Can the Democrats Mainstream Socialism?

Socialism is the worst idea, and the greatest tragedy, in human history. It is responsible for more than 100 million deaths and almost unimaginable suffering and poverty. And yet…somehow, it keeps making a comeback. Even here in the United States, where many Democrats think it is time to come out of the closet and, like Bernie Sanders, declare themselves to be socialists.

The mainstreaming of socialism goes back at least to 2009, when Newsweek, when it was still being printed, featured this cover:

newsweek all socialists

In 2011, liberals cheered a Pew survey that showed millennials have a positive view of socialism, by a 49%-43% margin. That’s what comes of not knowing anything about history, I guess.

The effort to mainstream socialism has, of course, accelerated as Sanders has emerged as the Democrats’ popular favorite, if not, in all likelihood, the eventual nominee. Increasingly, liberals are floating trial balloons. Salon headlines: “Sorry, Hillary, but most Americans yearn for Bernie’s democratic socialism.” Bill Maher tells Sanders, we have to “teach Americans that they’re already socialist.” MSNBC combines its two favorite concepts by telling viewers that the U.S. would already be socialist, if it weren’t for race. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, asked how a Democrat is different from a socialist, was stumped: she couldn’t think of a single difference. And normalization of relations with Cuba, and all that has followed–Cuba is cool!–can be seen as part of the same campaign.

We could go on, but the conclusion is obvious: liberals are, at a minimum, trying to accustom voters to socialism as a plausible political program. Is it working? Conservatives have been encouraged by a recent Gallup poll that found 50% of respondents would not vote for a socialist if he was nominated by their party. (Socialists fared worse than homosexuals, evangelicals, Muslims and atheists.) But maybe we should be worried about the fact that 47% say they are ready to vote for a socialist if he is nominated.

One lesson we have learned over the years is that the Left never gives up. No defeat is permanent. Alger Hiss was convicted of perjury. He was innocent! The Rosenbergs were executed. They were framed! Mary Mapes and Dan Rather were fired. Their Texas Air National Guard story was a model of investigative journalism! Socialism has killed more than 100 million people, and impoverished countless more. Let’s give it another try!

I don’t think conservatives can assume (as we could for decades) that socialism is beyond the pale in the U.S., and that a candidate to whom the “socialist” label can be pinned is doomed. Conservative candidates are going to have to argue the case, assuming that most Americans know so little about history that they have an open mind on the merits of socialism. Voters need to be reminded that socialism in both forms–national socialism and Marxian socialism–has been a lethal disaster wherever it has been implemented. Venezuela is a good contemporary exemplar: do Americans want to emulate Venezuela, one of the most resource-rich countries in the world, where after 16 years of socialism you can’t buy toilet paper at any price, and shoppers knife one another to get their hands on groceries?

That is the reality that Bernie Sanders and many other Democrats want to bring to the United States, and GOP candidates should not let voters forget it.