(The Nation) — When Bernie Sanders was beginning his presidential run, I asked the nation’s most prominent democratic socialist how he thought the word “socialism” would play on the campaign trail.
“Do they think I’m afraid of the word?” he replied. “I’m not afraid of the word.”
That was a transformational answer, as it signaled a break with the politics of caution and compromise that for decades had stifled debate within the Democratic Party where Sanders was mounting his bid. It also marked a renewal of the historic premise that, in order to progress, America’s political leaders must be open to a broad range of ideas. This premise fostered the great economic, social, and political advances that tamed the excesses of the Gilded Age and its aftermath. It cleared the way for a bolder and more expansive politics—influenced by democratic-socialist, progressive, and populist ideas—that created space for the rise of national leaders such as Wisconsin Senator Robert M. La Follette, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.