Madison, Wisconsin's indispensible John Nichols has another great Nation piece out:
He starts off with a surprising new poll result:
A new Gallup Poll finds that socialism is now viewed positively by 39 percent of Americans, up from 36 percent in 2010. Among self-described liberals, socialism enjoyed a 62 percent positive rating, while 53 percent of Democrats and independent voters who lean Democratic gave socialism a thumb’s up.But the really surprising news comes later, with the corresponding stats among conservatives:
In 2010, only 20 percent of conservatives viewed socialism favorably. Today, the number is 25 percent. That’s right: one-quarter of American conservatives view socialism favorably.Where is this newfound openness to socialism coming from? Nichols argues - from the people throwing around "Socialism!" around most often, even though they mean it as a dire accusation. To wit: Paul Ryan, Michele Bachman, John Boehner, Newt Gingrich...
Among Republicans, the increase has been slightly more notable. In 2010, only 17 percent of self-identified Republicans had a positive view of socialism. Now, that number had increased to 23 percent. So if you meet four Republicans, one of them is harboring socialist sentiments.
I think a big part of the conservatives' problem in this area is that they're still stuck in a Cold War mentality. Growing up in the '70s and '80s, we all knew what "Socialist" (and "Communist" - the two terms being used essentially interchangeably*) countries were like. The Soviet Union. Romania. Yugoslavia. Albania. Gray, dour countries where you stood in line all day for toilet paper and no one was allowed to smile. Where life was a bleak round of shortages, propaganda, and endless slave labor on massive wheat farms - only enlivened by the occasional Stalinist purge.
But nowadays, when the Apoplectic Republicans (ARs) want to summon the looming spectre of the Socialist Nightmare, all they can do is talk about dystopias like France. Sweden. The Netherlands. Is it any wonder that for kids too young to remember the Cold War, they look at the quality of life in France or Sweden and say "Wow, that doesn't seem all that nightmarish to me"?
Additionally, since the Reagan era, the ARs have consistently used "socialism" to refer to ANY government action they don't like - specifically, any government action that does ANYTHING for anyone but the richest 2 percent. Not only has crying "Wolf!" over socialism lost its power to shock, but some of the most widely popular government programs (Medicare, Social Security, unemployment insurance, etc.) are now routinely lumped in under the "socialist" umbrella.
Definitions aside, it's perfectly reasonable to approve of government programs that broadly help people - some would even say that's what ALL governments, of whatever stripe, are set up to do. So when the likes of Bachman and Gingrich call it all "socialism," it brings up the obvious question: If they ARE socialism, then what's wrong with that? (It also doesn't hurt that all of this socialism-demonizing is coming from the craziest, angriest, most hateful wingnuts in politics today. If ever there were an endorsement for socialism, it's calling it "something Paul Ryan hates.")
I think this is a hopeful sign - maybe a sign of the bigger Progressive Turn-around we seem to be ushering in these days. Maybe this means we can rescue the idea that government can help people, or rescue the tarnished reputation of "public servants" both elected and "civil." Maybe we CAN return to New Deal economics and not even care who calls it "socialism"!
*Please, let's not get into an argument over definitions. To the GOP squawkers, "socialist" and "communist" have always been the same thing. These days they even routinely throw in "fascist" too, even though that's technically at the opposite end of the spectrum. Their sloppiness with words can only help us in this case, especially since they themselves usually have only the vaguest notion of what it is they're mad about.