Matthews Presses Clinton On The Distinction Between a “Progressive Democrat” and a “Socialist”

There was a curious moment recently in an interview with Hillary Clinton that might interest our political science and philosophy majors. Chris Matthews asked Clinton on MSNBC what a socialist is and the difference between a socialist and a Democrat. Clinton appeared unable or unwilling to answer that question. Given the fact that the Clinton campaign has referred regularly to Bernie Sanders being a socialist and distinguishing Clinton as a “progressive Democrat,” it would seem a fair question. It is not like asking for the difference between a “raven and a writing desk”, but it received the same unclear response.

Matthews gave Clinton a fairly friendly interview and asked this reasonable question for a distinction between the two main rivals for the Democratic nomination. Clinton responded by saying that he should ask Sanders which is a bit odd since she is obviously half of the comparative question. When Matthews refused to backdown and asked “You see, I’m asking you,” Clinton simply replied, “I’m not one.” That makes the issue more confused. When Matthews pressed again, Clinton responded:

“I can tell you what I am, I am a progressive Democrat … who likes to get things done,” Clinton said. “And who believes that we’re better off in this country when we’re trying to solve problems together. Getting people to work together. There will always be strong feelings and I respect that, from, you know, the far right, the far left, libertarians, whoever it might be, we need to get people working together.”

Clearly, saying that you “believe that we’re better off in this country when we’re trying to solve problems together” is hardly a distinction with socialists. Indeed, socialists view themselves as the ultimate example of “working together.”

Notably, the Clinton campaign could have anticipated this question since last July Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz struggled with the same question:

So what is the difference? This blog has a high number of folks from the political science and philosophy areas. Is there an easy distinction?

On one side of the spectrum of socialists, you can have those who want to control the means of production, as in old school Democratic Socialists. Sanders has indicated that he is not one of those advocating such controls. Moreover, there are Libertarian Socialists who prefer less government and more empowerment of workers. Modern Democratic socialists often define themselves in terms that might not easily distinguish themselves from other mainstream political parties. They generally support regulation of the capitalist economy and mitigating the harsh elements of capitalism through welfare programs. Both Clinton and Sanders have spoken of greater regulation of Wall Street and better social programs to help the lower and middle classes. Yet, one calls herself a “progressive democrat” and another calls himself a “socialist.”

For his part, Sanders seems quite comfortable in addressing such definitional issues and appears to follow the more modern usage of socialism in the political system. Roughly a year ago, he stated on MSNBC:

“Let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me,. It builds on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans. And it builds on what Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1968 when he stated that, ‘This country has socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor.’ It builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor.”

He added “The next time you hear me attacked as a socialist – like tomorrow – remember this: I don’t believe that government should take over the grocery store down the street, or control the means of production. But I believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal.”

Here is one of his definitional moments:

Without unleashing a partisan pile on, is there a good definition of socialist today in the political system? It is clearly not the old school, control of the means of production approach. Sanders seems to define it in a way that comes close to the view of progressive Democrats in their own self-definition. What do you think?

72 thoughts on “Matthews Presses Clinton On The Distinction Between a “Progressive Democrat” and a “Socialist””

  1. Nothing like the same stale polemic w/ my coffee in the morning. It’s like the movie, Groundhog’s Day. Only Bill Murray was funny.

  2. Beldar is correct. Idjits. The average if not majority of voters can’t understand the issues because the candidates don’t present the issues. The candidates attempt to obscure the issues as if the voters actually knew the truth, that the US is an oligarchically socialist run government, they wouldn’t vote for any one.

    The voters want a simple answer to complex problems. This one’s a socialist and that one’s a libertarian. People feel empowered when they have it figured out. The reality of the situation is that every issue is a world unto itself and could and should be addressed individually with the best interests of the people in mind.

    Health care costs too much. Therefore find where the costs are redundant and cut them. Look for paradigms where costs can be lowered and follow these examples. Focus on the best health care for all for the lowest costs and then allow the entrepreneurs to make their profits.—In a true socialist state, a true capitalist state, a true libertarian state, all of this would be possible. However, we live in a country where the Health Care Industry owns the government regarding these issues and runs it as an oligarchy.

