Code Word: Socialism

DummerPlain1-1983

Thursday 8 August 2019

   When Bernie Sanders lost his first bid to be the Democratic nominee for President, I thought that one of the contributing factors was his insistence on calling himself a Socialist. He’s only one year younger than me, so he grew up with World War II, the beginnings of the Cold War, Joe McCarthy’s “Red-baiting,” etc. He must remember that – in selling our brand of Capitalism – we made dirty words and dangerous ideologies out of Communism, Fascism, Socialism – in fact, everything that wasn’t the United States brand of Capitalism. We didn’t know what the terms meant – hey, we were kids! – but we knew that those other -isms were horrible. And we had no way to measure if one particular -ism was better or worse than the others.

   Lessons learned early are hard to unlearn, even if you find out later that early “truths” turned out to be nonsense. I don’t know how people born after, say, 1980, react to the term “socialism,” but I bet there are a lot of us older folks who – no matter how smart we got in our later years – still have a little bit of doubt in our minds about having a Socialist President. It is nonsense, but there you go with that old Human Nature.

   So far, the only clear strategy that the Republicans have settled on for this next Presidential campaign is to label everything they don’t like (and they don’t like anything the rest of us like) as Socialism. Apparently, they are banking on some of the old demonization still  working among the post-Cold War generations. It might work, but only if the Dems fail to make a concerted counter-effort to explain what Socialism is, and how it relates to what Dems want for the country.

   One definition of Socialism is “a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state.” This is in contrast to Capitalism, in which everything is supposedly based on the individual, operating freely to supply goods and services according to supply and demand. Both systems are pretty much mythical; I doubt that any Western nation has ever achieved – or even wanted to achieve – either full government control or full personal freedom. The United States has many programs that – by definition – are Socialistic. Medicare and Social Security: fully run by the Government (and a lot of us Capitalists think that’s really great). Minimum wage laws and child labor laws: set up and enforced by the Government – Socialism. The list could go on and on.

   The truth is, since the founding of the United States, we have operated under bits and pieces of all sorts of ideologies, business schemes, and political and social realities. The part of us that is Socialist is the part that keeps the Top One Percent of our people from controlling 99 percent of our economy and our lives, rather than the mere 95 percent (or whatever it is currently) that they do control. I like it that way; 99 percent of the American voters should like it that way, too.

   My advice to Democratic candidates? Drop the term Socialism from your vocabulary, and talk about what you like and want for the country. If somebody labels you a Socialist, talk about what you like and what you want for the country. There’s no defense (or offense) like a good, solid, understandable platform.

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© Sanford Wilbur 2019