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Madison, Wisconsin's indispensible John Nichols has another great Nation piece out:

Is Paul Ryan Making Americans More Favorable Toward Socialism?

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.

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.

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...

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.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks very interesting, particularly the uptick (11+ / 0-)

    Among conservatives.

    I think one of the most pleasing things to me of the last few years is that liberal has finally lost it's power as some kind of insult ( which for the life of me I never understood).

    Many a sign that the times really are a changing.

    hope springs eternal

    by ahyums on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 01:12:50 PM PST

    •  "conservatives" friendly to socialism? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      isabelle hayes, kyril

      I don't think so.  It's probably more that some people polled are mislabeling themselves as conservative.   Unlike "liberal," that word has not been effectively demonized, so people who are not politically engaged just attach the label to themselves without much thought.

      I wish we could just start with fresh labels, say X, Y, & Z.  With no negative baggage attached, I think America would side fairly strongly with many elements of socialism.  The media and pundits would be shocked.  SHOCKED I tell you.

  •  A few weeks ago around the election (3+ / 0-)

    there was some guy who immigrated from Hungary, did some video on YouTube  about  how socialism was bad, capitalism was good because he made it and blah blah blah.
    I bet there are kids soccer games at the park that draw more people than those who saw that video.

    One does not simply walk into Mordor! One invites a gas driller in, and one’s land becomes Mordor. Chris From Balloon Juice

    by Mr Stagger Lee on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 01:15:52 PM PST

  •  So someday we may actually associate the (8+ / 0-)

    correct definition to the word and not the false communism equivalency? One step towards winning our language back. Awesome.

  •  I pray to God it is (10+ / 0-)

    Seriously, my generation didn't live through the Cold War and hopefully see the benefits of sharing the burden. Why in the world should words like socialist be able to scare us anymore? It's ridiculous. Every time people start making accusations of communism or socialism, I can't help but laugh. First of all, half the time they don't know the difference. Second of all, I was born as the Soviet Union was collapsing. Oh yes, being educated on what collective action did for the United States also helps.

    by DAISHI on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 01:37:02 PM PST

  •  Sweet irony, (5+ / 0-)

    attracting people to the ideas you hate by denigrating them in public.  

    And now that they LOST the election, they are now finding it harder to convince people that they are not the LOSERS they really are. That has to make people give a second look at the things they don't like.  Oh sweet irony.

    God be with you, Occupiers. God IS with you.

    by Hohenzollern on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 01:37:40 PM PST

  •  Communists, communists, and socialists (8+ / 0-)

    The words are different.  But Americans have been confused.

    Communist with a small c refers to Marx's political philosophy, in which the means of production, land, etc., are primarily held by the government.  There would still be some democracy in the government, even more than there was in 1840s England, where Marx lived (and only a minority of male adults could vote).  It was a utopian vision of sorts, "to each according", etc., and sounded good to a lot of people at the time.  But it never ruled anywhere.

    Communist with a capital C refers to political parties that controlled the Soviet bloc, and China, in the 20th century. This was "Marxist/Leninist" in name, and was fundamentally totalitarian.  It featured central planning of the economy and a general disavowal of market functions (matching supply and demand).  This was a failure.

    Socialism is a looser term referring to a system wherein the government invests in the means of production, as well as in social benefit, but not to the exclusion of private enterprise.  It is totally compatible with democracy, and dominated western (pro-US) Europe in the latter 20th century.

    Big-C Communist countries tend to call themselves "socialist".  Hence the USSR.  Hayek himself had a point that the Soviet economic system didn't work, and did lead to a form of serfdom, but he was accepting the Soviet's self-given label of "Socialist" as if it were accurate, when the party name "Communist" was really the right label.  Socialists like Mitterand and Hollande in France were/are not tyrants!

  •  Wingnut psychos upping the ante to "communist" ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Just anecdotal evidence on my part, but it seems to me that there is more and more use being made of the word communist to describe Obama on the part  of the unhinged right.  

    I guess the loonies are grasping for a word that carries more of a negative weight.

    The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. -- John Kenneth Galbraith

    by richardak on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 02:04:56 PM PST

  •  It Probably Still Motivates Donors, But It's Cool (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, kyril

    to think that the constant association of the concept to everyday figures and policies is taking the edge off the term!

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 02:10:52 PM PST

  •  Obama attack fatigue (3+ / 0-)

    The past four years have been continuous attack against Obama. I think people just got tired of the attacks. They called Obama socialist, communist, Nazi, Kenyan, the anti-Christ, etc. As the attacks lost their power, the word socialist seems to have lost power to shock.

    The wolfpack eats venison. The lone wolf eats mice.

    by A Citizen on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 02:34:00 PM PST

  •  Non of the 'isms' are clear in my mind (0+ / 0-)
    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.
    and I'm a Democrat.  Nice to know that some of the republicans are joining the social society that we Democrats enjoy.

    Time is a long river.

    by phonegery on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 03:25:41 PM PST

  •  Reminds me of Trotsky's comment about (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, isabelle hayes, se portland, kyril, FG

    U.S. Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas: "Mr. Thomas calls himself a socialist as a result of a misunderstanding."

    If "socialism" means the regulatory welfare state, the U.S has been socialist since 1933.

