Why “Social Democrats?”

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Bernie Sanders and Ed Broadbent at a 2017 event in Toronto (Photo: The Broadbent Institute)

In the last few years, the phrase “social democrats” has increasingly appeared in discussions about American politics. Political parties outside the United States are frequently described as social democratic, but it hasn’t been a common term here. Actually, it is good term to describe the base of the Democratic Party, its beliefs, and its program and it expresses the similarity of the base’s beliefs and program to those of self-described social democrats, such as the New Democratic Party of Canada. This international comradeship was explicit in the welcome given Bernie Sanders when he visited Canada to discuss the Canadian health system. At an appearance with Sanders, Ed Broadbent, former Leader of the NDP, recognized Bernie’s political kinship and greeted him as a fellow social democrat.

While there hasn’t been a name for the Democratic base, it has been a strong part of our political tradition. Essentially it consists of Democrats who adhere to the Party because of its reformist, New Deal-Great Society history and who seek to make a reality of the Economic Bill of Rights proclaimed by FDR, with the addition of the civil rights and anti-poverty goals of Lyndon Johnson. Such Democrats believe in the positive power of democratic government to help build better lives for all our people. They believe that the economy should be regulated in the interest of the majority. In the context of 2018, they believe in jobs for all at living wages, quality health care as a right for everyone, equality for all regardless of race, gender, national origin or sexual orientation, free education from pre-k through college or technical training, paid leave for sickness or family emergency, a progressive system of taxation and a strong, democratic labor movement. If these goals were compared with those of Canada’s NDP, they would be found to be almost identical. It turns out that the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, the historic base, has a name. It is “Social Democrat.”

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