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. BarkingDog,

    “They will get more capitalist and we will get more socialist.”

    America was established as a restricted-vote republic with government limited to security and infrastructure facilitating individual freedom and free enterprise as the “blessings of liberty” “to ourselves and our posterity” through self-reliance.

    America is gone with the wind (attribution, and thank you Mr. Lincoln).

    Collectivists began the progression of America into communism about 100 years ago. With the nullification of the requirements for presidential candidacy, allowing globalization of the presidency, the mission is almost complete. Once Bernie Sanders achieve single-payer, America will have been delivered.

    Karl Marx and Franklin Roosevelt are smiling down on us.

    Global totalitarian, police-state communism will hold dominion forever…

    or until the next asteroid hits.

  2. What a display of ignorance. Look to the Democratic Socialists of Europe for a 21st century definition.

  3. Rumor has it that a certain “DiGenova” said there will be a general rebellion in the DOJ if Comey doesn’t recommend and Lynch doesn’t indict; the evidence is said to be overwhelming. No doubt, Gen. Petraeus agrees.

    Now that’s comforting.

  4. I don’t much care for Sec. Clinton, but I think her answer was OK.

    Bernie Sanders has said he isn’t a socialist in the sense that means of production should be owned by the public, but that is one definition of socialism. There is no reason to expect her to explain Bernie’s use of the term.

    I would rather have seen him press her on how she can claim to be any sort of progressive based upon her record in office.

  5. So why did Communist Red China come over to avert blatant capitalism? They converged.

  6. Ya pays your money, buys your ticket, and picks your poison. For me, the alternatives to Clinton are simply too: scary, stupid, corrupt, idiotic, scary, dangerous, proven stupidly wrong, etc., etc., etc. We already had an idiot Republican who caused a major recession, developed and screwed up two wars, made the US the laughing stock of the world, etc. We had a really slick Republican before that who fooled us all into a recession but sounded really, really, really smooth. He also traded with one enemy to destroy a democracy.

    Sooner or later the US has to leave the land of delusions and hunker down and fix some basic systems.

  7. This may all be moot. Hillary should be indicted for her illegal handling of classified materials. Does anyone here want a President confined to the White House wearing, in this case, a cankle bracelet?

    1. Nick – just as a thought problem, if Hillary is President and is wearing a cankle bracelet, what would be the limits on the bracelet?

  8. BarkingDog,

    Have you ever heard of Franklin D. Roosevelt?

    Have you ever heard of Medicare, Social Security, etc.?

    Have you ever read “Witness” regarding the convicted communist Alger Hiss of Roosevelt’s State Department?

    Have your eyes seen the Fed/Treasury/Military/Industrial Complex, AKA the “dictatorship of the proletariat?”

    Communism not only “converged” with the West, it subsumed the West 100 years ago.

    Have you noticed the effects of any of the following fundamental principles of communism in America;

    Central Planning
    Control of the Means of Production
    Social Engineering
    Redistribution of Wealth

    Welfare, food stamps, affirmative action, social services, forced busing, “Fair Housing,” “Non-Discrimination Law,” Obamacare, “Hate Crime Law,” HAMP, HARP, HUD, HHS, WIC, etc., have you seen any of that? How about corporate welfare/bailouts, QE, economic “stimulus,” and the floating of the currency even as the Constitution requires gold-backing of the stable “utility of the currency?”

    Wake up and smell the commissars, BarkingDog.

    They’re watching you.

    Viva Karl Marx is the cry at the Democrat convention.

  9. Easily defined as follows:

    Progressive Democrat: Wants a total nanny state, to protect them from ever having to take a risk in their life. Believe government is a benevolent people driven good, and turns the other cheek at empire, corruption and mass surveillance as long as they get other people’s money.

    Socialist: Economically clueless, but well meaning person, who believes we should all do what the state deems proper for us, and thinks the state has produced anything but misery for the globe.

    Rational person: Government’s are inherently corrupt, run by self interested sociopaths that fleece hard working people to benefit them and their buddies.

  10. So, WTF? The Despicable she’s NEITHER! Instead, a halfascist burning (Poppy) Bush, $erial PNAC Attacker!

  11. Someday the communist countries and the western capitalist countries will “converge”. They will get more capitalist and we will get more socialist. The notion that never the Twain shall meet has been proven wrong. That political scribe who coined the phrase “convergence” was right. Look at all the capitalism going on in Communist Red China right now.

  12. Communists in Socialist-Progressive-Liberal-Democrat clothing.

    The American thesis is Freedom and Self-Reliance.

    The American Revolution got rid of the King and dictatorship.

    The right to private property – personal or “moveable” property and real property- precludes any and all forms of redistribution of wealth. Government may tax only for traditional and customary governmental function such as security and infrastructure.

    Government may not “take private property from one man to give private property to another.” That is impossible. That changes private property into public property.

    Welfare, affirmative action, quotas, social services, food stamps, WIC, HAMP, HARP, HHS, HUD, “Fair Housing Law,” “Non-Discrimination Law,” etc., are all forms of redistribution of wealth.

    Private sector charity was and is honorable, vibrant and vigorous under the American thesis.

    Government is limited to security and infrastructure while the “blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” are freedom and free enterprise without interference by government.