    This is true of almost all so called ‘free enterprise’ issues in the US. They are entirely dependent on the people to work them, pay for them, etc but are controlled by a government purchased by the global ownership at the top which has only one thing in mind, profits. Without the people who make the stuff and consume the stuff there would be no profits. It should follow that the people should be factored into the equation as to their needs, advantages, and rights. In more advanced countries where this is the case, it works better all around.

    There is socialism in every system, political party, and government. The questions are to what degree should these systems be socialized and for what advantage or disadvantage. Those are not the questions asked and therefore cannot be the questions answered. No adversary of Obama Care has yet to offer an alternative. Nixon was about to propose a single payer system modeled after the systems found in the Canadian provinces. Between then and Hillary’s failed attempt the cancer metastasized to a degree where her simplistic solution was confounded by the oligarchs. Obama’s attempt is not remotely the answer but it is by virtue of being an attempt better than anything else, every thing else, as there has been nothing else. The expression is ‘put up or shut up’.

    If a politician had the balls to present a comprehensive working plan to solve one of our problems such as health care costs and coverage, he or she would be taken out of the equation by funds from the oligarchs running the health care industry. This is graphically obvious and has been seen with the NRA and gun restrictions, Big Pharma and drug costs, and the coal and fossil fuel industries.

    The US system works due to momentum stemming from population consumption, and ignorance. Momentum does have a tendency to relax and eventually the public learn stuff. The idiots vying for power this time around are no different than before. They are trying to confuse and confound until the voter is forced to make a simple choice between two options to run their country of multifaceted problems that nobody understands and by voting day, nobody gives a sh*t about. If this tweeting and blogging is such a factor in deciding the positions of the candidates then perhaps the solution is for the people to solve the problems, tweet their desires, and stick their arms up the puppets.

    The poster child for the state of affairs is Donald Trump. He should never be President but he is an indication of what sort will be President if eventually things get worse.

  3. Getting people to work together. There will always be strong feelings and I respect that

    There has probably never been any credible candidate for President for whom these two attributes are less applicable.

  4. After viewing the video: the dork interrupts so much that a coherent response is not possible.

  5. Democrat is a political term. Socialist is a economic term. The question does not compare apples and oranges in this case, but compares an apple with a screwdriver.

  6. The main difference I see between socialists like Sanders and progressive Dems is socialists don’t feed from the Wall St. trough like Dems. Whether Dems admit it or not, Wall St. owns the duopoly.

  7. I think that both candidates favor the middle class the lower class, the upper middle class but not the upper class and that they believe in fair play for fair people of all stripes. Both are against the monopoly capitalism of the medical profession and oligarchy but neither will put in in those terms. THAT is the issue facing America at the front and back doors. Let me explain it this way. One group has a social medical program which pays all: Congress men and women. But that plan just pays out unlimited money to the medical capitalists. There are some other social medical programs set forth by the state and federal government. Medicare for the old is foremost. Each person has to pay to get on Part B and whatnot. But not Congressmen and women on their free plan– they pay no Part B.

    So each candidate needs to address this and stick it to the Congress men and women who have selfishly provided for themselves but not the rest of us.

    The public, the voters, are at fault. Ya can’t cure an idjit.

  8. Actually the participants on this issue were wrong about the distinction of European communism and social democracy. Originally both wanted a classless society. The communists by revolution and the social democrats by gradual evolution. Communists such as Lenin stated that the social democrats would never succeed. He was correct.
    Jim22 is hilarious because his accusations of lazy and envy were exactly the epithets which the French aristocracy used when it talked about the French middle class prior to the French revolution.

  9. There’s something humorous when you listen to liberals defend socialism by stating that conservatives love socialist programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid or the Military. Bringing up bankrupt programs (or inefficient ones in the case of the military) is really their argument for more of these programs? Socialism tugs at the worst traits in human nature, laziness and envy. This is why the conservative message will lose since laziness and envy are way easier to preach than self reliance and failure.

