The Democratic Party missed a critical opportunity when Republicans began using the term ‘socialism’ as an invective in this election. Rather than embrace and explain a 21st-century version of socialism, the party strategists decided the term was toxic and was best ignored. As a result, Republicans were allowed to define the term. It cost us Florida and millions of votes elsewhere because it was simple for Republicans to resurrect the 1960s-era false equivalence between socialism and communism. They are absolutely not the same, but it works for people who demand a simple answer. The Republicans figured this out and capitalized on the confusion. Democrats should have countered with a better story.
Rather than run from the socialism label, I believe the Democratic party should have been aggressive and hit back with an advertising campaign explaining that socialism is not necessarily a government-directed economy or even a highly-centralized system of government. Socialism is simply providing those services that we expect from a well-functioning government. And, not surprisingly, Americans are benefitting from socialism today.
When “American socialism” is allowed to thrive, it delivers:
- Capitalism that works for everybody, not just the rich thanks to regulations that protect the little guy
- Social security for the elderly and disabled
- Interstate highways that empower commerce and make travel easier for families
- Free K-12 public education
- Pell grants for secondary education
- Veterans services
- Aid to farmers to ensure their survival after weather-related crises
- Safe and secure skies for traveling
- National defense
- Support for families and businesses during and after disasters such as pandemics, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires
- Public security
- Publicly-funded research that benefits everybody
- And a host of other services essential
The private sector would not deliver any of these services without government payment. When unfettered free enterprise espoused by many Republicans usurps American socialism, we get:
- Boeing 737 airplanes crashing because the FAA was constrained from doing its job by the very industry they are supposed to regulate
- Monopolies increasingly controlling our lives and invading our privacy far more than government agencies might ever do
- Burgeoning incarceration, driven by the for-profit prison industry
- An opioid overdose crisis caused by limited regulation of the pharmaceutical industry in pursuit of maximizing profits
- Enormous income and wealth inequality
- Out-of-control healthcare costs
- Racial inequities in justice systems, healthcare, and education
- Accelerating climate change
- A grid-locked Congress owned by corporate lobbyists
Defining American socialism as a positive is simple marketing. Democrats need to stop being afraid of the socialism label and embrace it. We need to do it quickly because Republicans will use the term as pejorative again in 2024. Democrats, independents, and many Republicans are enormously relieved to know we are returning to a modicum of political sanity with the election of Joe Biden. However, Joe arrives with the baggage of someone who came of age during the conflict between the Soviet Union and the West. Like many in Joe’s generation and those of us who are early baby boomers, we ignorantly conflated socialism with communism. Today, almost 30 years after the end of the Cold War, we still tend to tread carefully around the term socialism.
Joe promised to be a ‘transition’ President. Let’s ask him to start now by ceding messaging control to a more contemporary team that can define a modern Democratic Party, a party that recognizes we are entering the third decade of the 21st century. It’s not 1962 and the USSR is ancient history. Socialism is a perfectly fine term to use in polite company.
I should note that I am a registered Democrat, consider myself an Independent with progressive leanings, but may actually be an Eisenhower Republican. See this entertaining press release about the Eisenhower Republican Party from Bernie Sanders’ Senate Office for clarification.