- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2019

Sen. Bernard Sanders’ battle cry to embrace more socialism in the Democratic Party was met with strong rebuffs this week by presidential opponents who said he’s not only got the wrong answers, but his push is damaging their party’s message.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said if Democrats don’t actively reject the socialist label, Republicans will use it to paint the party as far-left, “helping to reelect the worst president in this country’s history.”

“The word is so freighted, has so much baggage with it in this country that if we don’t clearly say that we’re not and demonstrate that we have pragmatic solutions, I think we do put at risk the White House in 2020,” the presidential-primary contender said in a rebuttal to Mr. Sanders.

The Vermont senator, who is an independent but is on his second bid for Democrats’ presidential nomination, said in a speech Wednesday that the time is ripe to embrace “democratic socialism.” He said that includes government guarantees of jobs, housing, health care, retirement packages and free education for as long as is necessary.

His speech sent fellow Democrats scurrying to distance themselves from him.

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke said he is a capitalist and not a socialist, and said tackling big challenges like climate change is going to have to involve a vibrant private sector.

SEE ALSO: Bernie Sanders says democratic socialism’s time has come

“We’re going to need a whole-of-government approach but we’re going to also need the innovation and ingenuity that are the hallmarks of capitalism to make sure that we meet this historic challenge,” the Texas Democrat said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

The most forceful denunciations of Mr. Sanders’ vision have come from candidates like Mr. Hickenlooper and former Rep. John Delaney, who have been polling in the low single digits in the crowded Democratic presidential field.

“Socialism — or any new name Sen. Sanders has for it — is the wrong answer,” Mr. Delaney said.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden pushed back as well at a fundraiser Wednesday evening in Chicago.

“Things have changed in a way that needs to be turned around,” he said, according to a pool report of the event. “It doesn’t require socialism and it doesn’t require some fundamental shift. It requires sort of reordering capitalism to make capitalism work and save it.”

Mr. Sanders’ campaign sent an email to supporters Thursday, a day after the speech, begging for donations to combat the onslaught.

“According to one reporter, when several of our opponents heard Bernie was giving a speech about democratic socialism, they laughed. And make no mistake about it, they weren’t laughing at Bernie — they were laughing at us,” the email said.

Mr. Sanders took to the airwaves to defend himself, saying socialism is already present in the U.S. — but it’s “corporate socialism” favored by people like President Trump.

“So you do have socialism in this country, except, as Martin Luther King reminded us, it’s socialism for the very rich and unfettered individualism for the poor,” he said on CNN.

He said he suspects a lot of people in the U.S. would be “delighted” to pay more in taxes if it meant they had guaranteed health care, for example.

Republicans disagreed, and have made clear that they would welcome a choice between Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans pitting their vision for the country against Mr. Sanders’.

“Bernie Sanders’ delusional view that every American would be ‘delighted to pay’ thousands of dollars in new taxes is exactly why the socialist Democrats have no chance in 2020,” said Michael McAdams, a spokesman for House Republicans’ campaign arm.

Mr. Sanders polls well above many of those critics — but Mr. Hickenlooper said that could change after a few months.

“We’ll see,” he said. “If I’m wrong, I’ll have wasted three or four months of my life having [an] amazing, fascinating experience. I don’t see a downside.”

Mr. Hickenlooper on Thursday also rolled out a new plan to combat climate change that explicitly rejects the federal job-guarantee provision of the Green New Deal, embraced by Mr. Sanders and others.

“These plans, while well-intentioned, could mean huge costs for American taxpayers, and might trigger a backlash that dooms the fight against climate change,” his campaign said in a Medium post.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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