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Bernie Sanders Delivers Formal Address On Democratic Socialism


President Trump thinks one of the best ways to win reelection is by branding Democrats as socialists. Just one of the candidates vying to run against him actually is a socialist, a democratic socialist. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders gave a speech in Washington today laying out why he thinks it's what's needed to beat Trump.


BERNIE SANDERS: We must recognize that in the 21st century, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, economic rights are human rights.


SANDERS: And that is what I mean by democratic socialism.

CORNISH: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here in the studio now to talk more about it. Hey there, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there, Audie.

CORNISH: So why did Bernie Sanders think he needed to give a speech?

LIASSON: Well, one of the reasons was that he wants to defend against the Trump attacks. He wants to define what democratic socialism is for himself. He doesn't want Trump to define it. And to Sanders, it's about a 21st century economic bill of rights. He called it the unfinished business of FDR, Franklin Roosevelt, and the New Deal. The next step after Social Security - unemployment insurance, farm price support. Here how - here's how he described it.


SANDERS: The right to a decent job that pays a living wage, the right to quality health care, the right to a complete education, the right to affordable housing, the right to a clean environment and the right to a secure retirement.

LIASSON: So those are the things that Sanders wants to do. He'll have to explain how he's going to pay for it all, and he'll also have to answer attacks from Trump that this all amounts to a huge government takeover of everyone's lives.

CORNISH: What is his reply to that criticism?

LIASSON: Well, he answers by saying those attacks are hypocritical because of the Wall Street bailouts, because of tax cuts and subsidies for corporations. Here he is.


SANDERS: While President Trump and his fellow oligarchs attack us for our support of democratic socialism, they don't really oppose all forms of socialism. They may hate democratic socialism because it benefits working people, but they absolutely love corporate socialism that enriches Trump and other billionaires.


CORNISH: Mara, we hear a lot of this language among Democrats right now. People talk about Elizabeth Warren as the chief rival for Bernie Sanders - right? - when it comes to that progressive mantle.

LIASSON: Right. She's - has a different emphasis. She says she is capitalist to her bones. She believes in markets. She wants them to be properly regulated. Where Bernie is a revolutionary, she's a reformer. I think only one of them is going to emerge as the progressive alternative to Biden. That's the battle we're seeing now. Warren has consistently been in third place behind Sanders and Biden. But she's been using her ambitious and multitudinous policy proposals to get attention, and she's gaining traction. Two new polls - one national, one from Nevada - show her edging ahead of Sanders to second place.

CORNISH: Going back to Sanders for a minute - if he's evoking, like, the 1930s and FDR, then he's talking about big government programs - right? - that were a response to the Great Depression. So how can he sell that kind of change when basically the economy is doing well?

LIASSON: That is a very good question, and today he painted a very bleak picture of the economy not unlike how Donald Trump did in 2016 when he painted a very bleak picture about a recovering economy under Barack Obama. Here's how Bernie Sanders described the economy today.


SANDERS: Even while macroeconomic numbers like GDP, the stock market and the unemployment rate are strong, millions of middle-class and working-class people struggle to keep their heads above water.

LIASSON: So he gave a lot of grim statistics about life expectancy in the U.S. dropping, people being one health crisis from bankruptcy. The problem is that it's not going to work if voters feel like their lives are actually getting better, and that's the challenge for any Democrat. It's the challenge for any candidate running against an incumbent with a strong economy.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.