Bernie Sanders is comfortable with the term “socialist.”
“Do they think I’m afraid of the word ‘socialist’?” he said in a conversation with The Nation earlier this year. “I’m not afraid of the word.”
Since he was elected 34 years ago as the independent socialist mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he has been consistent in his embrace of the label, and in his willingness to patiently explain what that means. He is not embarrassed or unsettled by it. It is not necessary to call him an “admitted” or “acknowledged” or “self-proclaimed” socialist. The senator from Vermont is a democratic socialist, just like the prime ministers and premiers and presidents of a long list of countries that have been closely allied with the United States, just like the democratic-socialist big-city mayors, state legislators and members of Congress who have been elected by the American people over the past 120 years.
Sanders does not see his ideology as a barrier to a serious presidential candidacy. Neither do the hundreds of thousands of Americans—many of whom identify as democratic socialists, many of whom do not—who have indicated support for his 2016 presidential campaign by volunteering, making campaign donations and showing up for huge political rallies in cities across the country. Despite the best efforts of political and media elites to dismiss and diminish socialist ideas, polls show that Americans are increasingly open to the ideology. Polls of millennials in recent years have found slightly higher levels of approval for socialism than capitalism.
Yet, Sanders is regularly pressed on the ideology issue by television interviewers.
On Sunday, he pressed back with a question of his own.
Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, Sanders engaged with host Chuck Todd in a easy back-and-forth regarding his brand of socialism.
“Alright,” began Todd, “You joked about the idea when people call you a socialist, you say, ‘Yes, I’m going to make everybody wear the same color pajamas.’”