The socialist menace

A couple really good columns on this a couple weeks ago.

First, Jamelle Bouie:

Next came the president’s address to Congress. And this week at a rally in El Paso, Tex., Trump went after the “radical left,” blasting a caricature of progressive climate policies. “I really don’t like their policy of taking away your car, of taking away your airplane flights, of ‘Let’s hop a train to California,’” he said, bizarrely adding that under the Green New Deal resolution introduced by liberal Democrats, “You’re not allowed to own cows anymore.”

The clear expectation is that many or most Americans will recoil at any hint of “socialism,” either on principle or because of its association with Venezuela, which the administration has tried to elevate as a major adversary. That might have been true in Trump’s cultural and political touchstone, the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan’s hard-line anti-Communism defined American foreign and domestic policy. But in 2019, the Cold War is long over. The Soviet Union is a memory. And there is no comparable global ideological struggle over economic systems that might give weight to Trump’s rhetoric. There’s not much fear to monger. Instead, the president’s decision to make “socialism” his opponent might have the opposite effect, potentially bolstering the movement and its ideals…

Making the ground even less fertile for the “socialist” charge is the fact of the 2008 recession, which produced worsening views of capitalism, especially among young Americans, who showed growing receptivity to views such as “basic health insurance is a right for all people” and “basic necessities, such as food and shelter, are a right that the government should provide to those unable to afford them.” In truth, these ideas fit well into the modern history of capitalist governance. But the politics of the past 10 years have given them a left-wing tinge…

Specifically, in their vehement opposition to the Obama administration, conservatives narrowed “socialism” down to virtually any attempt to intervene in the economy on behalf of the broad public. The effort to save the American car industry? Socialist. Regulated markets to purchase health insurance? Socialist. Market-based measures for reducing carbon emissions? Also socialist. [emphases mine]

This aggressive labeling coincided with a rise in favorable attitudestoward socialism among Democrats…

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. At this moment, the proposed policies of the Democratic Party — from modest initiatives to incentivize savings to expansive programs for guaranteed employment — aren’t socialism. Even if they were, Americans are less afraid of the label than one might think: 37 percent say they have a positive image of socialism, a two-point increase from 2016…

If anything can put socialism in a more positive light, it is Trump raging against it. Which means conservatives and Republicans may want to think a little harder before they embrace a campaign strategy that relies on him for messaging. If “socialism” is like every other idea Trump has attacked and disdained, then the Republican Party should prepare for even more Americans embracing the term — and the ideas that come with it.

And EJ Dionne:

“We socialists are trying to save capitalism, and the damned capitalists won’t let us.”

Political scientist Mason B. Williams cited this cheeky but accurate comment by New Deal lawyer Jerome Frank to make a point easily lost in the new war on socialism that President Trump has launched: Socialism goes back a long way in the United States, and it has taken doses of it to keep the market system alive.

Going back to the late 19th century, Americans and Europeans, socialists and liberal reformers, worked together to humanize the system’s workings and to find creative ways to solve problems capitalism alone couldn’t…

But there would be no social reform, ever, if those seeking change were too timid to go big and allowed cries of “socialism” to intimidate them…

But attacking socialism isn’t the cakewalk it used to be. During the Cold War, it was easy to frighten Americans with the s-word because the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics offered a powerful example of the oppression that state control of all of the means of production could unleash.

The Soviet Union, however, has been dead for nearly three decades. China is communist on paper but a wildly unequal crony capitalist dictatorship in practice. Young Americans especially are far more likely to associate “socialism” with generous social insurance states than with jackboots and gulags. Sweden, Norway and Denmark are anything but frightening places

Nonetheless, Jerome Frank was right: Those slurred as socialists really do have a good track record of making capitalism work better and more justly. The s-word is not now, and, in its democratic forms, never should have been, an obscenity.

Short version: if “socialism” is the government undertaking programs to take off the sharpest edges of capitalism and ensure basic standards of equality and human welfare in the most prosperous society on the planet, sounds pretty damn good.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

9 Responses to The socialist menace

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    Remember, the capitalists are fighting to keep their money and their wealth. However they got it, through foul means or fair, they want to keep it.
    The term socialism to them means losing money. That means losing status and influence.
    Why would anyone expect they would give it up without a fight? And if they can sucker non wealthy people into defending them, as many Southerners were defending their wealthy in the Civil War, why wouldn’t they?
    So the battle will continue and where it will end is uncertain.
    Allons enfants de la patrie……

  2. ragnarsbhut says:

    Socialism only appeals to the lazy and uneducated.

    • Nicole K. says:

      Yeah because me getting an incurable disease that makes me permanently sleep-deprived despite sleeping all the time is the definition of lazy.

      Not everything that happens to a person is the result of choices made by themselves. It’s crazy to assert the opposite. You didn’t pick your family, genetics, level of intelligence, or many other things that directly and indirectly shape the course of your life, and your choices won’t change them no matter how much you wish they would sometimes.

      • ragnarsbhut says:

        Nicole K., I did not say anything about you specifically. Where has Socialism worked? Nowhere. Apply some common sense here.

      • Nicole K. says:

        When you toss around words like “only,” and say things like “socialism only appeals to lazy and incompetent people,” you are speaking about me personally. I have a medical condition that costs $15,535 every month to treat. Without the ACA protections that include subsidies, essential prescription drug coverage, and out-of-pocket limits on how much an insurance company is allowed to charge me for my coverage, I would not be able to get the medicine that allows me to function as a normal human being. Most conservatives consider the things I mentioned above to be socialism.

        Since I am unable to function without either the government or some other outside entity paying for the medicine I can’t afford using my own resources, socialized medicine absolutely appeals to me.

  3. homeys44 says:

    I agree that Trump’s strategy seems dubious, since socialism/free stuff is appealing. People tend to support free stuff, until they see the bill. I think Trump’s gonna need way more policy specifics to defeat the appeal of “free stuff”, especially with those suburbanites he lost in 2018.

  4. ragnarsbhut says:

    Nicole K., clearly you are taking personally something that was not directly referencing you. Responding to a person regarding one comment the person made is not saying anything about the person in question.

    • Nicole K. says:

      No, you said “Socialism only appeals to the lazy and uneducated.” Since I’m not uneducated and I believe that some segments of our economy, particularly the medical system, should be socialized, I must be lazy because, according to you, those are the only two types of people who happen to find the concept of socialism appealing.

      I was trying to provide you an example that maybe would get you to actually think about what you wrote instead of just writing unsubstantiated conservative talking points. I’m sorry you didn’t get it.

      • ragnarsbhut says:

        Nicole K, I was not saying anything about you specifically. The problem is that no matter where it has been tried, Socialism has only resulted in destruction.

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