A recent New York Times headline warned readers that “Republicans Already Are Demonizing Democrats as Socialists and Baby Killers.” The article pivots on President Donald Trump’s strategy of portraying Democratic Party leaders as a gaggle of radicalized socialists.
Now, Republicans have correctly accused Democrats of taking a hard-left turn when supporting legalization of third-trimester abortions for virtually any reason until the moment of birth (and sometimes after). And if you can be demonized for supporting such a position—as almost every Democrat presidential hopeful, all of whom oppose the Pass Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, does—it’s only because you have fully earned it.
But judging from the media’s reaction, Democrats are most apprehensive about being portrayed as “socialists,” which one expects isn’t as popular, even theoretically speaking, in suburban areas or Middle America as it is among the blue-check Twitterati and journalists in urban newsrooms.
New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, one of the few left-of-center pundits willing to occasionally criticize Democrats for their collectivist tendencies, recently penned an article headlined, “Trump Calls the Democratic Party Socialist. He’s Lying,” in which he contends that both the leftward lurch of Democrats and the popularity of Sen. Bernie Sanders have been overstated for political reasons. A number of Democrat candidates, he says, have already rejected the word “socialist.”
Rebuffing the “s” word doesn’t make you any less socialist than embracing the word “capitalist” makes you a champion of free markets. No, these presidential candidates aren’t latter-day Trotskys, but contemporary Democrats, who have long favored tighter controls and bigger government, are now far more inclined to embrace proto-socialistic policies than they are liberal (in the genuine sense of the word) ones. By any fair reading, their agendas can be described as socialistic.
For starters, nearly every Democrat candidate now frames his or her political case within the context of a class struggle. Every one proposes fixing the scourge of “inequality,” not by loosening regulatory controls or finding ways to create a more meritocratic society, but by confiscating wealth and redistributing it to the alleged victims of capitalism. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s confiscatory “wealth tax,” although ostensibly about funding her pet projects, is sold as a way of instituting state-induced societal fairness.
She’s not alone. These days, the left’s big argument is one giant zero-sum economic fallacy—the idea, for example, that successful Americans are “taking” bigger pieces of the pie than they deserve, to the detriment of society. The argument, the spirit, the aim, and the execution have far more in common with Karl Marx than with Adam Smith.
The fact that Democrats propose using our vast capitalistic success to create this hybrid system doesn’t change the tenor or dogmatic nature of their agenda. Nor does sticking the word “democratic” in front of “socialist” make them any less dangerous. For one thing, socialists who operate in “democratic” nations do so because they have no choice. For another, democratically instituting redistributive policies doesn’t make those policies any less authoritarian, even if they are adopted incrementally.
When President Trump promised in his latest State of the Union that “America will never be a socialist country,” it surprised a lot of Democrats, who didn’t seem to fully comprehend their own ideological position. I’m not sure why. You might have socialistic tendencies, for instance, if you propose a federally run health-care system that bans consumers from purchasing private medical insurance, as leading presidential candidate Kamala Harris has done. This isn’t just another tax increase or new regulation. While you’re not technically suggesting that the Politburo run the means of production, you’re certainly headed in that direction.
You might also be a socialist if you propose a government takeover of the energy sector, which is what every politician who supports the Green New Deal is doing. Even if we stretch the imagination and concede, for the sake of argument, that these Democrats didn’t endorse the car-banning, cow fart-eliminating proposal offered by socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, ridding America of 90 percent of its most affordable, most efficient, and predominant energy sources in 10— or 20, or 40—years would necessitate a giant, coercive government project that would bring unprecedented intrusions into American life.
Nearly every Democratic Party presidential hopeful supports the aims of this plan. Nearly every Democratic politician wants the state to lord over the entire education sector. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single problem in American life, in fact, for which Democrats don’t have a gigantic, state-driven coercive solution.
These are just some of the reasons socialist Sanders has become a force on the left despite attempts to dismiss him. No Democrat running, in fact, has experienced more national success. He may not win the primary, but Sanders’ polls numbers are as good as any other candidate in the race right now. In a more democratic primary contest, Sanders could very easily have faced Trump as a nominee for president in 2016. Moreover, he represents the youngest and most animated faction of the left, which is to say the future.
The thing is, Bernie hasn’t changed in his 40 years in politics. It has been the Democratic Party, whose conception of policy is now almost indistinguishable from his, that has dramatically transformed. The perceptible differences between Sanders and Warren, Harris, Beto O’Rourke, and Kirsten Gillibrand are tactics and timelines, not endgames.
Isn’t it odd that not a single Democratic Party leader has been critical of Sanders’ collectivist ideology? This is a politician who went to the Soviet Union as a 47-year-old man, not as a radicalized 20-something, and praised one of the worst tyrannies in history. Will any 2020 Democrat presidential candidate condemn him for his adulation of Cuban, Venezuelan, and Nicaraguan socialism? Will anyone condemn him for having nicer things to say about nations with gulags, political executions, and mass starvation than he does for the United States?
The fact that we’re still far from a socialist nation doesn’t negate Democrats’ central argument. Polls show their constituents are increasingly comfortable with the word “socialism,” and though sometimes they likely don’t understand what it means, liberals have become increasingly comfortable with ideas associated with the philosophy, as well.
These ideas run counter to the ideals of American individual liberty and economic freedom (and are why liberals increasingly find themselves at odds with the Constitution — just ask Beto O’Rouke). The people normalizing collectivist notions deserve to be treated with the kind of contempt and derision that Trump has thrown their way.
“America was founded on liberty and independence–not government coercion, domination, and control,” Trump said during the Sate of the Union. “We are born free, and we will stay free.” He’s inarguably correct about the first. The second is yet to be determined.