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Socialism in American Elections

 

Socialism in American Elections              Gerry OShea

Prior to the November election, all the polls in Florida predicted a very tight race. They were wrong because President Trump won the state with plenty to spare. These results were among the first to be announced and they were buttressed by declarations from Texas  where the Democrats had run a very ambitious and expensive campaign, only to come in a distant second.

Exit interviews at various polling stations in both states revealed that large numbers of Hispanic voters, especially with Cuban and Venezuelan backgrounds, had voted for the incumbent, President Trump. The Republican campaign had repeatedly warned that voting for Joe Biden and, especially, Kamalla Harris, amounted to support for the socialism of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez – both long dead but who cares about a detail like that when emotions are being stirred.

Democrats knew that the old Cuban emigrants were committed conservatives, suspicious of any candidate courting voters on the left, but their children and grandchildren had shown an openness to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and the Biden candidacy anticipated a similar response.

 Republicans were better organized this time, especially in Florida, and their television and radio ads focused on the alleged depredations of socialism. Democrats were not prepared for such a huge upsurge of disdain for the evils – real or imagined – of the hated “s” word.

The same game is being played out in the crucial Georgia senatorial elections on January 5th. Here again a strong Hispanic turnout is viewed as vital for the Democrats who are considered slight underdogs in both senatorial contests.

In a recent widely-watched debate between the incumbent Republican senator, Kelly Loeffler, and her opponent, Rev. Rafael Warnock, pastor of the famous Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta that was once Rev. Martin Luther King’s congregation, both performed with a vengeance. It was fought out as a Manichean event with each one lambasting the other’s  evil positions.

 Loeffler was known in her early months in the senate as a moderate, favoring compromises with Democrats. That changed when she realized that most Republicans in Georgia had no time for a middle-of-the-road representative reaching across the senate floor, seeking common ground. The core Republican constituency in Atlanta want red meat.

Responding to the critical voices from home, she swung to the hard right, defining herself memorably as more conservative than Attila the Hun and welcoming with open arms the endorsement of QAnon far-out extremists like Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene.

In the debate, no matter what the issue being discussed, Loeffler rattled off a prepared first line that she was running against Warnock’s radical liberalism and socialism.

The Reverend’s responses focused on Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, affirming the pre-eminence of meeting the needs of the poor. His perspective was very much in the Christian tradition which always assigns greater importance to considerations of the common good over private gain in determining public policy - one credible, thumbnail definition of socialism.

The other Republican candidate, Senator David Perdue, was trounced by his opponent, Jon Ossoff, in their first debate, so, understandably, he refused to be part of a second round. However, Perdue’s ads warned the people of his state that electing his opponent would push a Democratic majority in the United States Senate to look to the socialists of North Korea and Venezuela for inspiration!

Clearly, they believe that a sufficient number of voters, especially in the Hispanic community, carry an image of a clicking heel of left-wingers waiting to take over in Washington. In Shakespeare’s words in Macbeth: present fears are worse than horrible imaginings.

The Democratic primaries last year were fought between moderates led by Joe Biden and a few candidates on the left headed by Maine senator, Bernie Sanders, a declared socialist. After the scrappy early contests, the choice came down to picking a candidate deemed to have the best chance of dethroning Donald Trump. Black voters in South Carolina made the choice, overwhelmingly favoring President Obama’s vice-president, Joe Biden, and his moderate policies.

The main issue dividing the two sides was Healthcare. Sanders and his supporters proposed universal healthcare for all while Joe Biden proclaimed his allegiance to an expanded version of President Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act.

The availability of basic healthcare for every resident of a country is not an extreme position, propounded by raving socialists. Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and all countries in the European Union provide universal coverage for many years. In the United States, poor people in medical distress but without insurance have to be admitted for treatment to expensive hospital emergency rooms with no provision for follow-up consultations with a family doctor. A terrible system from a humane standpoint, but which also partly explains why healthcare in the United States is by far the most expensive in the world.

Despite the high costs, our longevity numbers are down on the international list, just ahead of socialist Cuba. Where is the American pragmatism that drives other parts of the economy? Why is this ridiculous situation tolerated in the richest country in the world?

Republicans spent the last four years trying to rid the country of the Affordable Care Act, which, among other important features, insists that insurance companies cannot exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions. President Trump claimed before he was elected in 2016 that he had a new set of healthcare policies ready to present to the people. These hidden Republican proposals are still gathering dust.

The socialism practiced in the Soviet Union including in its satellite countries throughout Eastern Europe until the whole system collapsed in the 1980’s was really a form of state capitalism where the central government made all the political and economic decisions. Private ownership was violently suppressed in favor of government apparatchiks deciding agricultural and industrial plans.

These policies, still practiced in countries like North Korea, were disastrous for human rights and workers’ involvement. It is these approaches that are still attacked by conservative spokesmen who like to associate them with the Democratic Party in an effort to tie progressive ideas to totalitarian extremism. Recent election results suggest that this approach still works with many voters, especially in the Hispanic community.

FDR was the first American president to be accused of socialism. His New Deal policies introducing healthcare, social security and government job programs left him open to accusations that he was espousing an alien philosophy of government.

His successor, Harry Truman, often spoken of as matching Shakespeare’s description of Marc Anthony in Julius Caesar as “a plain blunt man,” was stung by the constant criticism that he was some kind  of crypto-socialist in the White House.

In a famous speech delivered in Syracuse, New York in October 1952, he addressed the issue very powerfully and directly in terms that impacted people’s lives. Socialism is a scare word they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last twenty years. Socialism is what they call social security. It is what they call farm price supports. It is what they call bank deposit insurance. Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations. It is the name for almost anything that helps the people.

Gerry OShea blogs at  wemustbetalking.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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