Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders has right goal, wrong target in fight to help low-wage workers Democrats in standoff over minimum wage Sanders votes against Biden USDA nominee Vilsack MORE mounted a vigorous defense of democratic socialism Thursday as he sought to persuade Americans to go beyond the stigma of the phrase and see him as electable.

"Democratic socialism means that we must reform a political system in America today which is not only grossly unfair but, in many respects, corrupt," he said during an address at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.

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"If we are serious about transforming our country, if we are serious about rebuilding the middle class, if we are serious about reinvigorating our democracy, we need to develop a political movement which, once again, is prepared to take on and defeat a ruling class whose greed is destroying our nation."

Connecting democratic socialsm to the major social justice fights now part of the American fabric, Sanders drew heavily on comparisons to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's expansion of the social safety net, noting that policies like the minimum wage, 40-hour work week, collective bargaining, banking regulations and abolishing child labor were called "socialist" when first proposed. 

"These vitally important programs were derided by the right wing as socialist programs that were a threat to our American way of life," he said. 

"Yet, these programs have become the fabric of our nation and the foundation of the middle class."

Sanders, who spent about an hour addressing the meaning of democratic socialism, also framed democratic socialism as an ideology that "builds on what Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1968 when he stated that; 'This country has socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor.'" 

The crux of his speech echoed a familiar note for the Vermont senator who has made income inequality a central part of his presidential campaign. 

He ran down statistics about the consolidation of wealth at the top of the economic strata, as well as stagnating wages and the prevalence of poverty.

"We must not accept a nation in which billionaires compete as to the size of their super-yachts, while children in America go hungry and veterans, men and women who put their lives on the line to defend us, sleep out on the streets," he said to an engaged audience.

"In my view, it’s time we had democratic socialism for working families," he said.

He leaned into his call for a single-payer health care system that goes even further than ObamaCare.

"The Affordable Care Act, which I helped write and voted for, is a step forward for this country. But we must build on it and go further," he said. 

"Medicare for all would not only guarantee health care for all people... it would radically improve the lives of all Americans and bring about significant improvements in our economy."

The speech has been in the works for weeks—his team first floated the prospect of a speech to CNN days after the mid-October Democratic debate, where Anderson Cooper immediately questioned the electability of “any kind of socialist” with his first question to Sanders.

“We're gonna win because first, we're gonna explain what democratic socialism is,” Sanders replied before jumping into an explanation about how he sees it as fighting income inequality and providing an equitable safety net for all. 

But that drew criticism from Democratic frontrunner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCruz: Wife 'pretty pissed' about leaked Cancun texts CBC would back Young for OMB if Tanden falls Hillary Clinton to co-write political thriller MORE, who chided that while Sanders lauded countries like Denmark for their democratic socialist policies, "we are not Denmark."