For yesterday’s post, Reactionary Blue Dogs And Wall Street-Owned Corporate Dems Want You To Know They’re Not Socialists, we looked at a quote from Texas progressive Mike Siegel, running in a gerrymandered red district that goes from liberal north Austin into the deep red exurbs northwest of Houston. Siegel was speaking at an event with Congressman Ted Lieu and VoteCommonGood leader Rev. Doug Pagitt, a progressive evangelical activist. Asked how he would face down Republicans calling him a socialist and claiming he would turn Bastrop and Tomball into Venezuela, Siegel laughed and told the crowd that “according to the GOP, Social Security is a ‘socialist’ program. Medicare and Medicaid, too. Basically, any program that cares for the poor, for the elderly, for those needing a little extra help to have a fair shot at success. When Jesus threw the money-changers out of the temple, and gave alms to the poor and sick, I guess that was ‘socialist’ too. But it’s not ‘socialist’ when megacorporations, whether Big Tech or Big Oil, get hundreds of millions in subsidies from the American taxpayers. The good thing about this Republican fear-mongering is that at a certain point voters tune it out, and it loses its effect. My plan is to run on a strong progressive platform that serves the needs of the people of the Texas 10th Congressional District. The Republicans refused Medicaid expansion in Texas, and as a result we have rural hospitals closing and sky-high maternal mortality rates. The alternative I support is a commitment to universal healthcare, in the form of Medicare For All. The Republican budget would cut just about every essential social program to pay for tax cuts for the rich. We will campaign on a program of caring for people, not corporations.”
Yep, that’s how it’s done. Mike gets an “A.” California freshmen Katie Hill and Harley Rouda don’t. In a badly misguided and twisted piece for Real Clear Politics by Susan Crabtree, Beleaguered California GOP Sees Path To 2020 Rebound, there’s a section about how the Republicans hope to take back the 7 seats they lost in 2018 by screaming “socialism!” Crabtree wrote that “Republicans aren’t the only ones recoiling from national Democrats’ far-left turn. Newly elected California House Democrats from traditionally red districts, such as Katie Hill and Harley Rouda, now fear the socialist label could cost them re-election and swing the House majority back to the GOP. Over the last week, some Democratic House freshmen have started lashing out against their brasher colleagues’ support for socialism, impeachment and the divisive Green New Deal.” Let me mention that before we go on that Hill’s district is certainly not red any longer and that the Democrats have a new registration advantage over the gradually dying-off GOP.
Crabtree continued by noting that “Hill, who last November flipped a Los Angeles-area district that Republicans had held for decades, made it clear she’s not jumping on the Ocasio-Cortez bandwagon. ‘As we run up to this presidential [election], we need to show that Democrats, as a whole, are not socialists,’ she told Politico last week. ‘We’re not pushing for impeachment without serious cause and serious evidence.’ Rouda, a businessman and former Republican who defeated 15-term Rep. Rohrabacher, also distanced himself from his freshman class’s far-left flank. ‘I’d like to think that the Republican Party is not run by a bunch of folks that subscribe to be nationalists, like Steve King does,’ he said, referring to the Iowa congressman who lost his committee seats after making controversial statements on white supremacy and nationalism. ‘So while Steve King’s views don’t represent the entire Republican Party, those on the far left of the Democratic Party do not represent the mainstream caucus.’ Except Steve King’s views do represent the entire Republican Party and the kind of socialism AOC and her outspoken colleagues are talking about is as American as apple pie and at the heart of Democratic Party values. Re-read Mike Siegel’s explanation above. The defensive crouch Rouda, and to some extent, Hill, take may turn out to be counter-productive and dysfunctional as the national GOP pours money into their messaging. Crabtree:
This open Democratic grousing is music to California GOP operatives’ ears.
“[Speaker Nancy] Pelosi is not in control of her caucus, and she has got to figure out a way to rein in these three complete narcissists,” said Jason Roe, a Southern California-based Republican campaign strategist, referring to Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Omar. “Any punishment that Pelosi can mete out is a victory for them. They are disrupters, and if they are being punished for disrupting, it’s exactly what they want. You can’t use traditional levers of power with them.”
