"What we're probably going to do to begin with is hold a major speech in the not-too-distant future, to define exactly what I mean by Democratic socialist", Sanders said during a campaign stop in Iowa. He will head to Georgetown University Thursday to explain precisely what that label means and why his values fit squarely in the American political system. "I hope all of you know this is not a radical idea, but a conservative idea".
He also criticized other Republican candidates for suggesting that the government should be "rounding up existing refugees and deporting them", claiming "this is not what Americans stand for".
Sanders noted that President Franklin Roosevelt had often been labeled as a "socialist" for supporting Social Security, the minimum wage, an end to child labor, and the imposition of banking regulations after the Great Depression.
Sanders invoked the "second bill of rights" that Roosevelt laid out in a 1944 address, in which he warned that, as Sanders said, true freedom does not occur without economic security. "All over the world, countries have made the determination in that all of their people are entitled to health care and I believe the time is long overdue for the United States to join the rest of the world", he stated. "It is time, we did the right to a decent job at decent pay, the right to adequate food, clothing, and time off from work, the right for every business, large and small, to function in an atmosphere free from unfair competition and domination by monopolies".
When President Johnson passed Medicare and Medicaid, it was yet another radical socialist concept.
"Let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me", Sanders said. "It is extremely sad that the United States, one of the oldest democracies on earth, has one of the lowest voter turnouts of any major country, and that millions of young and working class people have given up on our political system entirely".
On foreign policy, Sanders emphasized that while he opposed the war, democratic socialism did not rule it out and that he would go to all lengths to protect Americans from terrorists and enemy nations. "He is a very mild form of socialist by comparison to the history of socialism in Europe over the 20th Century". "Denmark is a market economy". Sanders points out, routinely, that for the middle class, incomes have fallen and that the real unemployment rate is 10 percent.
Sanders bemoans the fact that, despite huge increases in worker productivity and technology since the time of those two Democratic presidents, "tens of millions of Americans" have come to lack the basic necessities of life. Although still quite early in the campaign process, Sanders can boast more than 750,000 donors, all of whom have given the Sanders campaign an average of about $30 per donation.
"Rushing to war, regime change in Iraq, or toppling [Prime Minister Mohammad] Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 or Guatemalan President [Jacobo] Árbenz in 1954, Brazilian President [João] Goulart in 1964, Chilean President [Salvador] Allende in 1973 - these are the sorts of policies [that] do not work, do not make us safer and must not be repeated", Sanders said. "Bernie scares our mothers' generation". It's not because they have reviewed his policies and think they're scary. "It's because the word and the meanings in our society have connected it to dictatorships".
The problem for Sanders is that during his entire political career, he has run for office as a "socialist" - never mind the addition of "democratic". "I did not want to spend half my life explaining that I did not believe in the Soviet Union or in concentration camps".
Sanders speech comes just hours after his chief primary opponent, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clintongave a speech outlining her plans to combat ISIS, speaking to the Council for Foreign Relations in NY. By making the argument our past policies have failed, he seems poised to use Clinton's experience as a former senator and secretary of state against her.
Without mentioning Clinton by name, Sanders said his candidacy was based on creating a political revolution of supporters to demand a better deal for the middle class.
That angst has not been enough to deter Sanders from spreading his message of wealth redistribution which surely risks alienating a few on the left who agree with him on many issues but aren't prepared to support a federal mandate dictating how much Americans are allowed to earn.
"Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy", he said.