  10. To know what “socialism” is you have to also know what “capitalism” is. The real world definitions of these terms change over time. Calvin Coolidge is often cited as the most conservative president of the modern era-or at least the most conservative if you exclude Democrat Grover Cleveland. Yet Coolidge’s policies of very low immigration, high tariffs, *actual* small government, aversion to foreign interventionism and a fiscal restraint that seems otherworldly by today’s standards are precisely the opposite of what both parties have given us over the past 30 years.

    Sailer says that today’s hyper-financialized US economy is based on “bumhunting” to an alarming degree:

    Commenter Olorin has been using the term “dolt wrangling” to describe what appears to be one of the central methods of getting rich in the 21st Century: clever guys with spreadsheets offer attractive-seeming but implausible bets to less clever folks: subprime mortgages in the last decade, subprime car loans now, for-profit colleges financed by government loans, payday loans, casinos, and so forth. But there’s also a nonprofit side to dolt wrangling as well: refugee services and the like.

  11. Look for clues. Here’s Bill Clinton meeting with NK, Kim Jong il years ago.
    The female announcer looks like same person that announced successful test of NK H-bomb.

  12. She could have responded that the best government is one that finds the optimal balance between competitive markets and taking care of those in need. Labels are designed only so that we know who to hate.

  13. socialism in all its various configurations is a mechanism for the distribution of wealth from those who possess more of it to those who possess less of it by the holder of power. This can be done by owning and controlling the sources of wealth,or by permitting “private” ownership of of the sources of wealth while controlling the retention or distribution of the wealth produced. Always according to an arbitrarily dictated value system formulated by the holder of power. Socialists always seek to control and are resistant to free systems.

  14. If this is Mathew’s big issue he is willfully blind to the problems our country faces. I’m sick of the HRC cheerleaders like Mathews. Mathews isn’t stupid but you’d never know it as he tries hard to paint Sanders as a Commie! But if he really needs to know it seems that most of the Democrats in power at the DNC are corporatists whose most important constituents are the corporations and billionaires who fund their life styles and campaigns. The real Democrats..the ones who support unions and oppose TPP and war in defense of a brutual theocratic monarchy whose legacy is ISIS and terrorism the world over are supporting Bernie. They are the FDR Democrats who believe government should work for the people not against them. They believe corporations aren’t people. Corporations are financing tools and should not be accorded the same rights as humans and should not be permitted to avoid taxes and break the law with impunity.

    But Mathews knows that but his interests are best served by getting HRC elected to hell with the people and their needs.

  15. Paul has a legitimate and very interesting point. The problem isn’t the terms, it the people. In this case the politicians. The pols being asked the questions have no real fixed beliefs, they simply say what they think will “work”. Thus, what they say varies over time depending on who is asking, where & why. Definitions per se are not possible for them.

    The other possibility is there has become no difference between Socialism and the political beliefs of the average, liberal Democratic pol, but they just don’t regard it as politically expedient to admit their beliefs.

  16. I think that socialists, communists, social democrats have redefined themselves so many times that they no longer know what they are. They stick on the label they are comfortable with and run with it.

  17. Socialism is sacrificing the individual on the alter of the state. Democracy is in Socrates words “tyranny of the majority”. A Republic enshrines the individual.

    Have you ever met, seen, spoken to, or known an individual? Have you ever met, seen, spoken to, or known a society? One is real and one is a mental construct. Can you tell which is which?

  18. He asked her the wrong question. If these reporters are going to remain so obviously deferential to their pet candidates, as evidenced by them consistently lobbing easy ones at the Democrats and not requiring full and complete answers to questions of any substance, why not just ask her the difference between a pantsuit and a leisure suit? At least that’s entertaining. A nice cotton/rayon blend or the full monty, going with 100% poly? My money’s on the 100% poly–it’s hot but it stretches.

  19. From each according to one’s ability to each according to their needs? Now, is that a Socialist or a progressive Democrat?

    Now…let’s define the terms ability and need.

    Capitalism — Communism, the full range. Both incorporate the ability and need. One will always fail…anyone remember the pictures of Poland right after the USSR dissolved? Now check Bejing. Chinese famine and epidemics last year, gorgeous buildings.

    Obamanomics, ACA …how’re they working for us? Let’s take the fines (Seattle Times) …IRS take out of tax return? Just don’t have money refunded. ER usage is actually up.

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