WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Sunday that if he becomes president in 2016, he will bring "a real political shake-up" that lifts the nation's poorest while stemming the proliferation of millionaires and billionaires.
In other words, he said he wants to make America look more like Scandinavia.
During an interview on ABC's "This Week," host George Stephanopoulos asked the 73-year-old Vermont senator if it's really possible for someone like him to be elected president. Sanders, who identifies as a democratic socialist, announced his White House run last week.
"Well, so long as we know what democratic socialism is," he said. "And if we know that in countries, in Scandinavia, like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, they are very democratic countries, obviously. The voter turnout is a lot higher than it is in the United States. In those countries, health care is the right of all people. And in those countries, college education, graduate school is free."
When Stephanopoulos said Republicans were likely to jump all over Sanders for saying the U.S. should be more like Scandinavia, the senator said he has no problem with that.
"That's right. And what's wrong with that?" Sanders said. "What's wrong when you have more income and wealth equality? What's wrong when they have a stronger middle class in many ways than we do, higher minimum wage than we do, and they are stronger on the environment than we do?"
"The fact of the matter is, we do a lot in our country, which is good," he added. "But we can learn from other countries."
As The Huffington Post's Jonathan Cohn notes, there's an important distinction between a democratic socialist and what many Americans may think of when they hear the word "socialist." Democratic socialism is a milder, more aspirational form of the ideology. Instead of actively pursuing the goal of government running large industries, a democratic socialist focuses on far less radical objectives, like making the welfare state more generous and limiting the influence of money on politics.
When asked about taking on Hillary Clinton, Sanders said he's the only candidate focused on the fact that the top 1 percent of Americans has almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. He noted that he raised $1.5 million on the first day of his campaign. The average contribution? $43.
"Nobody thought that I would be elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Very few people thought that I would beat an incumbent Republican to become United States congressman from Vermont by 16 points. And people weren't so sure I could beat the richest person in Vermont to become a United States senator," Sanders said.
"So I would say, don't underestimate me."