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.