(Image Credit: Ståle Grut / NRKbeta)
Democratic Socialist. Socialist. Social Democrat.
Labels are deceiving. Americans should know this better than most. The land of the free and home of the brave is a surveillance state run by the most corrupt and crooked people in the world. Labels are what they are, labels, and nothing more.
This is why the ‘socialist’ argument is a little frustrating. Some on the progressive left proudly flaunt their socialist credentials. There is nothing wrong with this, of course. Years of propaganda has made most Americans believe that socialism is the progeny of Satan and Ebenezer Scrooge. If people are finally able to overcome decades of disinformation and speak their mind, it is a sign of a more informed society.
Calling yourself a socialist is fine if you’re at a party or visiting your relatives after a long time. It is, however, counterproductive for progressives running for office to call themselves socialists (or democratic socialists).
Good Politics is Good Politics, Whether it’s Left or Right Wing
Take Bernie Sanders, the most famous democratic socialist of America (although he is more of a social democrat than a democratic socialist). When he calls himself a democratic socialist on MSNBC or CNN, he immediately evokes images of Stalin’s Soviet Union and Castro’s Cuba in the minds of those watching at home.
Most Americans are not open to the idea of electing a socialist to the highest office in the country. However, a large majority of Americans want Medicare for All, free college, an end to the endless wars, prosecution of corrupt Wall Street Bankers, and an end to the corporatization of the American political class.
In other words, the American public wants socialist solutions without calling them ‘socialist’.
Progressives running for office should recognize this simple reality. When Bernie Sanders calls for Medicare for All to be passed into law at a rally, many people cheer. When he calls himself a democratic socialist, the cheers go down.
Sanders doesn’t gain any new voters when he calls himself a democratic socialist. It is not as if the hardened socialists of America would ditch Sanders for Biden if he refuses to say the ‘S’ word. Progressives will stand behind Sanders because he stands for the right policies, not because he has a cool label.
It is simple politics. Do not lose people by calling yourself socialist. Lure them with ideas and substance, not labels.
A Deep Problem
Some readers might feel this is not a real problem, but it is. AOC’s stunning victory in 2018 was also accompanied by stories calling her a democratic socialist. The Congresswoman herself agreed with the stories.
Now imagine a scenario eight or twelve years for now when AOC runs for office. She will again have to explain her democratic socialist credentials. Why run through all this trouble if there is nothing to gain?
During the campaign, Sanders was asked the difference between Senator Warren and his policy platform. Sanders told the reporter that he didn’t believe in capitalism while Warren was a capitalist.
This is an example of needlessly losing voters. Many progressives praised Sanders for his honesty and authenticity, but this moment is a classic example of misplaced idealism. There is nothing to gain in telling people you think capitalism is bad. The elections are not a Michael Moore documentary.
The progressive movement is not stopping here. We have come too far in four years to go back to supporting moderate and conservative Democrats just because the Republicans are nuts. In the future, progressives coming into the fold should deal with the ‘socialist’ question with greater political smarts.
The American public doesn’t want a discussion on Marxist doctrines and Hayek’s economics. They want to talk about real stuff like healthcare, education, jobs, and foreign policy. Progressives should not take the bait and call themselves socialists. The road will only be tougher if they do so.