This will eventually be about U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer’s performance Tuesday in an online interview at the University of Minnesota. But first:
There are currently 233 U.S. House seats occupied by Democrats. Two of them, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, identify themselves as “socialists,” actually “democratic socialists.”
The current Republican Party relies heavily on using the S-word for demagogic purposes. Specifically, the Republican National Congressional Committee attaches the S-word, as an adjective, verb, and noun but seldom as an adverb, to the names of a huge portion of Democrats and Democratic candidates for Congress (very few of whom use the word to describe themselves).
I call this redbaiting. And, since Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District representative is chairman of the NRCC, I have sought an interview with him to discuss this matter. Emmer has ignored my requests, except for allowing a member of the committee staff to send me a link to a tape in which he embarrassed himself on the topic. (A transcript of the Emmer definition is viewable in that previous piece, here.)
My offer to talk to him about it stands. But I’m done renewing requests for the interview.
I used to have a higher opinion of Emmer (who, after all, replaced Michele Bachmann in Congress). I formerly viewed him as bright, nimble, friendly and charming. But he lost my respect when he declined my request for an interview to discuss his definition of socialism, since he was using the word constantly.
Yesterday, Emmer participated in a Zoom interview with University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs, so I sent in this question:
Under your leadership, the strategy of the NRCC has been to label most Democrats “socialists,” including many who do not identify themselves by that term. …
There are some who see elements of fascism in Trumpism. You are a big Trump backer, but I assume you don’t consider yourself a fascist. Whether you do or not, would you object to others publicly labeling you a fascist? Or if someone considers Donald Trump a fascist and then assumed that you, a fierce supporter of Trump, are also a fascist, would that be fair comment, if you’re free to label those who don’t consider themselves socialists as “socialists?”
Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are not voluntary programs. And they redistribute wealth. Do you consider them “socialism?” Which of them would you eliminate or make voluntary?
The graduated income tax takes more from the wealthy than from the poor. Do you consider that socialism? If someone proposed raising taxes higher on the wealthy to do more to help the poor, would that be socialism?
If you are going to continue to use the word “socialism” to apply to all liberals, who generally approve of programs that depend more on revenue from the rich to help the poor, please define the term, and if you would not eliminate all programs that do so, please explain why not?
Jacobs didn’t ask my question(s). But he did raise the general topic, including the possibility that it would not be healthy for U.S. political discourse if we spent our energy calling each other “socialists” and “fascists.”
Speaking to a different audience from those reached by the NRCC’s mailings, Emmer was cagey, if not completely evasive. “They’re the ones who call themselves that,” he said, meaning “socialists.”
Jacobs pointed out that exactly two of the 233 House Democrats describe themselves as socialists.
Emmer suggested that anyone who supported Nancy Pelosi is under suspicion. Jacobs said that Pelosi has resisted the more extreme ideas and crafted a coalition of mainstream liberals that can pass bills.
Emmer shifted to the “Green New Deal,” which he explicitly labeled “socialist.”
The discussion soon passed on to other issues, good ones, but not linked to my obsession with Emmer’s redbaiting. For example, Trump’s performance in dealing with the coronavirus (Emmer gave him high marks) and the national upheaval over racism growing out of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Emmer, who is just back from appearing at Trump’s rally in Tulsa, where he got a call-out in the stands from the POTUS, also said that Trump was thinking about declaring Juneteenth to be a national holiday.
Correction: An earlier version misidentified one of the two members of the House who self-identify as democratic socialists. They are Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib.