Sanders' vision of democratic socialism is just capitalism with a safety net.By Alex Henderson
Three short years ago, the idea of a major candidate in a presidential election openly describing himself as a socialist would have seemed unthinkable. President Barack Obama had entered his second term and the Democratic Party had won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections not by running to the left, but by campaigning mostly from the center. In 2013, “socialism” was still a dirty word in American politics. But that was before Bernie Sanders ran for president and before polls showed the word socialist taking on an increasingly positive connotation among millennials in the United States. The word is still rejected by most strategists in the Democratic Party, but in 2016, it at least gets a seat at the table in the marketplace of ideas.
When Sanders officially entered the Democratic presidential primary in April 2015, his campaign was considered a longshot. Sanders, who had been serving in the U.S. Senate as an independent, proudly and openly described himself as a “socialist”—and conventional wisdom in the Democratic National Committee was that running for president as a centrist was essential unless one wanted to suffer a landslide defeat like George McGovern in 1972 or Walter Mondale in 1984. But Sanders has run a disciplined, aggressive campaign that, as of May 15, 2016, had won him 1,473 Democratic delegates and 40 superdelegates. Hillary Clinton, with 2,240 delegates and 524 superdelegates, remains the frontrunner and the likely nominee. But the fact that Sanders has made this much progress in a 21st-century Democratic presidential primary by describing himself as a democratic socialist and campaigning so aggressively on single-payer health care and free higher education is downright historic.