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Capitol Ideas: Bernie Sanders defends socialism

Democratic presidential candidate rebuts Hickenlooper's criticism

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, greets attendees Saturday at the Capital Pride LGBTQ gay pride celebration in Des Moines. Sanders in an interview Friday defended “Democratic socialism.” (Brian C. Frank/Reuters)
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, greets attendees Saturday at the Capital Pride LGBTQ gay pride celebration in Des Moines. Sanders in an interview Friday defended “Democratic socialism.” (Brian C. Frank/Reuters)

To Bernie Sanders, socialism has become a politically loaded word, one used as often to scare voters as it is to describe policy.

But socialism remains a word and a set of beliefs that Sanders said he remains committed to defending.

Sanders was in Iowa this weekend, along with 18 of his fellow Democratic presidential candidates. He held a series of events focused on workers’ issues, including marching with McDonald’s workers in Cedar Rapids in an effort to push for a $15 federal minimum wage.

Sanders often has described himself as a “Democratic socialist,” and Republicans criticize Sanders’ embrace of socialism.

But that criticism now also is coming from within the Democratic Party.

Recently, one of Sanders’ fellow Democratic presidential candidates, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, at a multicandidate event in California, warned that Democrats should not embrace socialism.

Hickenlooper’s comments were booed by some in the crowd, but he stood by them, and repeated them Friday in Iowa during taping of this weekend’s episode of “Iowa Press” on Iowa Public Television.

Sanders, in an interview Friday morning, said the term socialism has been attacked for decades in American politics, including when now-popular programs such as Social Security and Medicare were established. He said polling shows that many policies that his critics deride as socialism are popular with the American people.

“I think what we have to do is sit down and talk about what we mean by Democratic socialism,” Sanders said. “What I believe in, and what Democratic socialism means to me, is that all of our people have a decent standard of living and we address the incredible level of income and wealth inequality in America.”

Sanders said Hickenlooper and other critics of Sanders’ policies should have to defend the fact that three U.S. families possess more wealth than the bottom half of the U.S. population combined, and the top 1 percent makes more than the bottom 90 percent combined.

Sanders said he describes Democratic socialism as moving the U.S. health care system to Medicare-for-all, tuition-free college, affordable prescription drugs, and a tax system where large corporations “pay their fair share.”

“We’re going to change that,” Sanders said.

Tariffs hurting Trump?

President Donald Trump’s approval rating in Iowa fell 4 percentage points in just one month, according to Morning Consult’s daily polling.

As of May 1, 42 percent of Iowa voters approved of Trump’s job performance while 54 percent disapproved, according to Morning Consult.

That net -12 approval rating is a 4-point drop from April 1, when it was -8 (44 percent approval, 52 percent disapproval).

One possible explanation is the Trump administration’s policies on trade and ethanol are continuing to contribute to low crop prices in Iowa. While the administration took one step forward this month with the approval of year-round E-15 ethanol, the move came after the Morning Consult approval rating dip from April to May.

That -12 gap is the second-worst net approval rating of the Trump presidency in Morning Consult’s data. The only time it was worse was Jan. 1, when it was -14 (41/55).

Overall, Trump’s net approval rating is down 21 points since just after he took office.

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• Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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