Socialism Rears Its Ugly Head


Mikhail Metzel/AP Photo/File

Communist Party supporters march with their flags during a rally to mark May Day in Moscow, 2012.

The right-wing organs are aghast that socialism is ceasing to be a dirty word and that other Democratic candidates besides self-described socialist Bernie Sanders are embracing a major role for public institutions. Fox News has been obsessing about this, and The Wall Street Journal ran a lead editorial Tuesday (“All Bernie’s Socialists”) that is suitable for framing.

One of the right’s standard themes is to conflate Swedish-style social democrats with thugs like Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro. The Journal thinks it has nailed Sanders because it unearthed an op-ed from 2013 written by Sanders’s recently hired staffer, David Sirota, that said some kind things about Hugo Chavez’s economic program.

In fact, Sirota was careful to add that Chavez had failed to respect human rights and basic democracy. In this, the late Venezuelan strongman Chavez and his protégé Maduro have a lot more in common with Donald Trump than with Bernie Sanders.

Keep in mind a couple of things about social democracy, which is what Bernie Sanders actually has in mind when he embraces “socialism.”

First, as the recent American experience with hyper-capitalism has demonstrated, there are several functions that the public sector actually does more efficiently and more equitably than the private sector. The public sector works especially well when it is run by people who actually believe in it, as opposed to Trumpians who would destroy government, either by design or by incompetence.

Medicare for All really is a lot more efficient and a lot less wasteful than the current medical mess. The VA delivers much higher-quality care at less cost than proposed privatized substitutes. Public schools, though they have their problems (especially when there are high concentrations of poor kids), do better than voucher schools. Social Security, our most socialistic (and most popular) government program beats any private competitor cold.

Second, the monopolistic tendencies of the recent mutant form of American capitalism cry out either for regulation or for public options. Banks have become so concentrated and so corrupt that basic public banking would be more cost-effective for small customers. Fannie Mae worked much better as a secondary mortgage market and was less prone to corruption when it was a straightforward public agency.

The drug industry is especially predatory. Economist Dean Baker has calculated that it would be more cost-effective and more conducive to genuine innovation to have public agencies sponsor all drug research and put all drug patents into the public domain.

In Chattanooga, the local public power company, a legacy of Franklin Roosevelt’s TVA, offers public internet service. It is cheaper and faster than anything on offer from private utilities, and has helped make that city a tech leader.

Polls show that 49 percent of all millennials have a favorable view of socialism. That’s because they have been experiencing American capitalism, up close and personal—meaning unreliable jobs, expensive housing, vanishing health and pension coverage, and of course student loans.

With little direct memory of pre-1989 communism, which collapsed before they were born, young people are not intimidated by old Cold War shibboleths. This is not good for The Wall Street Journal or Fox News.

Face it, conservative comrades: The New Deal or the Swedish or the Sanders brand of social democracy is increasingly popular today for very good reasons. Capitalism has demonstrated its penchant for inefficiency, corruption, and simple greed.

The right is correct about one thing. Most of the Democratic field does indeed embrace major public options, whether or not they embrace Sanders’s socialist label—and it’s about time.

Hauling out the ghost of Hugo Chavez doesn’t cut it. The ploy is a confession of just how weak is the right’s story.

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