In defense of democratic socialism

By Travis Hunter
On November 15, 2019

Travis Hunter, copy editor

Democratic socialism is fre­quently used as a boogeyman by con­servative Republicans and the poli­cies of democratic socialists are often derided as pie-in-the-sky fantasies by centrist Democrats. However, the truth of the matter is democratic so­cialism is a woefully misunderstood political ideology, which, when properly defined, boasts a surpris­ing popularity among the American electorate. In this column, I will ex­plain what this philosophy is, what it isn’t and why the United States should embrace it.

While democratic socialism has seen a modern resurgence, the roots of the ideology in this country can be traced back to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s proposed second Bill of Rights in 1944. According to the Roosevelt Institute, FDR proposed a second Bill of Rights as he felt the first Bill of Rights had proven “inadequate to as­sure us equality in the pursuit of happiness,” because it only ensured political rights for American citizens. FDR’s new plan, which would come to be known as the economic Bill of Rights, would guarantee for every American the right to housing, education, healthcare, a job with a living wage and protections from monopolies and big businesses. If you’ve ever perused the platforms of presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, these ideas probably sound quite familiar.

Although it never came to fruition during his time, the spark of FDR’s initial idea seems to have caught fire among a younger generation of Americans. According to a recent YouGov-Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation poll, 70% of millennials say they would vote for a socialist. While Marion Smith, VOC executive director, blames the poll results on “historical amnesia” in a blurb on the organization’s website, I feel the results are more indicative of young people having firsthand experience of the failings inherent in a capitalistic society. An important distinction to be made, especially when responding to criticisms from anti-socialist groups, is defining what democratic so­cialism is and isn’t.

Despite widespread misconceptions, democratic socialism is not defined by gulags, government overreach or despotic and author­itarian dictators, nor is it a group of entitled people demanding free stuff. Democratic socialism is a movement by the people, for the peo­ple. It is an attack against greed and inequality and a method of right­ing systemic wrongs. It is a union of people who see a better future for America, where healthcare, education and living wages are moral im­peratives rather than luxuries reserved for the wealthiest among us. It’s a way out for so many people who are left feeling hopeless and trapped by our current system. Though the United States already has a few so­cialist-style programs like Social Security and Medicare, democratic socialists feel it’s time to go further.

A common question levied at democratic socialists is, “How will you pay for any of this?” Interestingly, as many have pointed out, this question is never asked when it’s time to raise the defense budget to fund perpetual wars or bail out Wall Street after they’ve gambled away our pensions and wrecked the economy without consequence. While the proposals come with what seems to be a hefty price tag, programs like Medicare for All will prove cheaper than our current system in the long run, according to an article from People’s Policy Project. Other plans, like tuition-free college, could achieve solvency through a reconfiguration of tax codes and regulations of Wall Street and corporations. It’s a matter of deciding what is more important to us as a society. Tax cuts for the richest among us or the right to avoid bankruptcy if you happen to get sick? Allowing Wall Street to make tax-free speculations or the right to an education?

The democratic socialist message has proved to have wide ap­peal among the American electorate. According to a recent Pew Re­search Center survey, Bernie Sanders, who is responsible for main­streaming modern democratic socialism, has the youngest and most ethnically diverse supporters of any candidate in the 2020 presidential race. However, the reality of the situation is none of these policies can be implemented without the votes to actually make them happen. Cen­trist Democrats often take a pragmatic approach, backing away from bold ideas, but the bold ideas of democratic socialists are exactly what is needed to create enthusiasm among voters, drive them to the polls and win elections.

“The only way we achieve these goals is through a political rev­olution—a revolution in which millions of people get involved in the political process and reclaim our democracy by having the courage to take on the powerful corporate interests whose greed is destroying the social and economic fabric of our country,” Sanders said in a speech at George Washington University on June 12, in which he defined demo­cratic socialism and introduced an updated version of FDR’s economic Bill of Rights to his platform. “My friends, these are my values, and that is why I call myself a democratic socialist. At its core is a deep and abiding faith in the American people to peacefully and democratically enact the transformative change that will create shared prosperity, so­cial equality and true freedom for all.”

I hope you’ll join us.

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