In a Monday appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) defended his socialist affinities, and argued that socialist policies could become popular in the United States if Americans become more literate in international economic affairs.
Meyers asked the Democratic presidential candidate this week if his willingness to self-label as socialist could be "a dangerous thing politically." President Barack Obama, Meyers points out, "doesn't consider himself socialist," but Obama's detractors hurl that word toward him anyway "as an insult."
Does Sanders have concerns, Meyers wants to know, about "framing yourself" as a socialist politician, even giving the word "socialism's" negative connotations in American culture?
Sanders predicts popular expressions of socialism-induced pearl clutching will go down in frequency as Americans become acquainted with basic concepts surrounding the modern global economy. The junior Senator of Vermont sees his presidential campaign as an "opportunity to describe what democratic socialism means."
"What it means," Sanders continues, "is you have countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway, other European countries, which have had social democratic and labor governments." In those countries, Sanders says to much audience applause, "health care is a right for all people. I don't see that as a great problem."
Sanders laments to a sympathetic crowd that America's "young people can't afford to go to college." Meanwhile, he says, "tuition is free" in many other countries. Further, those same nations adopt more environmentally-sound policies to combat climate change, ensure citizens have access to "excellent childcare," and offer "strong retirement benefits" to workers.
"When people understand," Sanders says, that governments of other countries formulate policy to protect the "middle class" -- instead of the "billionaire class" -- American voters will be more amenable to socialist ideology.
Sometimes American politicians "get in trouble" for saying the United States should "emulate other countries," Meyers observes as the interview continues. Meyers perceives a "required framing" among national politicians that the United States "[does] everything perfectly." Will Sanders run into PR difficulties, Meyers wants to know, if the presidential candidate publicly admits to kinks in America's armor while on the campaign trail?
Sanders doesn't seem to think it's a problem to point out that good things happen in other countries. "We do some things well," Sanders says, but "not others." The senator cites income inequality as a particularly American problem. He further criticizes Citizens United as an internationally unparalleled legal arrangement that makes it possible for "billionaires to buy elections" in the United States.
"Some have tried to frame you as this fringe candidate," Meyers tells Sanders, and wonders how the aspiring U.S. President would "pay for" his socialist agenda if elected to the highest office.
According to the Vermont senator, a President Sanders would ask "the wealthiest people and large corporations need to pay 'fair share' of taxes." American citizens are "losing over a hundred billion dollars" in tax revenues annually, Sanders says, "because profitable corporations are stashing their profits in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda and other tax havens." Sanders reminds viewers that billionaire investor (and noted liberal) Warren Buffet admitted to having a lower effective tax rate than his secretary.
"When you talk about redistribution of wealth," Meyers says to Sanders, "some would frame" the concept as being "even worse than [socialism]."
The senator does not appear bothered by the concept that people are likely to make fun of him, and goes back to talking about economic policy and why it matters for the people's lives. "In the last 30 years, there has been a massive redistribution of wealth," Sanders says. American workers are putting in "long hours for low wages." Sanders points out the United States has the highest-rate of child poverty of any country in our peer group.
As a result of our public policy decisions, Sanders warns, American tax-payers have funneled trillions of dollars in the last several decades to the wealthiest one percent of U.S. citizens. Sanders says we need to recapture the taxes Americans forego because billionaires hoard money, or just sending it abroad, and redirect our country's public investment focus away from tax cuts and toward the people "who need it the most."
Watch Bernie Sanders laud the virtues of socialism on Seth Meyers' Late Night show: