At the time of this posting, most of the Democratic candidates for president have been announced although there may be a few more. Although many of them may be quite liberal, others may run as moderates. But it doesn’t matter to the Republicans who label everybody not on the right as socialists. Indeed, President Trump included this dire warning about socialism as part of his 2019 State of the Union speech.
"Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. ... Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country,"
Facing low approval ratings, various probes and a failure to accomplish some of his key campaign goals ahead of his November 2020 re-election bid, the president appears intent on stirring fears about the political ideology. A Trump campaign spokesman said that the rhetoric about socialism "resonates with the vast majority of hard working Americans who recognize that Trump's patriotic capitalism is benefiting all Americans nationwide."
This Red Scare strategy is hardly a new idea in the Republican playbook. FDR and Truman were called socialists. During LBJ’s term, there was Ronald Reagan with this famous warning about the horrors of socialized medicine if, God forbid, Medicare was ever passed back in the early 60s. More recently, Obamacare and the proposed improved Medicare plans have been decried as socialist.
When Republicans and right-wing media routinely call anybody or anything not Republican as socialist. it becomes a routine part of any conversation about Democratic ideas for them.
When somebody in a conversation with me starts calling out those on the left as socialists, I have a simple rejoinder: What in your mind is the definition of socialism? This often leads to stunned silence. They really don’t know what a socialist is. They are just repeating what they hear from others on the right.
For the record, Wikipedia defines socialism as “characterized by social ownership of the means of production.” In a capitalist country such as the US, the means of production is overwhelmingly the private sector except for certain services that are best handled by the government. To my knowledge, no Democrat has ever advocated turning over all private production to the government to run. So in this case, the socialist label is a misnomer and little more than a pejorative to instill fear that the next stage after that may be communism.
Unfortunately, there are those on the left such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who openly label themselves as democratic socialists which only pours gasoline on the fire. But what’s strangest of all is that neither of them are really democratic socialists!
Here, Wikipedia defines democratic socialism as advocating the conversion of a capitalist society to a socialist one which neither Sanders nor Ocasio-Cortez are in favor of.
The system that most liberal Democrats favor is social democracy where changes are advocated within the capitalist system. The Scandinavian countries with their comprehensive benefits and safety nets are examples of social democracy but are not socialist.
With all the people being called socialists, one has to wonder how real socialists feel about this. In fact, real socialists think Bernie's a sellout for billing himself as a socialist when in fact he is not!
So how will this all affect the Democrats’ primary season? For one thing, a number of Democrats are trying to head off all the attacks on them as socialists by proclaiming to anybody who will listen that they are indeed capitalists. Whether this will work is anybody’s guess.
Most observers feel that the top issue in not only the past 2018 midterm but also in the upcoming 2020 presidential election will be healthcare. Hardly any other issue brings out more cries of socialism. But in reality, the private insurance industry has been well taken care of throughout.
Take the dreaded Obamacare, labeled as “government takeover of healthcare.” In reality, the idea which completely preserved private insurance was based on ideas developed by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank and first implemented by Republican Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. It was quite successful in reducing the number of uninsured there.
But for Romney to hope for the Republican presidential nomination, he had to take a very contrived position that while his Romneycare was successful in Massachusetts, the nearly identical Obamacare was a disaster for the nation so he along with the other Republicans resorted to their tired “repeal and replace” mantra.
Despite its many faults, Obamacare shrunk the number of Americans without health insurance from about 50 million to 30 million. But compared to all the other industrialized countries with universal healthcare, that’s 30 million too many! I hope that our next healthcare plan will finally cover all US citizens.
So while in the last presidential election, only Bernie Sanders was in favor of Medicare for All, some improved version of Medicare has become a de facto litmus test for all of those running for the Democratic presidential nomination this time around.
For those in the US under 65, Medicare is seen as free socialist health insurance that provides free socialist healthcare. Those of us 65 and over know better. For starters, $134 is taken out of our Social Security benefit each month to help pay for our Medicare coverage. But more importantly, Medicare was purposely designed to have enough coverage gaps so almost everybody has to buy some form of private insurance in addition to fill those gaps!
So while just about everybody on the Democratic side is proposing their own versions of Medicare for All or some form of expanded health insurance, the devil is in the details! Some like Bernie Sanders advocate replacing the entire private insurance system with public insurance. But will those who are happy with their private insurance through their workplace be willing to give up that insurance? Others are advocating a hybrid of private and public insurance. Needless to say, it’s complicated!
While none of this will come to pass unless the Democrats capture the presidency and both houses of Congress in 2020, we can examine the alternatives and come up with a healthcare plan for America’s future in the meantime. In closing, I am asking the American voters to choose or reject the candidates and their ideas based on their merits - and reject those whose only response is to label everything they don’t approve of as socialism!