A small follow-up to my recent column about the Trumpian-Republican effort to run against socialism. Said piece led off with Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer’s definition of “socialism”:
“It’s Venezuela. I mean, it is a complete government takeover. Literally, it’s theft. Socialism is theft. You name your issue. It’s restriction of free speech.”
My point, you noticed, was not whether socialism is good or bad, but that the term is almost meaningless and Republicans are trying to smear it all over Democrats because it fires up the base.
My belief: The S-word has no precise, commonly accepted meaning. The government levies taxes (then borrows to spend more than it taxes) and spends it on things. The magic line where that process crosses the line between freedom and tyranny (or socialism) is in the highly partisanized eye of the beholder.
So today, I pass along a story by Phillip Bump of the Washington Post in which Americans were asked in a YouGov poll whether various categories of government spending constituted “socialism.” The difference in replies across party lines were instructive.
For starters, the portion of Republicans who expressed a “very unfavorable” view of the S-word was huge (60 percent) compared to 28 for Democrats. Surprising to me, but not that surprising. And, likewise, by 64-12 percent, Republican respondents said Democrats are socialists, while, by 51-20, Democrats said they aren’t.
But how much does any of this mean until you know how the S-word is defined across party lines? The amusing thing to me was the difference between what looked like socialism to respondents across party lines. My conclusion, based on the poll results: Republicans think things that use tax dollars to help people like them are NOT socialism. Programs that use tax dollars to help the poor or the non-white ARE socialism.
For example, is Medicare socialism? 44 percent of Democrats said yes, but only 29 percent of Republicans agreed.
Would free health care for all be socialism? Republicans said yes by 77 percent; but only 55 percent of Democrats agreed.
Is Social Security “socialism?” 42 percent of Democrats said yes, but only 27 percent of Republicans agreed.
Is the government owned-and-operated U.S. military a kind of “socialism?” Democrats by 25-10 percent, were more likely to say so. Same for interstate highways (by 32-18). Are federal tax credits to business a form of socialism for the rich? Dems were likely to agree with that, by 22 percent, compared to 14 percent of Republicans.
How about extending free K-12 public education to include college? No surprise: By 69 to 48 percent, Republicans were more likely to view that as a step into S-word hell.
My argument, as in the previous piece, is that these measurements show that the S-word is fairly meaningless except for political purposes, and Trump and Emmer hope to ride that meaninglessness to a big win in 2020. It works, but mostly with their base. It’s easier to argue with hot words, maybe even smear words, than with facts and logic.