Jason Nichols: Don’t believe GOP hysteria about Dems turning US into a socialist nightmare

Many Republican politicians, cable news talking heads and angry conservative talk radio hosts are trying to fan the flames of hysteria by regularly denouncing progressive Democrats as socialists.

If you believe the absurd nightmare scenarios conjured up by these Chicken Littles of the right, our freedom and prosperity are endangered by wild-eyed radical leftists who want to turn America into a socialist state that would become an economic basket case.

Should these dangerous leftists come to power, we are told, evil Big Government would take most of our income in taxes, dictate how we live our lives, and makes us slaves to the state.  

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These fear-mongers conjure up images of Soviet gulags and try to convince us that is where our nation is headed if we expand any element of the welfare state. They have branded any effort to rein in unbridled laissez-faire capitalism as socialism, calling such efforts anti-American and an affront to our American freedoms and values.

Be afraid – be very afraid – we are told, and above all, don’t vote for Democrats.

Long before most of us alive today were born, this same kind of propaganda campaign was waged by Republicans against Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s.

After the stock market crash of 1929, currency deflated and banks collapsed as people rushed to withdraw their assets. The Federal Reserve made all the wrong maneuvers by not printing more money and thinking fiscal austerity would fix the problem and that markets would self-correct.

Chicken Little learned the sky was not really falling. Those decrying progressive Democrats as a revolutionary mob like the ones that overthrew the Russian czar need to take a deep breath and calm down.

Fortunately, President Roosevelt spearheaded an expansion of the administrative and welfare state that lifted the country out of unimaginable economic turmoil.

Under Roosevelt’s leadership, the government created 42 new agencies that employed people, provided social safety nets like unemployment insurance, and supported labor unions. The Social Security program was created to prevent older Americans from falling into poverty and dependence on their children when they could no longer remain in the workforce.

In the 1930s Republican led the charge against these programs, denouncing them as socialism or even communism. These same kinds of attacks greeted President Lyndon Johnson when he signed Medicare – the health care program for the elderly – into law in 1965.

Yet somehow, our republic has survived.

And while many Republicans want to cut the growth of spending on Social Security, Medicare and some other social safety net programs, they don’t dare proposed the outright abolition of this entire group of popular programs because they know that would be political suicide.

How popular are these programs?

According to a Gallup Poll released May 20, 43 percent of Americans say socialism would be a good thing for America, compared to 51 percent who say socialism would be a bad thing.

Gallup reports: “Previous Gallup research shows that Americans' definition of socialism has changed over the years, with nearly one in four now associating the concept with social equality and 17% associating it with the more classical definition of having some degree of government control over the means of production.”

In other words, even most Americans saying they support socialism don’t support complete socialism – that is, a system under which the means of production are owned by workers and the community as a whole. Most people don’t want the government to take ownership of big businesses and wipe out private enterprise.

Instead, many Americans today want universal health care, debt-free college, and living wage jobs. They expect elected officials to bring these things about and not make excuses. Some people call these things socialism, but many consider this the logical evolution of government to meet needs that individuals can’t always meet on their own.

The millionaires and billionaires leading the fight against progressive programs backed by Democrats are doing so because the rich don’t need these programs and are most fearful of being forced to pay their fair share of taxes. So they’ve turned to hyperbole and lies to persuade the vast majority of Americans that progressive policies equal socialism that would destroy the American way of life.

This is why right-wingers keep telling us that Democrats would turn American into an economic disaster like Venezuela, Cuba or North Korea where we would lose all our freedoms. The opponents of progressive policies are absolutely desperate to convince millions of American who would benefit from the policies that the polices are actually harmful.

Republican Ohio state Rep. Andrew Brenner wrote that “Public education in America is socialism” in an attempt to deride our current system. He was widely condemned for his commentary.

But if you define socialism in the broadcast sense, Brenner is absolutely correct. Public education is an example of government providing a service funded by tax dollars that improves the lives of millions.

Few Americans would advocate abolishing taxpayer-funded public education, because that would require every parent to pay private school tuition to send their children to school from kindergarten onward. This would keep many low-income children out of school and be a huge financial burden for all but wealthy parents.

Younger Americans don’t connect elements of socialism to images of the hammer and sickle. In addition to elementary and secondary public schools, they think of services we enjoy such as protection provided by police and firefighters.

And most Americans of all ages recognize that most of this country’s infrastructure – our roads, highways and bridges – is owned by local and state governments.

However, the overregulation of pure socialism can often turn into social constraints that anger the public. Elites rise up in efforts to topple socialist regimes, and the latter often have to resort to totalitarianism to ward off the former.

In addition, in some socialist regimes, corrupt government officials simply want more for themselves and their cronies, which creates the imbalance of resources that socialism is supposed to avoid.

Despite what you hear from some Republicans and right-wing commentators, this is not what even Democrats who call themselves democratic socialists – like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. – are advocating.

At the same time, unrestrained capitalism without a social safety net creates large disparities been rich and poor, and eventually leads to financial ruin for nearly everyone.

Fundamentally, capitalism is about the right to own private property. But what many people don’t realize is that capitalism and socialism are not like two boxers slugging it out. The two systems can work together for the benefit of working people. A mix of the two systems is best for all. Going too far to the right or too far to the left will inevitably bring problems.

Republicans and advocates of big business who are fighting against progressive policies tell us they stand for free enterprise and freedom. After all, the words “free” or “freedom” are in every symbol of American national identity. How can anyone be opposed to that?

But these same advocates of a free market unhindered by government intrusion eagerly lobby for government subsidies and tax relief that is not available to all segments of society. In other words, they want a corporate welfare state that values business over ordinary Americans who work hard but have to struggle to pay their bills and send their kids to college.

Many of the wealthy folks so opposed to Democrats and so decrying socialism don’t really want free-market capitalism. They want government intervention in market capitalism when it enables them to make more money.

Chicken Little learned the sky was not really falling. Those decrying progressive Democrats as a revolutionary mob like the ones that overthrew the Russian czar need to take a deep breath and calm down.

Progressive Democrats are not asking for wholesale socialism or state control. Claims by conservatives that reasonable government regulation and government social safety nets are the first steps toward turning the U.S. into Venezuela are laughable. Venezuela’s failures have as much to do with its dependence on high oil prices as on its ambitious social programs.

Even most American conservatives embrace elements of economic progressivism – you don’t see millions of people refusing to send their children to public schools or collect Social Security benefits when they reach retirement age.

Economic progressivism is social democracy, which works to establish innovative ways to establish a just and equitable society within a capitalist democratic framework. The desire for social justice puts a check and balance on capitalism.

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It is not hyperbole to say that the transatlantic slave trade and slavery were driven by unbridled capitalism. Social democracy and economic progressivism undergird our society with morality. They provide opportunities and protection for the sick, disabled and elderly, who are all at great risk for financial ruin.

More than 40 percent of Americans have grown tired of socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for the poor. Despite all the scare tactics the rich and powerful and throwing out, the American people need to look at the facts and see that Democrats are calling for policies to improve our lives, not make things worse.

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