    If it means the collective ownership of the means of production (Leon's understanding) then it is not and almost certainly never will be.

    •  Or non-state democratic ownership (7+ / 0-)

      There are plenty of modern red states that were once hotbeds of socialism. Middle America has embraced socialist models like rural electric co-ops, small public utilities, and member owned credit unions. It's a form of democratic worker-owned economic activity that could actually gain support in America.
      It's a shame so much of the left only looks to dead Europeans for ideas rather than considering what Americans would support.

    •  How many Trotskyites does it take (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kyril, farmerchuck

      Q: How many Trotskyites does it take to change a light bulb?

      A: The light bulb can not be changed. It must be DESTROYED!  

      But with humor aside, all modern developed nation are socialist to some degree or another.  Like the polls suggest though, the Red Scare is history. Voters 18 - 21 were not even born yet when the Soviet Union went belly up. So, it is hard to lump in socialist programs, like they have in Europe, with fears of being blown up with atomic bombs these days.

      George Orwell was a socialist as was Jack London. Actually he was pretty radical by today's standards. He supported the Wobblies, and thought labor was being to passive.

      It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America. - Molly Ivins

      by se portland on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 05:23:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  That's what happens when people keep... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WineRev, Bush Bites, drumwolf, kyril

    ...crying "wolf" at every turn: others get immune against it and no giving a shit!

    •  The diarist's line about (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      the screamers:

      Additionally, since the Reagan era, the ARs have consistently used "socialism" to refer to ANY government action they don't like
      reminds me a lot of how fundagelicals and Religious Right types (who overlap the ARs to a great degree) cite scripture to condemn "fornication."

      And just what does fornication mean? Not in the original Greek or Hebrew, and not in the Middle Ages and not in Webster's or the OED, but functionally?

      For the fundagelicals/Religious Righties, fornication is "ANY sexual practice you are doing that I don't like/approve of."

      Same sort of one size (condom) fits all approach....


      "God has given wine to gladden the hearts of people." Psalm 104:15

      by WineRev on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 03:47:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Social Security and Medicare are socialist. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trueblueliberal, kyril

    Conservatives always called them socialist or "socialistic" (whatever that means). We've reached the point where we should hold them to that. Yes, they're socialist programs.  So what? You like those programs, don't you?

    I'm no fan of state-socialism but it would be good to have that viewpoint in the public debate.

  •  I always call myself a Socialist. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    se portland, kyril, farmerchuck

    Even though I'm probably center-left.

    Once the wingnuts started calling me that, I decided to wear it as a badge of honor.

    Show us your tax returns !!!!!!

    by Bush Bites on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 03:47:25 PM PST

  •  Socialism is more popular than capitalism.. (5+ / 0-)

    ....among millenials, according to a Pew survey from a year ago.

    Show us your tax returns !!!!!!

    by Bush Bites on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 03:58:59 PM PST

  •  Low-information voters (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    se portland, trueblueliberal, kyril

    The word has most of its value with low-information voters who simply can't be bothered to learn any facts about any other nation's healthcare.

    When average voters look at a 'socialist' country and see healthcare costs that are anywhere from 40% to 75% lower than the US, and everyone is covered, and there's no such thing as medical bankruptcy, the attack line tends to lose its power.

    The Republican attacks on single-payer nations have largely been a mishmash of incoherency -- Romney praised Isreal's single-payer healthcare system, and Palin's admission that she used to "hustle over the border for health care we received in Canada" means Average Joe Voter is left to scratch his head and wonder why socialism is so bad.

  •  See, this reminds me of my students (0+ / 0-)

    who love using exclamation marks and rhetorical questions in their writing. They use them so much, the devices are no longer effective--no more emphasis. As a result, I tell them they can only use them once per paper.

    I would like to lump "Socialism" with this rule. The Rebublicans have used the term so much as a bogeyman scare that it has lost its emphasis and is no longer scary. Especially since some apparently socialist nations have better health than we do.

  •  Even many of those who call it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    socialism really know what that means.  They just know it was scary to them way back when, so it should scare others now.  Stupid has become a kind of badge of honor in the GOP. (Shaking my head as I type....)

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 07:18:12 PM PST

  •  Civilization is socialism. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trueblueliberal, kyril

    Expand/define it as you will.  Civilization is socialism.

  •  We were "Socialist" from Day One (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trueblueliberal, kyril

    This 13 Original Colonies banded together for a Reason.
    Some Problems are too Big to be solved by Individual States.

    Blame the Founding Fathers. "We the People" has Always
    been an Inclusive and Collective Term. This Country was
    "Socialist" from the Day it was Founded.

    Some Ignorant Person started using that word as a
    Derogatory Term and a Lot of Other Ignorant People
    decided to follow along because they didn't know any

    Maybe the Ignorant folks are Learning what the word
    "Socialism" really Means.  That would be a good thing.

    On Giving Advice: Smart People Don't Need It and Stupid People Don't Listen

    by Brian76239 on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 08:09:19 PM PST

  •  When a word is used to connote everything bad (0+ / 0-)

    and it's used continually by people who seem unhinged, then it loses it's power to frighten. Sort of a "great and powerful Oz" effect.

    Slow thinkers - keep right

    by Dave the Wave on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 07:30:09 AM PST

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