The dictionary definitions of socialism are 1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; 2: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b: a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state and a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.
That is not the socialism some politicians are talking about. The dictionary explains the difference between socialism and what some today are calling democratic socialism as: “In the many years since socialism entered English around 1830, it has acquired several different meanings. It refers to a system of social organization in which private property and the distribution of income are subject to social control, but the conception of that control has varied, and the term has been interpreted in widely diverging ways, ranging from statist to libertarian, from Marxist to liberal. In the modern era, “pure” socialism has been seen only rarely and usually briefly in a few Communist regimes. Far more common are systems of social democracy, now often referred to as democratic socialism, in which extensive state regulation, with limited state ownership, has been employed by democratically elected governments (as in Sweden and Denmark) in the belief that it produces a fair distribution of income without impairing economic growth.”
This is the definition Bernie Sanders referred to during his presidential campaign when talking about the Swedish system he likes. Now after a winning primary campaign by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez we are hearing more about the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) who refer to her and Sanders on their website. They claim to be “the largest socialist organization in the United States.”
Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez’s arguments remind me of the quote from Mario Cuomo: “you campaign in poetry and govern in prose.” To me that often means you don’t give any details for the promises you espouse in the campaign and then find yourself unable to meet those promises when you are elected. It is difficult to find an honest politician willing to explain the incredible difficulty and cost of fulfilling their promises. A recent New York Times column on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reported “midway through his fifth year in office, Mr. de Blasio has disappointed some of his most loyal backers, who point to a range of issues, from criminal justice reform and homelessness to the protection of immigrants, where the mayor has fallen short of his promises.”
In actuality, de Blasio, once their favorite progressive, knew the state, unions, the City Council and a host of other interests would not just bend to his rhetoric. The same can be said about Bernie Sanders who campaigned on free college for all and universal healthcare yet knew those things wouldn’t happen even had he been elected.
Today Democratic Socialists have a new hero in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They have her traveling the country espousing their policies. She got upset when Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) explained “policies too far to the left can’t win in Midwestern states.” Ocasio-Cortez showed her naiveté by suggesting because Sanders won some Midwest primaries it showed Duckworth was wrong. Any seasoned politician understands primary voters of the far left might win a primary but don’t represent the majority of the electorate. Maybe a woman, also a military hero, who won a Senate seat in the Midwest would know that electorate better than Ocasio-Cortez.
I support Ocasio-Cortez as the Democrat in her New York Bronx/Queens district. She might consider she won because her more seasoned opponent forgot Tip O’Neil’s first rule, “all politics is local.” She might want to stay in her District, which hasn’t even elected her, at least pretending their needs are her top priority. Hopefully she won’t forget them in the haze of fame before she is even elected.
We know the basic issues for voters are healthcare, education and the economy. We also know the founders of our country set up a government with checks and balances forcing our elected officials to compromise to get things done.
Democratic Socialism doesn’t seem like a compromise position Americans will accept in more than a possible few very left leaning Districts. So let’s not fall into the trap that it’s a good label for the Democratic Party to adopt if we really hope to defeat Republicans in November and take back Congress, state legislatures, and governorships.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.
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