Roe is telling his GOP clients running for office in California to “stay away from litigating Trump and start litigating AOC and the left– this is the gift that keeps on giving.”
Something tells me Susan Crabtree is never going to grow up to be a Catherine Rampell, one of the sharpest and most incisive minds at the Washington Post. Last week she wrote about how the Republicans are turning their party into the boy who cried socialism. Trump’s socialism ploy, she wrote, is just “more lazy name-calling from a lazy thinker, but this time the lazy name-calling may backfire. For years, Trump has premised his political pitch on the idea that he alone can protect Americans from the many invaders who wish us harm– chiefly immigrants, terrorists and globalists. Lately, he’s added another boogeyman to the bunch, one that’s supposedly homegrown: socialists. In this year’s State of the Union, he declared, ‘Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country,’ as if that were ever truly a risk. He has ramped up similar comments in recent months and has now enlisted his economic advisers in his fight against the great socialist straw man.”
Ever since 1947, the White House Council of Economic Advisers has released its annual Economic Report of the President. This enormous tome is supposed to summarize the trends in the economy and lay out the president’s vision for solving ongoing and future challenges. Though the document usually has some political spin– the president’s economic advisers want their boss to look good, after all– it usually sticks to legitimate economic concerns facing the country.
Not so this time. When the council released its report this week, it bizarrely included an entire chapter seemingly designed to flesh out cable-news talking points about how Democrats secretly want to turn the United States into a socialist hellscape. Readers of the report– or of even just the council’s slides posted on Twitter– might reasonably come away thinking that the most pressing economic questions facing the U.S. economy include: Was collective farming under Mao Zedong successful? How much did Joseph Stalin end up shrinking the livestock population?
If these throwbacks seem wholly unrelated to any of the debates we’re actually having right now as a country, that’s because they are.
The real debate Americans are having– including those on the far left trying to gain greater control of the Democratic Party– is about how regulated markets should be and how to make the rules fairer. No one in the 2020 race, not even relative outlier and self-proclaimed democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is proposing that we recreate the Great Leap Forward.
Despite what you may have heard from Team Trump– and despite the many TV interviewers asking Democratic politicians whether they’re “capitalist” or “socialist,” as if that’s a meaningful binary– all modern countries have elements of capitalism and socialism.
That includes the United States. We have public schools, public roads, subsidized health care for the elderly and other forms of social insurance. Yet we also have private property, and the government does not control the means of production– which is, you know, actually how socialism is defined.
Trump and his advisers pretend otherwise, in the hopes of confusing and freaking out the public. After all, most people know they’re supposed to be afraid of “socialism,” even if they have no idea what the term means.
In fact, in a Gallup poll last year that asked Americans to explain their understanding of the term “socialism,” responses were all over the map. The most common answer, volunteered by about a quarter of respondents, was that it had something to do with “equality”– “equal standing for everybody, all equal in rights, equal in distribution,” something to that effect. Smaller percentages mentioned communism, government control of utilities or even “talking to people, being social, social media, getting along with people.”
Given this level of confusion, it’s not clear that Trump’s strategy to smear the Democratic Party as a Socialist Menace will be terribly effective.
Sure, maybe it’ll mobilize older people who lived through the Cold War and associate socialism with the evil Soviet Union. But Trump probably already had the old people vote locked up.
Whether it will scare younger people is a separate question. A majority of adults under age 30 already view the term “socialism” positively; about 40 percent of those ages 30 to 49 say the same.
That might be because of dissatisfaction with the results of the existing (predominantly capitalist) economic system. But it might perversely also be because Republicans have been so relentless in their alarmist attacks on socialism– or, rather, “socialism.”
Over the past 60 years– since Ronald Reagan warned that Medicare would doom the country to the s-word– the GOP has turned into the boy who cried socialism. If you persist in describing popular and not-all-that-radical policies as “socialist” (protections for preexisting conditions or letting kids stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26), at some point the term starts to lose its negative valence.
“Ex”-Republican businessmen, like Rouda–who likely grew up in homes where Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were not revered the way they were in the home I grew up in– and who found themselves swept into Congress in the blue wave– really an anti-Trump wave– should listen carefully to what Rampell is saying– and to how Mike Siegel is campaigning. Here’s Bernie answering a similar question: