We are at an interesting and unexpected point in the history of left politics: The meaning and value of “socialism” is being debated on The View. I’ll admit, I never thought I’d see that happen. But there was a certain point in the distant past when I never thought the star of The Apprentice would be given access to the nuclear codes. Political reality can change very quickly. It’s best to be cautious in one’s predictions.
The View’s debate is a fascinating, if not very constructive, few minutes of television. Whoopi Goldberg points out that “democratic socialists are rising stars” in the Democratic Party, but voices skepticism about the concept, saying: “If you’re a socialist, tell me that. Don’t say that you’re a Democrat.” Joy Behar replies with examples of publicly-run institutions (“Medicare, Social Security, garbage collection, the post office, libraries”) to suggest that socialism might not be too far from the liberalism that has produced many institutions we value. Sunny Hostin then agrees with Behar, reading off Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s platform: Medicare for All, fully-funded university education, paid family and sick leave, criminal justice reform, immigration justice, overhauled infrastructure, clean campaign finance, an economy of peace, and housing as a human right. “What’s wrong with that?” Hostin asks.
At which point Meghan McCain begins ranting about Venezuela.
“I hope Democrats do run a ‘democratic socialist,’” she says. “I think they’ll lose spectacularly… The problem with socialism, in the words of Margaret Thatcher, is that at a certain point you run out of spending other people’s money. [sic] Venezuela! One of the richest countries in the world in the 1970s. Now, the average Venezuelan has lost 24 pounds because they’re starving to death!”
Nearly 3 million people watch The View. I have to admit there’s something satisfying about realizing how many people saw just how desperate and flailing the conservative replies to the Ocasio-Cortez agenda are. Hostin gives a long list of policies that will clearly improve people’s lives. Women at home know full well that paid family and sick leave would be very helpful indeed. Does Meghan McCain have an argument for why it wouldn’t? Nope. She has what appears to be the last conservative defense against socialism’s steady advance in the war of ideas: hoping that if you say the word Venezuela enough times, Medicare for All will somehow sound spooky.
McCain had a few more points: She challenged Behar to name any country where the policies being advocated have worked, to which Behar began naming countries in which they have worked. Then McCain said that anyone advocating socialism needs to immediately begin paying 90% in taxes. “It’s dangerous! … Some of us do not want socialism to be normalized in this country.” Too late: Socialism is being normalized in this country, especially among young people, and the View discussion itself was another small step towards normalizing it.
It has been very enjoyable watching conservatives try to respond to the actual agenda advanced by people like Ocasio-Cortez and Abdul El-Sayed. FOX News’ attempts to scaremonger about left ideas keep accidentally turning into ads for democratic socialism. When Sean Hannity put the AOC platform on screen, it was hilarious watching him try to scoff at a list that included “women’s rights” and “protect seniors.” FOX Business asked whether Democrats were in “disarray” by showing Ocasio-Cortez declaring: “We will not rest until every person in this country is paid a living wage to lead a dignified life.” Venezuela!
Most hilariously of all, when Daily Caller editor Virginia Kruta went to an Ocasio-Cortez rally, and tried to describe what made it “truly terrifying,” she ended up writing the following:
I saw something truly terrifying. I saw just how easy it would be, were I less involved and less certain of our nation’s founding and its history, to fall for the populist lines they were shouting from that stage. I saw how easy it would be, as a parent, to accept the idea that my children deserve healthcare and education. I saw how easy it would be, as someone who has struggled to make ends meet, to accept the idea that a “living wage” was a human right. Above all, I saw how easy it would be to accept the notion that it was the government’s job to make sure that those things were provided.
In an accompanying photo taken with Ocasio-Cortez, Kruta looks as if she’s trying very hard not to succumb. Kruta later told Fox & Friends that it’s “easy to fall into” the socialist “trap” because “they talk about things that everybody wants, especially if you’re a parent. They talk about education for your kids, health care for your kids, the things that you want.”
One problem for pundits like Kruta is that the left has actually begun formulating serious and compelling proposals that are hard to argue convincingly against. If you haven’t checked out Abdul El-Sayed’s comprehensive policy agenda, do it. He has incredibly detailed and realistic plans for how to implement progressive policies, with answers to the tough questions about how they will be funded and how they’ll be administered. When you look through these documents, you realize why the right has to resort to just yelping “Venezuela!” El-Sayed is an accomplished public health expert who has published dozens and dozens of papers on every aspect of the healthcare system. It’s no longer possible, faced with his MichCare plan, to say that the left has fanciful pipe dreams but has never thought seriously about what they’d actually look like in practice.
Compounding the problem is that conservatives don’t actually have persuasive plans of their own. That was what caused Theresa May to unexpectedly struggle against Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K.: Corbyn’s Labour Party released a manifesto filled with progressive policy ideas, all of them budgeted and clearly explained. Conservatives are stuck because they don’t have answers, and it’s no wonder that a conservative lawmaker’s response to AOC would be an identity-based personal attack: “You look at this girl Ocasio-Cortez, or whatever she is, I mean, she’s in a totally different universe…”
To illustrate what I mean when I say that socialists are addressing problems that other political ideologies are incapable of dealing with, I just want to relate two anecdotes from my own observation in the past two days. First, at a coffee shop I sometimes go to, all of the staff recently walked out in the middle of a shift and refused to return to work. Why? Because the owners of the shop fired the store’s beloved manager, who had worked there for years, and who had been promised that someday she would receive a share of the business. The staff were so disgusted by the way they and the manager had been treated, and allege that the owners had been verbally and emotionally abusive to the staff. But here’s the thing: They don’t actually have any real recourse, because the United States has at-will employment and owners can do as they please. If you don’t have strong employment protections, if you don’t have a union, your boss can do whatever they like and you’re stuck. The American right is fine with this: They have nothing to say to people who are mistreated at their jobs, except “If you don’t like it, quit,” which leaves anyone who actually needs their job completely stuck. Socialists, on the other hand, actually want workplace democracy. They want workers to have a say in what goes on at their companies, and not just be subject to the capricious whims of owners.
Here is the second anecdote: A friend of mine has seemingly been caught in all of the prevailing economic and political trends at once. She is pregnant, and has just been laid off from her job. She was laid off because the school district she worked for is facing budget cuts because, well, they’re having to increase spending on school security because everyone is afraid of mass shootings. Now my friend is stuck: She has to try to get another job, and health insurance, before having her baby, but knows it’s going to be very hard to get a job while she’s pregnant. She also knows that if she gets a job, she’ll be lucky if she gets even a single month of maternity leave to spend with her newborn child. (In England eligible parents are entitled to up to “50 weeks of leave—37 weeks of which is paid.” And British maternity pay is actually among the worst in Europe. In Sweden you can get over a year of paid parental leave!)
The democratic socialists actually have answers for my friend. They’re going to make sure schools are fully funded and don’t cut important staff positions. They’re going to make sure that new moms get to spend time with their babies. They’re going to make sure that nobody has to worry about not being able to pay to go to the hospital, just because they lost their job. The right’s responses to this look downright pitiful. They can tell us how wonderful free-market capitalism is, how we should all be grateful for its bounties. Or they can say that paid leave is the first step on the road to the gulag. But they can’t actually solve the problems facing my friend or the local baristas. And that lack of answers is evident everywhere from The View to FOX.
So here, in deepest sincerity, is a personal plea to Meghan McCain: Please, just stop. You don’t need to do this. Come and join the left. We’re more fun, we’ve got better plans, we’ll make people’s lives better, and we’re not scary. There’s no need to find us “dangerous” or “terrifying.” Just stop worrying. Socialism will win, and it’ll all be okay.
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