Eeeek! “Socialism!”

Isn’t all this yak about “socialism”, um… Is it ironic, or is it just stupid?

It’s not like this is all new. The first cry came in 1856, when the GOP tried to make the Democratic Party become the Democrat Socialist Party. When this didn’t pan out, because they decided it would give the Dems too much gravitas, they wrote a resolution decrying the impending loss of the country in the “march toward socialism”. Their diatribe has been continuous since then, and it hasn’t changed much. (To get a good review of what socialism has meant for the US, see John Nicholls’ article in The Nation.)

The dictionary definition of socialism says that the means of production are owned by the government. If we are marching toward socialism, then, there must be lots and lots of government-owned businesses. Oil, steel, cars, communications… Obviously, there are not. In fact, just off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single nationalized industry in the US. So either Repubs don’t really know what socialism is, or they have come up with a new definition and haven’t told the rest of us.

“Freedom”, “individual responsibility”, are Repub rallying cries. (Not that they have a corner on the freedom and individual responsibility markets. Who thinks otherwise?) They make it sound like everything of value came about because of individuals exercising their freedom and responsibility. But that’s nonsense, which I can see the moment I leave the house. I walk on a sidewalk built by the city (using private contractors), go the library (same), and enjoy the protection of the police and fire departments (city owned and operated, represented by unions). Apparently, “individual responsibility” doesn’t even extend to what I see just outside my door. Then we get to the highways, air travel, broadcasting, environmental protection, the military, and so on. These things, and many more, came about because of social effort, because my society decided they would serve our needs, not because of individual responsibility. They are controlled by the federal government because they are national issues, and that’s the most efficient way to manage them.

We’ve been a nation for almost 235 years. Warning cries that our imminent downfall due to “socialism” have dogged the public discussion for over half that time, since it was first formulated, yet today we show not the first sign of becoming a socialist state. Nor do we appear about to fall on the slippery slope toward it, which is the other non-stop dire warning. The Cold War has been over for some 22 years. We’re safe. Joe McCarthy’s fears of communists under every bed have not come true. World socialism is on the wane because administratively it really doesn’t work very well. It’s about time to move on to more important things. But of course we won’t.

In 1892 a Christian socialist named Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance that every school child learns. “With liberty and justice for all” are powerful words, and they suggest that we as a society owe it to ourselves to strive for provision of those things for everyone. It’s an ongoing struggle, and many things remind us we have a long way to go if the blessings of liberty are not to belong to just the few in the top income brackets.

We have not become a socialist state, but we have adopted some of the ideals and ideas of socialism, and they have strengthened us. They have provided support and protection for the least powerful in our country. They work. Back in 1959 a young socialist named Michael Harrington showed us that, contrary to our belief that we were an affluent society, one-third of the population lived in poverty. Thoughtful politicians realized that this should not be so, and in time several important legislative steps improved the situation. Conservatives now want to reverse all such legislation.

Which countries are socialist? Conservatives are certain that all the countries of Europe are socialist, one supposes because they all have national health care services (which, BTW, are always cheaper and better than ours). But when you look at lists of socialist countries, you will not find a single one in Europe. Even the Socialist Party says so. Only conservatives who think we’re on our way in a handbasket think it’s true.

There is this terrible fear among some that America is “marching into socialism”, just as in 1856. Evidence presented for this terrible outcome four years ago was that we might have a Democrat for president, that we pay enormous taxes, and so on. They don’t say the government doesn’t represent the people, because the 2008 election was yet to come, and there was still a Republican president. That changed the minute Obama was elected. Well, we seem to have had several Democratic presidents in the past century or so, yet somehow we haven’t become socialist. Nor does Obama show the slightest inclination in that direction, in spite of what radical conservatives say. And as has often been said, our taxes are among the lowest in modern nations. Capitalism, far from being squashed by socialist jack boots, has given a quarter of the national wealth to the top 1%. The top 300 executives averaged $11.4M income in 2010, up 23% from the year before, and in the middle of a severe recession. Nope, socialism doesn’t seem to be taking over just yet.

But we still have these problems, of ordinary people who work all their lives, but can’t seem to get ahead, because they are paid so poorly. That’s why we have the social programs we have, Social Security and Medicare in particular. If everyone were fairly paid, most such problems would fade away. I doubt that would satisfy those who would prefer to warn us about socialism.

Consider the reaction to the president’s release of his birth certificate today. Within minutes, two predictable things happened: (1) Donald Trump claimed credit; (2) True Believer “birthers” announced that the release meant nothing, and they were not deterred. By tomorrow morning there will be many postings claiming that the document was forged. True Believers are rarely convinced by the facts.

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