Opinion | Muftic: GOP resurrects a bogey word: ‘Socialism’
With a field of announced Democrats running for President that is larger than a football team, the ideological spectrum runs from socialists to no-labels who straddle the medium strip between both parties. The question becomes are Democrats about to commit political malpractice. The Republicans have obviously been looking at recent polls that indicate if they call domestic policy issues advocated by a Democrat as “socialism,” they have a potentially winning strategy.
A Fox News January 2019 poll that found “80 percent of Republicans and 34 percent of Democrats who said it would be a “bad thing” for the United States “to move away from capitalism and more toward socialism.” Per a YouGov poll August 2018: 41 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of independents said they would feel “enthusiastic” about or “comfortable” with “a candidate for president who described themselves as a socialist,” while 59 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of independents said they would have “some reservations” or would feel “very uncomfortable.” Pollster 538’s conclusion was that in 2019 socialism “was still an effective political bogeyman.”
The Republicans have moved quickly to exploit such polling by calling public policies that have widespread public support proposed by Democrats as socialism, from Medicare for All, a concept with 80 percent approval in recent polls to the Green blueprint for combatting climate change. Their current strategy is to turn Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist, into their most hated object hoping to paint the entire Democratic field with the same extreme paintbrush.
Socialism means different things to different people. There are many variations and degrees of government participation, and we can debate the fine points until we are blue in the face splitting hairs, but most voters are neither political scientists nor pundits and most only care which policy does what to their own family finances. Some will falsely believe socialism means advocating owning means of production. Some will see it as class warfare or the destruction of capitalism. European countries have strong capitalist sectors while embracing some socialistic programs. Others will see limited socialism as needed to round out the rough edges of capitalism that left some in the dust. Trump’s tax policy that unfairly benefited few in the middle class but turned the ultra-rich into the ultra richer will be a Democratic party’s effective exhibit for the unfairness of income disparities.
The challenge for Democrats will be framing a position that clarifies what they mean to the public in a way that does not turn off the Never Trumpers and the independents because even a fully unified Democratic party is not enough alone to beat Trump in 2020.
If the candidate debates and primaries leave an unresolved rift with embittered sides of ideologues on one hand and moderate pragmatists on the other, they will have contributed to Trump’s second term. One approach could be that Medicare for All is no more socialist than current Medicare (very popular) or Social Security.
A limited version could be that Medicare is an option people can choose to buy into. People do not care what ideological pin they stick on it; they just want to afford to pay for their medical bills just as they want to retire with at least a trusted safety net of social security. Both programs have always had the support of Democrats and the Grand Old Party has a Grand Old Tradition of opposing them. Republican attempts to reduce their benefits or to privatize them have failed. Public opposition stem from voters who have suffered under a private system before Obamacare and who have more faith in the fiscal stability of government funded retirement plans than the Wall Street casino or profit seeking health provider monopolies.
Since there is no free lunch in health care or in retirement, the debate should include the finances of competing plans and the out of pocket costs to budget sensitive consumers.
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