Sanders: I Spent My Whole Life Fighting Against Authoritarianism Like the Soviet Union

Presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) said on Sunday that he has spent his "whole life fighting for democracy" and "against authoritarianism," despite his long-known affinity to the Soviet Union and Nicaragua.

Sanders's comment came in response to a question from CNN's Dana Bash on State of the Union about whether or the country is "more ready for a democratic socialist president."

"I think the answer is yes," Sanders said. "I think it's important for the American people to understand what my definition is of Democratic Socialism. It's certainly not how Donald Trump defines it. I have spent my whole life fighting for democracy, fighting against authoritarianism, whether the Soviet Union, Venezuela or anyplace else." 

Sanders then outlined his vision of what democratic socialism is.

"What I mean by democratic socialism is creating a government that works for everybody, not controlled either legislatively or politically by a handful of very wealthy people," he said. "That's number one. Number two, it means in America we have certain economic rights that are human rights, human rights. Health care to to my mind is not a privilege. It's a human right. That's what democratic socialism means to me."

Sanders concluded that democratic socialism "means a vibrant democracy and an economy that work for all, not just the people on top."

Sanders has come under fire in recent weeks for his past ties to repressive authoritarian regimes, specifically the Soviet Union and Nicaragua. Sanders visited the Soviet Union in 1988, as a part of the social exchange program. The senator lavished praise on the nation, participating in a number of cultural events.

Sanders also visited Nicaragua under Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship sating afterward, "I was impressed." At the time, he acknowledged "I will be attacked by every editorial writer for being a dumb dope" for saying so.

In a recent interview with the New York Times Sanders reiterated his opposition to the way the United States engaged in the Cold War.

"As a mayor, I did my best to stop American foreign policy, which for years was overthrowing governments in Latin America and installing puppet regimes," he said. "I did everything that I could as a mayor of a small city to stop the United States from getting involved in another war in Central America trying to overthrow a government."