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Where Did Socialism Go? (Washington Examiner) June 29, 2020

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

Whatever happened to last year’s political rage, socialism? Was it one of those musical one-hit wonders that soared briefly but then flamed out? Was it the political equivalent of a new television program that bombed after only one season?

With the news flooded by stories of a pandemic and racial injustice, it may be difficult to remember the hot political news of 2019 and early 2020, but it was a newfound taste for socialism in America. Once a dirty word, socialism began to receive a fresh look, especially from young people. A 2018 Gallup poll revealed that 51% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 had a positive view of socialism, rising to 59% among young Democrats. A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center found that 65% of Democrats held a favorable view of socialism. President Trump included a warning about the rise of socialism in his 2019 State of the Union message, saying that “we are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism.”

Under the label “democratic socialism,” the doctrine began to make inroads into politics. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist, was leading in the polls for the Democratic nomination for president, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another socialist, drew national attention for her bold proposal for a “Green New Deal.”

But now? Crickets. Even with both the COVID-19 pandemic and racial protests underscoring income inequality, we hear very little these days about socialism. I doubt you have even heard of Howie Hawkins, who is running as the Socialist Party candidate (and also the Green Party nominee) for president. The “Green New Deal” is rarely discussed these days, and even Bernie Sanders’s ideas draw little attention, a meager legacy for someone who was twice runner-up for the Democratic presidential nomination.

So what happened to socialism? To answer that question, we must first recognize that young people never really wanted socialism in the first place — in fact, they didn’t even understand it.

Young voters are not interested in moving to a system in which there is collective ownership of the means of production and distribution, which is the very definition of socialism. In fact, in one of the earlier surveys showing that young people admired socialism, they turned right around and said they preferred a market economy to one run by government by a 2-1 margin. When Sanders mentioned Denmark as a model in the 2016 campaign, that nation’s prime minister felt obliged to clarify that his country was not socialist but rather was “a market economy” with “an expanded welfare state.”

Ah, there’s the rub. Young people do not want high taxes or a managed economy. They want free stuff. They want student loans forgiven, free college education, and help with expensive housing, transportation, and healthcare. While we’re at it, maybe even a guaranteed annual income. And guess what? All of those things have now moved into the Democratic vocabulary — but notably without the socialist label.

Joe Biden intends to cancel all undergraduate student tuition debt for borrowers who earn up to $125,000 per year. He has also said he would make public college and university tuition-free (millennials’ favorite word) for families making less than $125,000 a year. Not limiting free stuff to millennials alone, Biden has also spoken in favor of lowering eligibility for Medicare from age 65 to 60. He describes healthcare as a right, not a privilege, and favors portions of the “Green New Deal.” Having once supported a federal balanced budget amendment, he now says we need to spend whatever it takes to address the pandemic and its effects on the economy.

The Democratic Socialists of America have only 50,000 members and very little political clout. Nevertheless, if you ask where the enthusiasm for socialism has gone, especially among young people, it has been bequeathed to the Democrats who favor the kind of free stuff young voters really want, even if they fail to realize that it’s not socialism.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


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