Most are democratic socialists; just don’t know it

If they took the time to watch Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersLatinos matter: Donald Trump and Hillary missed huge in first debate? Michael Moore to Clinton supporters: Trump 'won' NBC's Lester Holt emerges from debate bruised and partisan MORE's (I-Vt.) landmark Georgetown University Address, most Americans would come to understand that they too are democratic socialists.

The form of democratic socialism to which Sanders subscribes is as old as our republic.  It was advanced by the framers of the U.S. Constitution when they identified a need to "promote the general welfare" as a core purpose of government.  In Bernie’s words, the American government is “one that should belong to all the people; not just a handful of billionaires.”

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Sanders, like Franklin D. Roosevelt before him, has come to understand that there can be no true “liberty” without “economic security.”

Referencing FDR’s 1937 Inaugural Address, Sanders observed:

Against the ferocious opposition of the ruling class of his day, people he called the “economic royalists,” Roosevelt implemented a series of programs that put millions of Americans back to work, took them out of dire poverty and restored their faith in government.  He redefined the relationship of the federal government to the people of our nation.  He combated cynicism, fear and despair.  He reinvigorated democracy.  He transformed our country, and that is exactly what we have to do today.

And, by the way, almost every thing he proposed, almost every program, every idea he introduced, was called “socialist.”

Strip away Sanders's “socialist” label.  Examine, instead, the details of his FDR-like, egalitarian policies.  Then compare those to specific issue polls.

According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll nearly six in ten Americans are not merely alarmed by wealth disparity but believe "government should do more to reduce the gap between rich and poor.” A Pew Research poll  revealed that 54 percent of all Americans support raising taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals to mitigate income inequality.

Sanders contends that our current oligarchic political economy is rigged to favor the wealthy few.  A poll conducted last year revealed that 94 percent of voters in eight swing states agreed.  That same poll revealed that 70 percent of voters want to hold Wall Street accountable and expand Social Security. And a newly released Progressive Change Institute poll reveals that 58 percent of Americans support the Vermont senator's plan to break-up the "to big to fail" banks.

Kaiser Health poll revealed that 58 percent of all Americans (81 percent of Democrats) favor Sanders’s proposed single-payer healthcare system. 

Sanders's Rebuild America Jobs Act entails a $1 trillion public works project to rebuild our dangerously crumbling infrastructure while creating 13 million decent paying jobs.  It would be funded by corporate and investor wealth now being hoarded in tax-evading overseas accounts. Such a federal government endeavor, according to Gallup, is supported by 91 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of Independents and 63 percent of Republicans.

These statistics, along with head-to-head polling, suggest that Sanders should win in a landslide.  But for gerrymandering and voter suppression, that landslide would likely include significant gains for the Democratic Party in Congress.  The Sanders-led political revolution, however, must not only overcome the expected anti-socialist propaganda blitz that has already emerged from the Democratic Party establishment as well as the GOP.  It must also erase a decades-old public misperception that confuses bottom-up democratic socialism with its polar opposite, top-down totalitarian communism.

"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance," James Madison presciently observed.  "And a people who wish to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."  

Thus, the unanswered question is whether the great masses of the American people can timely become an "informed" electorate that understands the true meaning of democratic socialism.

Canning is a retired attorney, author, Vietnam Veteran (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968) and a senior adviser to Veterans For Bernie.  He has been a member of the California state bar since 1977. In addition to a juris doctor, he has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science.