The Corner

Politics & Policy

The ‘Socialism’ Trap

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (at right) hold a news conference for their proposed “Green New Deal” on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., February 7, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

As their party swings hard to the Left, some prominent Democrats have embraced the “socialist” label and promulgated increasingly radical policy proposals, such as the Green New Deal and the abolition of private medical insurance. Republicans see a political opening here: Cry “socialism” and let slip the talking heads. While there is a clear political opportunity in reminding the public about the consequences of far-left policies, there is also a potential political trap for Republicans.

The allure of the “socialism” attack is obvious. Such dire warnings can distract from the deep divisions within the center-right and the Republican deadlock on legislative policy (as the record of the 115th Congress demonstrates). However, while shouting “socialism!” from the rooftops might rally the Republican base, American elections are not Hayek seminars, and accusations of “socialism” are not a substitute for a policy agenda that addresses the needs of the American people.

The past offers a warning to Republicans here. The slogan “You did build that” took over the 2012 Republican National Convention. However, while this talking point no doubt gratified some in the donor class and ideological right, it also kept the Romney campaign from explaining how its policy proposals could help working families, and a poor performance among blue-collar voters doomed Mitt Romney’s presidential bid. Likewise, Republicans in 2019 and 2020 might be disappointed by allowing denunciations of socialism to crowd out the work of policy reform. (This is not to say that there is no place for criticizing an ideology that has a casualty list of tens of millions — just that such criticism cannot be the whole of the GOP message.)

Moreover, in speaking about how they can improve the lot of Americans, Republicans might need more than abstract defenses of the market or broad claims that a rising tide lifts all boats. Instead, they will probably have to present concrete policy recommendations that speak to real-world challenges. Republicans can and should be able to address rising health-care costs, overwhelming student-loan debt, economic decline in some parts of the country, the consolidation of the financial sector, and so forth. Addressing some of these issues might at times require breaking from the donorist consensus, but the current legislative impasse Republicans find themselves in and the wave of disruption roiling the right (personified by Donald Trump) might be signs of the exhaustion of that consensus.

A related point goes beyond partisan politics. As Peggy Noonan recently suggested in the Wall Street Journal, the failures of the post-2000 policy regime have helped fuel a variety of challenges to current status quo. In the wake of this political disruption, some have been inclined to settle into the rhetoric of complaint and calumny — to deplore those ungrateful rubes who have dared to question the record of the past 20 years. But merely complaining about present troubles can get in the way of trying to address them. Certain elements of the high neoliberal regime may have to be trimmed or even reversed in order to secure some of the gains of the current mode of globalization.

An extended period of political frustration can give radical schemes a novel shine, which makes the case for reform even more pressing. If certain trends have chipped away at the prospects of democratic societies that protect civic liberties, a responsible act of statesmanship might be to address those trends in order to preserve a republican inheritance. If complaint can be a mode of complacency, reform can be a mode of preservation.

Something to Consider

If you enjoyed this article, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS. Members get all of our content (including the magazine), no paywalls or content meters, an advertising-minimal experience, and unique access to our writers and editors (conference calls, social-media groups, etc.). And importantly, NRPLUS members help keep NR going. Consider it?

If you enjoyed this article, and were stimulated by its contents, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS.

LEARN MORE

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

The FBI’s Corrupt Cops

White-collar criminals should hope for one thing this Christmas: that they get to live under the Horowitz rules. Michael Horowitz has testified that he found no evidence of political bias on the part of the decision makers who, under the Obama administration, relied on hilariously implausible “evidence” ... Read More
Law & the Courts

The FBI’s Corrupt Cops

White-collar criminals should hope for one thing this Christmas: that they get to live under the Horowitz rules. Michael Horowitz has testified that he found no evidence of political bias on the part of the decision makers who, under the Obama administration, relied on hilariously implausible “evidence” ... Read More
Elections

Diversity Panic Hits the Democratic Field

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An Asian guy, two black guys, three white women (one of whom spent much of her life claiming to be Native American), a Pacific Islander woman, a gay guy, a Hispanic guy, two elderly Caucasian Jews (one a billionaire, the other a socialist), a self-styled Irishman, and a ... Read More
Elections

Diversity Panic Hits the Democratic Field

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An Asian guy, two black guys, three white women (one of whom spent much of her life claiming to be Native American), a Pacific Islander woman, a gay guy, a Hispanic guy, two elderly Caucasian Jews (one a billionaire, the other a socialist), a self-styled Irishman, and a ... Read More
White House

Is Trump the Only Adult in the Room?

Donald Trump certainly is mercurial at times. He can be uncouth. But then again, no president in modern memory has been on the receiving end of such overwhelmingly negative media coverage and a three-year effort to abort his presidency, beginning the day after his election. Do we remember the effort to ... Read More
White House

Is Trump the Only Adult in the Room?

Donald Trump certainly is mercurial at times. He can be uncouth. But then again, no president in modern memory has been on the receiving end of such overwhelmingly negative media coverage and a three-year effort to abort his presidency, beginning the day after his election. Do we remember the effort to ... Read More
Film & TV

A Film for All Christians

‘The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts,” wrote George Eliot in Middlemarch, “and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” The passage provides the title ... Read More
Film & TV

A Film for All Christians

‘The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts,” wrote George Eliot in Middlemarch, “and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” The passage provides the title ... Read More