WHEN A SINGLE WORD BLOCKS REAL PROGRESS

Key members of the new Democratic House have made a grave miscalculation. They have forgotten to be politicians. They have fatally embraced the term “socialism”.

A very right-wing Libertarian guy I knew, thinking he was engaging in clever rhetorical tactics, once asked me what proportion of progressive-Democrat policies are Communist. “Are their policies ten percent Communist? Fifteen per cent? Forty?”

I told him that I didn’t view simple non-radical methods for helping the working poor–like food stamps and Medicaid and inner city housing subsidies–to be Communism at all. Decency is not “communism”, it’s simply responsible behavior. And how is environmental protection legislation communist? As to that, he said that environmental regulations “choke” the free market. I replied that we’ve had substantial environmental regulations since the 1970s, and they did nothing to restrain markets at all. Industry has been quite profitable. And new industries and jobs prompted by the regulations have flourished too.

There is such a thing as intelligent, restrained socialism, as in certain European countries which implement universal free health care but remain careful not to put too much burden on the state. And they’re careful to allow capitalistic elements to succeed–within clear-cut rules of fairness.

But American culture was shaped, generation after generation, with propaganda emphasizing the failures of communism and socialism (the former is  strictly Marxist, the latter more flexible). The propaganda was not wrong, at least with respect to the USSR, to Mao’s regime, to Pol Pot, to the dark side of Castro. And now we have Maduro in Venezuela, a fresh example of the misuse, the abuse, of socialism. The words communism and socialism are hopelessly entangled with the legacies of brutal dictators.

Bernie Sanders’ idea was to  blot out the negative associations by attaching Democratic to Socialism. It worked for some people. But for too many Americans, the term is still a reeking albatross around the neck of his progressivism. to those folks, it looks funny and smells bad. That’s not fair–but that is the political reality.

FDR, you notice, was too smart to use the term socialism with respect to his ideas, though he did institute some mildly “socialistic” safety nets. The New Deal was smarter, and was also more accurate. “Deal” implies a business relationship. Rather than a charitable giveaway, it’s was a new deal; a new business relationship with the working person.

That’s the way Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and friends should go. First, don’t even think of it as socialism. What they’re advocating isn’t pure socialism anyway. Second, Simply Never Call It Socialism. Because the word socialism equates with Dangerous Radicalism, in the minds of many Americans. Trump and the GOP know that and they’re going to use it.

Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez is to some degree taking that cautious path with her New Green Deal label. But it’s not far enough. Drop the term socialism entirely! Don’t even say it’s  Democratic Socialism–don’t refer to socialism at all, and instead define it as it really is: A healthy set of strong regulations, a fairer tax plan (significantly taxing the very wealthy), a few safety nets like Medicare For All, and stronger ecological regulations. If you need a handy label, call it the Newer Deal, or perhaps Regulated Capitalism. Because that’s what it is! What Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and colleagues want is in fact capitalism–it’s just capitalism grown in a well-tended garden. It’s like a conscientiously cultivated, carefully pruned garden, where beautiful blossoms flourish in variety and abundance. Just because you’re pruning and weeding doesn’t mean it’s not an excellent, verdant garden. And just because you’re regulating capitalism–more strictly than we are now–doesn’t mean it’s not going to be thriving capitalism. The free market will thrive with strong regulations–despite glib claims to the contrary, regulations have never harmed the marketplace. Some degree of greed will be curtailed, but the country will be more economically healthy, since the middle class will have more money to spend.

Remember the politics of terminology–because Trump is remembering it.  So don’t call it socialism and you won’t raise the hackles of the average voter…

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