How Brooklyn Turned Bernie Sanders Into a Democratic Socialist

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Bernie Sanders in Brooklyn. Art by Mr. Fish.

The astounding political success of Bernie Sanders, a self-declared democratic socialist from a working class family in Brooklyn, was as unexpected as it is groundbreaking. Part of the left-wing leader’s appeal has undeniably been his profound understanding of the need to advance and protect the rights of working class Americans from the excesses of capitalism. On this week’s installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” Dr. Theodore Hamm, the author of “Bernie's Brooklyn: How Growing Up in the New Deal City Shaped Bernie Sanders' Politics,” examines how the Vermont senator’s New York roots can be traced throughout the policies he’s championed in his decades-long political career as well as his presidential campaign promises. Sanders’ experiences with New Deal programs such as rent control and tuition-free college, for example, are clearly reflected in the politician’s career-long struggles to secure housing rights and affordable education according to Hamm. The “Bernie’s Brooklyn” author, who teaches at St. Joseph’s college in Sanders’ hometown, adds that it wasn’t just the programs, but New York’s political giants who left their mark on the two-time presidential candidate. 

“It was the world of FDR, it was the world of Eleanor Roosevelt, it was the world of Fiorello La Guardia,” Hamm tells Scheer, “all of whom were committed to programs that were enhancing equality and opportunity in meaningful ways, allowing working-class people to find stability in the city and beyond.”

Listen to the full conversation between Hamm and Scheer, who having grown up in the Bronx not far from Sanders during the same period, confirms and expands upon the picture Hamm draws of a diverse New York where political debate and activism thrived.



Joshua Scheer