You’d think I would learn by now not to repost Facebook memes. Every time I do, I get a crapload of comments about how the meme is simplistic or wrong, and that they are surprised I reposted something like that.
Here’s the latest one:
This led to a whole bunch of comments, some comparing Sanders to Hitler. (That’s an interesting comparison, seeing as Sanders is the first Jewish presidential candidate to win primary delegates.)
It appears the left has interpreted “democratic socialism” as “government controlling the excesses of capitalism.” The right has interpreted “democratic socialism” as “Communism.” It’s a shame our brains are so feeble that we need to attach a label to something or someone we can’t explain in half a sentence.
Anyway, when I’m in doubt about the meaning of a word, I go to the meaning book, er, the dictionary:
democratic: of, relating to, or favoring democracy
democracy: government by the people; especially : rule of the majority
socialism: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
To Bernie Sanders, “democratic socialism” is more democratic than socialist. He described what he calls “democratic socialism” in an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep:
INSKEEP: You were asked in a debate, why it is that you think that people will vote for someone who describes himself as a socialist – or democratic socialist. Even though large numbers of people in surveys have said that they are opposed to that label. You responded, once people understand what I mean by it, they’ll support it. OK. What is socialism to you?
SANDERS: What democratic socialism is, is to number one, build on some enormously important and popular programs that we have right now. I don’t want to get people nervous falling off their chairs, but Social Security is a socialist program. It’s a program by which the United States government has said that when you get old you should have a steady source of income. Regardless of whether the economy is strong or weak, we build on Social Security. Medicare is a single-payer health care system. Again, I don’t want to get people too nervous. It has transformed healthcare for the elderly. My view is that we should expand Medicare not just for the elderly, but for all Americans. So to answer your question, what democratic socialism means to me is that we should have a government addressing and representing the needs of the vast majority of our people rather than is the case today, a government which represents large campaign donors and corporate America and the top one percent.
INSKEEP: When many people hear the word socialism or democratic socialism they may think in terms of the government taking over the steel mills, taking over the commanding heights of business. You’re saying you don’t mean that.
SANDERS: No, I don’t mean that at all – of course I don’t. But I think we have seen in Scandinavia, market economies which are strong but which are very conscious that the distribution of wealth and income has got to positively impact all people, not just a few.
So, using the dictionary definition of “socialism,” Sanders is not strictly a socialist. He was a member of the socialist movement in his younger days, and says that informed his views, so he assimilated those views into his democratic principles and wears both badges proudly.
Conservatives simply label Sanders “communist” and move on. There is a difference between “communism” and “Communism.” (On “All in the Family,” Archie Bunker once commented, “People who live in communes are commun-ists.” He was right, but not in the way he thought.) In order to impose communist principles, leaders of Communist nations think there must be autocratic government rule. Pure communism will never work as a large-scale economic system for the same reason pure capitalism will never work: greed.
I suspect many conservatives don’t like government programs, or government in general, because they don’t like being told what to do. They think they can function totally independently within the system, and as long as they work hard, they’ll do fine. Government involvement (or “interference”) will only cause problems and make things unfair for the man who does a hard day’s work.
What this attitude doesn’t take into account is another two-word phrase with the word “social” in it; “social contract.” Simply because we live in a society and are decent human beings, we agree that we will forgo some individual freedoms in exchange for support from the community as a whole. I think when many conservatives hear “forgo individual freedoms,” they cry “un-American!”
As Sanders and many others have pointed out, supporting each other is American. Helping immigrants is American. Supporting the little guy and giving everyone a voice in government is American.
If conservatives don’t expand their thinking, and if Republicans don’t modify their principles to support all of society, they may become victim to another similar concept: “social Darwinism.”