Though it seems like no topic has been too taboo for the 2016 presidential election, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic Presidential Nomination has been bogged down by the dreaded S-word.
Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, offered a vigorous defense against detractors during a speech at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. on Nov. 19. And he didn’t shy away from using the term "socialism" during his hour-long address.
"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,” he said, according to The Hill.
Sanders noted that many of the federal programs most Americans accept as a part of everyday life, like a 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, unionization and bank regulations, were once considered a part of socialism when proposed during President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's time in office.
"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."
However, Sanders was also keen to explain what Democratic socialism doesn’t entail, The New York Times reported.
“The next time you hear me attacked as a socialist, remember this,” he said. “I don’t believe government should own the grocery store down the street or control the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal.”
Sanders has targeted income inequality throughout his campaign and cited economic data to explain why the issue is critical.
"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.
Sanders, who has been trailing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the polls, had an engaged and eager crowd. Students reportedly waited for hours in the rain for Sanders to speak.
Still the Vermont senator insists he’s not as hard line as critics say; rather, he argues that he’s seeking “transformational” change that would engage more people who have been alienated by the U.S.’s politics.
“These are not radical, extremist ideas,” Sanders said. “I am not coming before the American people saying, ‘Look I am this wild-eyed socialist.’”