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Defending democratic socialism, Bernie Sanders seeks to reclaim 2020 progressive mantle

Alex Roarty, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- In just the last week, Bernie Sanders has confronted Walmart executives, marched with striking McDonald's workers, and articulated a robust defense of democratic socialism in America.

A normal campaign schedule, this is not.

Sanders' emphasis on picket-line activism is a reminder, his campaign aides say, of the Vermont senator's unique grassroots approach to politics -- one they are betting will distinguish him in a crowded Democratic presidential field.

Sanders, a self-described political revolutionary, has long embraced the socialist label and marched alongside progressive activists. But as his 2020 rivals -- most notably, Elizabeth Warren -- have adopted some ideas that are even further to the left than his own, Sanders hopes that a campaign that goes beyond rallies and position papers bolsters his claim that he is the most authentic progressive champion in the race.

"When I go out and I walk on picket line with low-wage workers, or when I stand with Walmart employees at a rally to put pressure on the board, what I am doing is using my position as U.S. senator to help organize grassroots folks to stand up and fight," Sanders said in a recent interview with McClatchy. "And when they do that, that's when change takes place.

"I see myself as part of a movement, because I believe that's the only way we bring about change," he added.

Sanders used a speech in Washington on Wednesday to defend democratic socialism, arguing that the philosophy was essential for the country to repel what he sees as the rising forces of racism, xenophobia, and corporatism.

Drawing a direct parallel to former Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Sanders said an agenda of economic justice can and must be used to defeat President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

"It is my very strong belief that the U.S. must reject the path of hatred and divisiveness and instead find the moral courage to choose a different path, a higher path, a path of compassion, justice, and love," Sanders said. "And that is the path that I call democratic socialism."

Sanders is the only major candidate in the Democratic field to call himself a democratic socialist, a label that is drawing the ire of not only Republicans, but some of his more moderate primary opponents. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, for instance, plans to give a speech rebutting Sanders' economic vision on Thursday.


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