    The American Founders established a restricted-vote republic and they feared a vote of the “working masses.”

    When Ben Franklin admonished that we gave you “…a republic, if you can keep it,” the vote was restricted to male Europeans aged 21 with 50lbs. Sterling or 50 acres.

    You couldn’t keep it. Thanks, Ben.


    Alexander Fraser Tytler –

    “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the people discover they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy–to be followed by a dictatorship.”


    Progressive, Socialist, Liberal, Democrat? Oh hell yeah.

    Communist is the term you’re looking for. Democrats will get there incrementally.

  13. VietVet:

    People inevitably vote in favor of “free stuff.” Only when voters are savvy enough to realize that it’s not “free” at all, will the trend stop.

  14. Politicians by nature do not like to pigeon-hole themselves. By asking the question Matthews was hitting low. By insisting on an answer beyond what she gave was a waste of time. Typical Democrats are a well-understood quantity in America, so her suggestion he ask Sanders how he is different makes plenty of sense. Maybe Matthews should take her up on that.

    Since FDR everyone has known government must be used to create and regulate the economic environment. There are limits of course. We don’t want gov’t picking winners and losers, but we do want it to promote new promising industries. We want the “safety net” to protect people from massive personal disasters, but not to hinder business from reaching for the stars. Until recent decades even the Republicans have believed these things — though they usually have wanted less support for individuals.

    What is a Socialist or Democratic Socialist in America today? Nobody knows. It’s up to Sanders to introduce everyone to those concepts.

  15. At 70 years of age I can remember a time when you wouldn’t even consider the thought of a Socialist, Marxist or Communist involved in American politics. Now under the guise of the Democratic Party I think you will find each of them. Young Americans today aren’t even taught how crippling these forms of governing are. These carpetbaggers come to town talking of “free”, “fair share” and they buy right in.

  16. This business about socialism being a sociopolitical system (is like arguing capitalism is a sociopolitical system) or about autocracy or about state ownership, however, are hogwash. It’s an economic system, like capitalism, no matter what Wikipedia decides it is.

    Your argument amounts to claiming that Socialism isn’t what you want but since you want the name (presumably to claim its supporters) everyone else is wrong. In fact they are not. Socialism does mean common or social ownership, not employee ownership, as the term itself shows. If you want to advocate employee ownership feel free to do so, but stop erroneously criticizing others because you want to change the definition.

    Arguments about autocracy or state ownership are secondary, practical considerations. How could you have social ownership without the government as an intermediary? Would every citizen own a share and be entitled to a BOD vote? Wouldn’t that be reconstituting the failures of both the French and Russian Revolutions whereby common control was so decentralized it amounted to virtually unaccountable authority on the part of the appointed representatives? Given this risk wouldn’t democratic government ownership be a better option? People who advocate these systems seem to think so. So why is it a problem to link socialism and state ownership? It is certainly an option which cannot be excluded, and is the most likely option given the preferences of socialists.

    Yet you want to delegitimize these issues by fiat. Don’t pretend others are ignorant when the impasse is your own artificial definition.

  17. You know what happens when this goes on in private industry? People go to jail or get sued. In government, you get a 15% raise and a pat on the back.

  18. BarkinDog:

    A hospital agrees to take less money from Medicaid, Medical, Medicare, and private insurance companies. They completely screw those who pay out of pocket to make up the difference. They do charge a different rate for those with insurance and those without. They charge a different rate to Medicare than they do to private insurance. That is how they make it up. Definitely can and should be changed. But putting the government in charge of health care when they consistently over pay for contacts that under deliver, and actually killed people through fraud in the VA, makes absolutely no sense.

    Out here in CA, the Department of Water and Power rips off Californians. DWP employees make, on average, over $100,000. They are not accountable. Their heavy hitting unions put politicians in power to keep their gravy train rolling on the backs of rate payers. They’ve had accounting scandals reminiscent of Enron, but they have refused transparency or accountability. Meanwhile, employees get 15% raises at a time when unemployment is skyrocketing in this Liberal stronghold.

    Despite repeated demands from elected officials since September, Nichols has been unable or unwilling to produce records showing how two nonprofit trusts created to help improve relations with the utility’s largest employee union have spent more than $40 million in ratepayer money over the last decade.

    Nichols could not adequately explain to the DWP’s governing board what those trusts — the Joint Training Institute and the Joint Safety Institute — have accomplished, even though he has co-managed them with the union’s leader for three years.

    Nichols also has taken heat for a new $162-million computerized billing system that sent as many as 70,000 late or inaccurate bills to customers in recent months. The system erroneously withdrew large sums directly from customers’ bank accounts via an autopay function, in some cases resulting in overdrafts and penalties for the customers.

    THIS is how government runs things when it becomes bloated, inefficient, unaccountable, and treats taxpayer money as “free money.” THIS is what happens when a government union runs out of control. It is unfair that government employees make so many times more than non-government employees, are unifiable, and unaccountable. What kind of employee do we get for our money?

    We know how government is run. Monty Python made millions off of skits involving uncaring bureaucrats. Who in their right mind would put it in charge of your healthcare, after the cockup that was Obamacare, with the lies and the staggering increase in costs to those with individual plans?

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