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Don’t Hold Your Breath Waiting for the Socialist Sweep in 2018 (Washington Examiner) August 31, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Policy Articles & Papers.
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It’s election season, and madness is in the air. Besides the usual questions in a midterm election — who will carry the House and Senate, and how many seats will the incumbent president lose — the word socialism, rarely heard in American politics, is out in the open. A few candidates are actually running for office under the socialism banner. But what does that mean for the 2018 elections and beyond?

For starters, we can say with confidence that there will be no socialist sweep into office in 2018. All the hype is really about a mere handful of candidates, most notably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez running for Congress in New York and Cynthia Nixon who is running so far behind in the race for governor of New York that we would not pay attention but for her earlier role in “Sex and the City.” There are also candidates for the state house in Pennsylvania. This hardly portends an electoral boom for socialism, but the fact that they are running at all is news.

The more interesting question is whether these candidates running as Democratic Socialists is the early stage of something bigger and longer-term. Is this socialism’s Barry Goldwater moment? In 1964, Goldwater suffered one of the biggest losses in presidential election history, but most credit him with laying the groundwork for Ronald Reagan’s later success running as a conservative. Just as Goldwater proclaimed that “extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice,” will these socialists help establish that socialism is no longer a form of extremism in its pursuit of equality?

Alas, this does not seem like a Barry Goldwater moment either for socialists. Prior to Goldwater’s run for president, conservatives had methodically taken over Republican Party positions at the state and local levels around the country. Goldwater himself authored books (most notably Conscience of a Conservative) outlining what he and the conservative movement stood for. Boots on the ground and ideas in the air were sustainable beyond Goldwater’s own electoral defeat and, indeed, they became the base on which Reagan would run and win the presidency 16 years later.

Socialists have no such infrastructure in 2018, only a handful of local and regional candidates wearing the label. The Democratic Socialists of America is the heart of their organization, such as it is. It has grown dramatically in recent times, but at 37,000, it is no bigger than a small town. Just as President Trump took over the Republican Party unexpectedly in 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, came surprisingly close to gaining the Democratic Party nomination that same year. Importantly, however, he did not grow a major base or infrastructure, so a socialist takeover of the party seems a long way off, if ever.

More important, the neosocialists have no agreed-upon philosophy or message. The millennials who speak favorably about socialism seem mostly interested in free government assistance: free tuition, help retiring student loans and buying houses. Even in Denmark, often spoken of as a the heartland of modern socialism, its prime minister pointed out in 2016 that it was not a socialist country but rather “a market economy” with “an expanded welfare state.” None of the candidates seems to be advocating the traditional understanding of socialism where government or the public owns the means of production and distribution.

Otherwise, one might say that all the buzz about socialism in the 2018 elections is much ado about very little.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’ s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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