The Semantic Mess Bernie Sanders Created
Okay, here we go. A year and a half until the 2020 election and I’m still having this stupid semantics argument. So I’m writing this article that I (and you) can copy-paste to avoid having it.
Do you remember what you thought about “Democratic Socialism” before 2015? Probably not, Bernie Sanders made that term mainstream for the 2016 election. The reason you haven’t heard of it is because the idea of “Socialism” in the United States is so far removed from U.S. politics people didn’t even consider putting it on their platform. “Democratic Socialism” became a mainstream term in 2015 after Bernie Sanders labelled himself as one.
The thing is, he got the definition wrong.
This is what Democratic Socialism is:
And this is what Social Democracy is:
(Notice the “not to be confused with” notes at the top)
So that settles that, right? Since Bernie Sanders’ policies are entirely about creating strong social welfare policies like healthcare, education, housing, and other economic safety nets- and not about literally seizing the means of production and eliminating private property- we can see that that his platform is more aligned with the “Socially Democratic” ideology. We can all understand the difference between the two phrases, agree that Bernie Sanders is actually more of a Social Democrat, and move on to more productive discussion.
Except we fucking can’t. Because that’s not how language works. The dictionary definition of both words were used mainly by academics and people discussing different political theories. The mainstream definition of “Democratic Socialism” has now come to mean “What Bernie Sanders believes” after his rise in popularity and his popularization of the INCORRECT USE OF THE TERM. But it’s not incorrect anymore- because consensus among linguists is that what is correct and what is incorrect isn’t what is written in the dictionary- it’s how the language is used. And the way the language is used, “Democratic Socialism” is defined as “What Bernie Sanders believes” (as of 2016) and “Social Democracy” is defined as “What? Oh I haven’t heard of that before, but that sounds right.”; No matter how many times Wikipedia links to each entry as “Not to be confused with each other” and no matter how times it makes your political science professor upset, that is the new definition.
So where does this leave us? The same place it leaves us in the tired old “Nazi Party means National Socialist German Workers Party” argument, where rather than arguing about ideologies and actions and events, we argue about what words mean, the semantics; the only policy Nazis had that touched on “socialism” was murdering communists in concentration camps- but that doesn’t matter because “Socialist” is literally in the name, right? Wow look at you kid, trying to tell socialists they aren’t actually socialist, laughing emoji.
Why Bernie Sanders Chose to Create this Mess
And we know why Bernie Sanders labelled himself as a “Democratic Socialist” instead of a “Social Democrat”. It wasn't a mistake, it was calculated- He did it because being a “Social Democrat” sounds lame, the term sounds like an uninteresting flavor of Democrat. The word “Socialist” gets the people going- makes all the Millenials want to go into their closet and grab that Che Guevera shirt from freshman year and head off to a rally. It fires neurons in the brain that say “Revolution!” and “Mass socio-economic change!”; And it worked- Bernie got the youth behind him. At the same time the word “Socialism” fires neurons in the brains of Baby Boomers that say “Communism!”, “Hundreds of millions of people died!”, “Stalin, Mao, Castro, the Nazis!”
But I can’t say “He’s not a Democratic Socialist”, because that’s not what it means depending on who you talk to- and I can’t have an actual fucking discussion with people about his actual fucking socially democratic policies related to social programs and taxing the rich because I have to argue about the kill counts of Stalin and Hitler who didn’t have ideologies anywhere near the actual fucking policies Bernie has, but since they both labelled their beliefs as “Socialism” I need to send you those two Wikipedia articles, hope you read them (and hope you don’t live in 2008 where you still think Wikipedia is still an unreliable source for dictionary definitions). Otherwise I need to explain it in the comments personally, and by time I explain it through this 500 word essay and we can actually move on to discussing the effectiveness of these policies currently implemented in capitalist Nordic countries, we’re both exhausted and don’t want to talk about it anymore. And this is all Bernie Sanders fault.