITH: Sanders then went through a litany of proposals that are at the heart of his campaign - Medicare for all, tuition-free public college, a $15 minimum wage. These are ideas intended to help America's poor and middle class. But they don't exactly fit the dictionary definition of socialism.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SANDERS: So the next time that you hear me attacked as a socialist, like tomorrow...

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: ...Remember this. I don't believe government should take over, you know, the grocery store down the street or own the means of production.

KEITH: Toward the end, Sanders turned to foreign policy. In light of the attacks in Paris, in many ways this big speech about democratic socialism was overtaken by events. Sanders said he isn't a pacifist, but unilateral force should be a last resort.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SANDERS: Countering violent extremism and destroying ISIS must be done primarily by Muslim nations with the strong support of their global partners.

KEITH: After the speech, Sanders took questions. And the first one was about socialism - why he keeps using the term even if it doesn't really fit what he's advocating.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SANDERS: When I use the word socialist - and I know some people are uncomfortable about it - I say that it is imperative that we create a political revolution, that millions of people get involved in the political process and that we create a government that works for all, not just the few.

KEITH: Sanders said people are angry. They're working and earning less. And he hopes that anger will fuel a revolution. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.