Carolyn Kaster/AP

Sanders Looks to Reconcile National Security and Socialism

The White House contender tries to blend his standard campaign message with a more urgent one in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.

Bernie Sanders had two goals Thursday af­ter­noon when he stepped on stage for his ma­jor speech at Geor­getown: to fi­nally of­fer an ex­plan­a­tion of what he means when he de­scribes him­self as a “Demo­crat­ic so­cial­ist,” and to prove his bona fides on for­eign policy is­sues.

Try­ing to ac­com­plish them to­geth­er made for a slightly strange event with what felt like two dis­tinct parts—and that jux­ta­pos­i­tion high­lighted the chal­lenge Sanders has in jus­ti­fy­ing his usu­ally-sin­gu­lar fo­cus on eco­nom­ic-pop­u­list is­sues in the wake of the ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Par­is.

Sanders said that to him, Demo­crat­ic so­cial­ism means simply that the Amer­ic­an eco­nomy be­ne­fits not only the bil­lion­aires he fre­quently rails against.

“Demo­crat­ic so­cial­ism means that we must cre­ate an eco­nomy that works for all, not just the very wealthy,” he said.

Draw­ing on the leg­acy of Frank­lin Roosevelt and re­call­ing New Deal-era re­forms, Sanders said that people are only “truly free” if they have a sense of eco­nom­ic se­cur­ity. He named ac­cess to health care (as a “right,” not a priv­ilege), min­im­um-wage in­creases, Wall Street re­form, and tu­ition-free col­lege, among oth­ers, as key ten­ets of his “Demo­crat­ic so­cial­ist” be­liefs.

“Real free­dom must in­clude eco­nom­ic se­cur­ity,” he said. “That was Roosevelt’s vis­ion 70 years ago. It is my vis­ion today. It is a vis­ion that we have not yet achieved—and it is time that we did.”

Though many of Roosevelt’s pro­pos­als were cri­ti­cized as “so­cial­ist” at the time, Sanders con­tin­ued, they form the basis of Amer­ic­an so­ci­ety today. The same can be said of Lyn­don John­son’s ef­forts to im­ple­ment Medi­care and Medi­caid, he ad­ded.

“Al­most everything [Roosevelt] pro­posed was called ‘so­cial­ist,’” he said. “So­cial Se­cur­ity … the concept of the min­im­um wage … un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance … the 40-hour work­week, col­lect­ive bar­gain­ing … strong bank­ing reg­u­la­tions, de­pos­it in­sur­ance, and job pro­grams that put mil­lions of people to work were all de­scribed, in one way or an­oth­er, as ‘so­cial­ist.’”

Sanders said con­di­tions for lower- and middle-class Amer­ic­ans con­trib­ute to the in­crease of polit­ic­al apathy. “You know why people are angry? They’re angry be­cause they’re work­ing ter­ribly hard … but they’re earn­ing less,” he said. “They’re look­ing all over and say­ing, ‘What’s hap­pen­ing?’”

The Ver­mont sen­at­or ac­know­ledged that he has—and will again—come un­der fire for em­bra­cing the term “so­cial­ist,” but that his ideas are by no means rad­ic­al.

“So the next time you hear me at­tacked as a so­cial­ist, like to­mor­row, re­mem­ber this: I don’t be­lieve gov­ern­ment should own the means of pro­duc­tion, but I do be­lieve that the middle class and the work­ing fam­il­ies who pro­duce the wealth of Amer­ica de­serve a de­cent stand­ard of liv­ing,” he said.

After al­most an hour on that top­ic, Sanders transitioned to for­eign policy—and sought to link the two parts of his speech to­geth­er with an­oth­er quote from Roosevelt, this time ex­plain­ing that without fix­ing prob­lems at home it will be dif­fi­cult for the United States to ef­fect­ively en­gage abroad.

“For un­less there is se­cur­ity here at home, there can­not be last­ing peace in the world,” he said, quot­ing Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Uni­on.

A sim­il­arly di­vided agenda was on dis­play in Clev­e­land Monday night, when Sanders spoke at his first post-Par­is rally. There, he opened with about 10 minutes of for­eign policy dis­cus­sion—which threw the crowd of 7,000, who were ex­pect­ing Sanders’s nor­mal stump speech on eco­nom­ic is­sues, for a loop. At the time it seemed mis­placed, and his trans­ition between for­eign policy and the usu­al top­ics was awk­ward. “What I say is, yes, we will lead the world in de­feat­ing IS­IS—but at the same time we will re­build the dis­ap­pear­ing middle class of this coun­try,” he said in Clev­e­land. “We can ac­com­plish both.”

As he has in the past, Sanders on Thursday ap­peared far less com­fort­able dis­cuss­ing for­eign policy is­sues than the eco­nom­ic is­sues that are the found­a­tion of his cam­paign. Throughout the first por­tion of his speech, Sanders fre­quently di­verged from his pre­pared re­marks, adding in asides or throw­ing in ad­di­tion­al stat­ist­ics. When talk­ing for­eign policy, he stuck much more to the speech in front of him.

Sanders again touched on the im­port­ance of learn­ing les­sons from his­tory, and he noted that Amer­ic­an ac­tions abroad of­ten have “un­in­ten­ded con­sequences.

“I’m not run­ning to pur­sue reck­less ad­ven­tures abroad, but to re­build Amer­ica’s strength at home,” he said. “I will nev­er hes­it­ate to de­fend this na­tion, but I will nev­er send our sons and daugh­ters to war un­der false pre­tenses or in­to du­bi­ous battles with no end in sight.”

He called on Ar­ab na­tions—in­clud­ing Qatar, which he called out for spend­ing $200 bil­lion on World Cup fa­cil­it­ies but giv­ing in­suf­fi­cient help in the fight against IS­IS—to step up their in­volve­ment.

“A new and strong co­ali­tion of West­ern powers, Muslim na­tions, and coun­tries like Rus­sia must come to­geth­er in a strongly co­ordin­ated way to com­bat IS­IS, to seal the bor­ders that fight­ers are cur­rently flow­ing across, to share coun­terter­ror­ism in­tel­li­gence, to turn off the spig­ot of ter­ror­ist fin­an­cing, and to end sup­port for ex­port­ing rad­ic­al ideo­lo­gies,” Sanders said.