‘Socialist’ Label Should Be Discarded Altogether

If the same label can be applied to Vladimir Lenin and a sitting U.S. Senator, then it is profoundly unhelpful.


Jim DeMint, the hardline conservative senator from South Carolina, must be a socialist.

In an exchange with Meet the Press’s David Gregory, a nervously coughing DeMint said Republicans plan to cut only Social Security “waste” and declared, “We need to keep our promises to seniors.”

Ronald Reagan too must have been a socialist.

Having warning of the creeping socialism of Medicare in the 1960s, President Reagan agreed to raise taxes to save Social Security in 1983.

In my original response to Jonah Goldberg and Stanley Kurtz, I said congressional Republicans in the mid-’90s, too, could be seen as succumbing to collectivism because they reformed rather than repealed the Depression-era Aid to Families with Dependent Children program.

I make these patently silly assertions to illustrate why we need my “high bar,” as Jonah described it, for socialism. If, as Jonah says, “European socialists believe in a mixed economy,” and, as I argue above, Jim DeMint obviously believes in a mixed economy, then we need new terminology--because it has the potential to ensnare all of us. [See a roundup of editorial cartoons about the economy.]

Stanley  argues there’s a lot of headroom in American conservatives’ brand of a mixed economy. But is there really so much headroom? If you had told Barry Goldwater in 1964 that, decades later, some of the most steadfastly conservative members of his party would defend the status quo of Social Security and Medicare, what would he have thought? Would he have seen his fellow Republicans as having repudiated the European social welfare model?

Jonah says there are plenty of real socialists roaming the Earth, citing the Chinese (itself debatable, given their model of state-managed capitalism) and Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

[See 2010: The Year in Cartoons.]

And this is precisely the problem: If the same label can be applied to Vladimir Lenin and a sitting U.S. Senator, then that label is profoundly unhelpful.

As the late Roy Scheider said in Jaws, you need a bigger boat.

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