Yesterday, Bernie Sanders made the case that democratic socialism is a thoroughly American tradition, best exemplified by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Peter Dreier recently made a similar argument:
Because the word “socialism” has been demonized, few Americans call themselves socialists or even social democrats. But public opinion polls — including the Pew Research Center, Hart Research Associates and The New York Times/CBS — show that a vast majority of Americans agree with what Sanders actually stands for.
For example, 74% think corporations have too much influence; 73% favor tougher regulation of Wall Street; 60% believe that “our economic system unfairly favors the wealthy;” 85% want an overhaul of our campaign finance system to reduce the influence of money in politics; 58% support breaking up big banks; 79% think the wealthy don’t pay their fair share of taxes; 85% favor paid family leave; 80% of Democrats and half the public support single-payer Medicare for all; 75% of Americans (including 53% of Republicans) support an increase in the federal minimum wage to $12.50, while 63% favor a $15 minimum wage; well over 70% support workers’ rights to unionize; and 92% want a society with far less income disparity.
On those matters — both broad principles and specific policy prescriptions — Sanders is in sync with the vast majority of Americans. There’s a great deal of pent-up demand for a candidate who articulates Americans’ frustrations with the status quo. That’s what American socialists have been doing for over a century. Indeed, socialism is as American as apple pie.
Dreier’s examples of U.S. socialists include “some of the nation’s most influential activists and thinkers, such as Jane Addams, John Dewey, Helen Keller, W.E.B. DuBois, Albert Einstein, A. Philip Randolph, Walter Reuther, Martin Luther King, Eugene V. Debs, and Gloria Steinem.”
Let me add a few others, off the top of my head, from various walks of life and eras of U.S. history: Mark Twain, Malcolm X, Mother Jones, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Kurt Vonnegut, Ed Asner, Woody Guthrie, Carl Sandburg, Stephen Jay Gould, Danny Glover, Tom Morello, Harry Belafonte, Edward Bellamy, Ron Dellums, John Dewey, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Meridel Le Sueur, Dwight Macdonald, C. Wright Mills, Robert Dale Owen, Upton Sinclair, and so on.
There have also been many socialist mayors in the United States—including, of course, Sanders himself.