During the second debate among Democratic candidates for president, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper took issue with presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders openly embracing Democratic Socialism. He strongly advised that Democrats say loudly and clearly that the party is not Socialist. His reaction is understandable in that President Trump suggests that labeling the Democratic Party as Socialist is the most effective attack for Republicans to retain the presidency.
Why are Americans so fearful of socialism? Perhaps it is because most Americans do not understand the difference between communism and socialism. Classes taught in American schools such as “Americanism vs Communism” have made generations so fearful of communism that they are unable to critically distinguish it from any other system. Socialism is an economic system based upon the collective cooperation of citizens. Communism on the other hand is both an economic and political system run by a totalitarian government made up of only one party.
Democratic Socialism as espoused by Bernie Sanders and practiced by industrialized European and Scandinavian governments in particular is an ideology rooted in the beliefs that the economy and the society should function democratically to meet the needs of the whole community. That means that the basic needs of the populace, food, shelter, healthcare, education, a livable wage would be guaranteed to all citizens.
Most importantly, Democratic Socialism will not and does not have to replace Capitalism. It is possible to have the best of both worlds, a humane society that meets the needs of all citizens and the means by which individuals can use their gifts and talents to aspire to more through the free market.
So, if Democratic Socialism can serve all in society, why the pushback? There might be several reasons other than the lack of understanding of socialism. First, there is somewhere in the mythology of the American dream the idea that every American who works hard enough and pulls him or herself up by the bootstraps can become a millionaire, one of the 1%, and that the government will take his or her money away. Following the philosophy of the 1%, the dreamers would not want to share their good fortune with others even though others helped to make them rich. Could Ford all by himself, with only his idea, without thousands of workers producing cars in his plants have become a rich man?
A second reason might be the very negative feelings in America held towards the poor. Many Americans believe that government programs such as SNAP (food stamps) or housing assistance takes their well-earned money to support lazy, underserving people such as drug addicts and even undocumented immigrants.
A third reason deeply ingrained in the collective American consciousness might be related to racism. The idea of the black man being given something for nothing was voiced by President Andrew Johnson at the end of the Civil War. Johnson vetoed legislation for the forty acres and mule for freed slaves, believing that “it will encourage a life of wasteful laziness for blacks.” He also vetoed the extension of the Freedman’s Bureau because, “it favored one class of citizens over another,” believing that the services of encouraging education and land ownership would do more for blacks than whites.
This racist view of lazy blacks getting handouts from the government paid for by hardworking white people has been consistent in political rhetoric. In his 1980s campaign, Ronald Reagan turned America against welfare when he railed against welfare queens, black women living off the government.
Has socialism been given a new meaning? Has it become a code word for black welfare? Does the word have a racist appeal?
An argument against universal healthcare in the United States is that Scandinavian countries are small nations with a homogenized population. In other words, socialized healthcare and other welfare state benefits are only legitimate and workable with a “white” European population.
The good news for Americans who are not of the 1% is that more Americans favor universal healthcare (socialized healthcare), and that Millennials may make the difference in our view of socialism in the future. A recent YouGov poll found that more than 40% of those under age 30 were in favor of socialism. Maybe it is time to put away old fears of who might benefit from government programs and consider the ways in which all American lives can be upgraded by universal healthcare, free community college tuition, wage security and other advantages of “democratic socialism.”
When you hear the word socialism, what image comes to mind?
Do you believe that universal healthcare will turn America into a communist state?
Is Democratic Socialism simply charity for the underserving? Mostly blacks?
Do government social programs -- student loans, subsidies to farmers, food stamps -- take money from you without your receiving any benefits?
Do you consider Social Security and Medicare to be socialism?
Are you the recipient of assistance from any “socialized “program?