There’s an ongoing debate over whether Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is really a socialist or not. The independent Senator from Vermont, who caucuses with the Democrats, has long called himself a “democratic socialist”–and has often simplified it to “socialist.” He recently gave a speech defending socialism by invoking welfare policies like Social Security and the FDR agenda.

Forbes contributor Tim Worstall wrote that, while those policies may be liberal ideas, they aren’t socialism. He said that socialism is only about who gets to own the means of production, not the assets, which Sanders wants to be redistributed.

But socialism, like communism, and like many other ideologies, including conservatism and liberalism, it should be said (look at the vast differences between neo-cons, paleo-cons, social cons, and libertarian cons just within the U.S.), is a slippery concept.

Sanders often cites Denmark as an example of a “democratic socialist” country he would want the U.S. to emulate. Is Denmark socialist? Their right-leaning PM Lars Rasmussen says no.

But according to Liberalapedia, Denmark is socialist. Specifically, it is a social democracy, which Liberalapedia says can mean socialism:

Democratic socialism can mean Social democracy as in Sweden, Denmark and other Scandinavian countries and that works, Denmark is the happiest country in the world while Sweden, Norway and Finland are among the happiest. Democratic socialism can also mean Command economies which don’t work.

Liberalapedia also accurately describes Sanders as being a self-described democratic socialist:

People who have described themselves as democratic socialists include Bernie Sanders, Evo Morales, George Orwell, and Howard Zinn.

(Still, it didn’t get into answering whether or not they think his self-definition is accurate.)

When you read the “Social Democracy” page at Liberalapedia, you will find the website is somewhat more slippery on whether social democracy is a form of socialism. Here they deny that it “is the same as socialism,” but that language seems to presume there is only one kind of socialism.

Conservatives pretend that social democracy is like UN-democratic Communism. In truth, social democracy protects democracy. Many Conservatives try and pretend:-

Social democracy is the same as socialism.

If Liberalapedia were to flat out deny that social democracy was a form of socialism (democratic socialism), that would seem to be a contradiction of their article about democratic socialism in Scandinavia. However, since we are looking so closely at words, it is true that the website never said directly that social democracy is a form of socialism. Rather it said, “Democratic socialism can mean Social democracy…”

Presumably they could just be talking about what it means in the popular parlance rather than the technical parlance. But presidential elections are played out among the public, and, at a certain point, words take on the definitions by which they are commonly used.

That seems to be a point of Sanders’ speech, as well. He is trying to take an even broader view of socialism–which includes the way “socialism” has been used as a critique or a slur by conservatives of various policies–and calling it socialism:

And, by the way, almost everything he [FDR] proposed was called “socialist.” Social Security, which transformed life for the elderly in this country was “socialist.”

At the end of the day, ideologies shift based on circumstances and meanings of words change. In 1966, who could have thought the world’s leading capital-C Communist superpower would be a leading manufacturer of smart phones and consumer goods sold in America?

The debate over whether Sanders is really, as he says, a socialist will play out the same way as the never-ending debates over which Republican is a “true conservative” and which is a “Republican in Name Only” (RINO), pointless debates that are never settled, for which everyone has a different standard.

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