Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) is asked how he plans to rectify and implement democratic socialism in the United States even though socialism has failed in nearly every country that has tried it.
"Hi, Senator Sanders. So my father's family left Soviet Russia in 1979 fleeing from some of the very same socialist policies that you seem eager to implement in this country. So my question is, how do you rectify your notion of democratic socialism with the failures of socialism in nearly every country that has tried it?" Samantha Frenkel-Popell asked.
Sanders defends democratic socialism in a CNN town hall event on Monday:
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, next question. Samantha Frenkel-Popell. Samantha is a sophomore at Harvard studying social studies from California. I have a sneaking suspicion I didn't say your name right. Did I get it right?
QUESTION: It's Frenkel-Popell, but it's OK.
CUOMO: It's not even close to what I said.
SANDERS: But you got Samantha right.
CUOMO: I did, I got that right, good.
QUESTION: A lifetime of it. It's OK.
CUOMO: What's your question?
QUESTION: Hi, Senator Sanders. So my father's family left Soviet Russia in 1979 fleeing from some of the very same socialist policies that you seem eager to implement in this country. So my question is, how do you rectify your notion of democratic socialism with the failures of socialism in nearly every country that has tried it?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And do you think that...
Thank you for asking that question. Is it your assumption that I supported or believe in authoritarian communism that existed in the Soviet Union? I don't and never have. And I opposed it.
I believe in a vigorous democracy. But you have asked me the question about democratic socialism. Fair question. And let me answer it.
I happen to believe that in the United States there is something fundamentally wrong when we have three families owning more wealth than the bottom half of American society, 160 million people. Something wrong when the top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 92 percent. Something very wrong when 49 percent of all new income today is going to the top 1 percent.
And something is equally wrong when we have a corrupt political system made even worse by this disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision which allows billionaires to spend unlimited sums of money to elect candidates who represent the wealthy and the powerful.
So answer number one, to your question. This is a radical idea. Maybe not everybody agrees. But I happen to believe we should have a government that represents working families and not just the 1 percent and powerful corporations. All right? That's point number one.
Point number two. What do I mean when I talk about democratic socialism? It certainly is not the authoritarian communism that existed in the Soviet Union and in other communist countries. This is what it means.
It means that we cherish, among other things, our Bill of Rights. And Franklin Roosevelt made this point -- Chris, I don't know if you remember -- read about it, in 1944, in a State of the Union Address that never got a whole lot of attention, this is what he said basically. It was a very profound speech toward the end of World War II.
He said, you know, we've got a great Constitution. Bill of Rights protects your freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and all that stuff, great, but you know what it doesn't protect? It doesn't protect and guarantee you economic rights.
So, Samantha, let me be very honest with you. I believe in a democratic, civilized society, health care is a human right. Government should make that happen.
I believe that every young person in this country, regardless of his or her income, has the right to get all of the education they need. That's why I have fought hard with some success to move toward making public colleges and universities tuition free and very substantially reduce student debt.
And I believe that there is something wrong in America today when you got millions of families paying 40 percent, 50 percent, 60 percent of their limited incomes to put a roof over their heads, and that millions of working-class families, young parents, cannot find quality and affordable childcare.
So I happen to believe that we have to address the issue of grotesque levels of income and wealth inequality, very, very rich getting much richer, middle-class struggling, 40 million people living in poverty. And what democratic socialism means to me is we expand Medicare, we provide educational opportunity to all Americans, we rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. In other words, government serves the needs of all people rather than just wealthy campaign contributors. That's what that means to me.
CUOMO: You were asked earlier on, as a quick follow on this, what do you feel differently about now? I was reviewing what CNN's K-File had come up, taking a look at your evolution in politics. You used to argue that you should have government control the means of capitalism, energy companies...
SANDERS: When did I say that?
CUOMO: In the '70s.
SANDERS: OK, right.
CUOMO: No, but hold on.
SANDERS: What did you say in the '70s?
CUOMO: Hold on. Gaga goo-goo.
SANDERS: That's right.
CUOMO: What I'm saying is that you've changed.
SANDERS: Well, wait a minute. You know, first thought, you know, he hears me criticizing media all the time and he gets nervous about it, right?
CUOMO: One of many things that makes me nervous.
SANDERS: All right.
I was a mayor of a city for eight years. Did I nationalize any of the industry in the city of Burlington, Vermont? I don't think so. Congressman for 16 years.
Look, I said what I said, and that is I want to live in a nation in which all people in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world can have a decent standard of living. I'm not talking about everybody owning a big, fancy house or a Cadillac or anything like that. But I think we can do what other nations in the world are already doing.
I mean, the ideas that I'm advocating for you tonight, you know, they're not so radical. Health care -- you know, health care as a right exists in virtually every other major country on Earth. How much -- does anyone here know how much it costs to go to college in Germany? Anyone know? Yeah, it's free.
I once was giving a speech, Chris, and I said that in Finland college is free. And some guy jumped up and said, I'm from Finland, you're wrong, it's not free. I said, oh. He said, yeah, they pay us to go to college.
All right, you know, so these ideas about guaranteeing economic rights to working people rather than seeing in New Hampshire and in Vermont and all over this country people working two or three jobs, you know, for $8 or $9 bucks an hour, living under great stress, not having time for their kids, marriages dissolving as a result. You know, that's what I believe. I believe in a nation in which we guarantee fundamental economic rights, basic necessities of life to all of our people.