Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself

AMERICAblog is linking to a news story in which it is revealed that economic issues and health care are taking priority as the issues that matter to Americans during this election cycle. Voters are concerned that the middle class is disappearing and that America is increasingly divided between the rich and the poor.

The fact that voters are waking up to economic reality in this country is good news for Democrats, but The Scanner points out that the left could still be in trouble unless it comes up with a comprehensive and comprehensible message:

So why do I say that the new progressive movement is fucked? Because they have no ideology. They lack any semblance of a creed. Now, naturally, the progressives would vigorously dispute this. Of course we have a creed! We believe in universal healthcare, combating global warming, protecting the right to abortion… [etc., ad infinitum] But that’s not a creed, it’s a list of policies. And of course, what happens when you have only a list of policies as your lodestar is that crafty politicians come along who loudly proclaim to embrace your goals before quietly vitiating them with a lobbyist’s scalpel and reams of fine print.

I agree that the absence of ideology within the Democratic party is a serious problem, and I propose that the basis for forming a new ideological message should be socialism. That’s right: socialism.

At its core, socialism is about democracy. Socialism takes the principle that people should govern themselves and extends it to the economy, so that those who are impacted the most by economic decisions (i.e., the working and middle classes) have a proportional role in making those decisions. It takes economic decisions out of the hands of a few, very wealthy people and puts them in the hands of the people or, sometimes, their elected representatives. Socialism moves beyond democratic government and proposes a democratic economy as well.

The most successful Democratic president of the twentieth century, Franklin Roosevelt, was a pseudo-socialist. The New Deal, especially as initially proposed, was an inherently socialistic policy aimed at public regulation and in some cases outright control of the means of production. The possibility of further socialist reform was halted by the cold war and subsequent propaganda that lumped democratic socialism in with authoritarian communism. Even as we fought authoritarian communism alongside democratic socialist governments in Western Europe, politicians here at home refused to accept any differentiation between democratic socialism and authoritarian communism.

Now, with a new generation rising that was born at the end of or after the cold war and certainly after most of the extreme anti-socialist propaganda had gone out of style, and with a previous generation that didn’t buy into it in the first place thanks to capitalist debacles like Vietnam, it is now possible once again to pursue socialist reforms. It is possible to talk to voters about democratic management of the economy without being demonized as Stalinists. This is exactly what today’s Democratic party should have the courage to do.

The Democratic party shouldn’t just talk about health care, fair trade, etc. It needs to talk about the values that lead us to work toward universal health care, fair trade, and other reforms. We work toward universal health care because we believe that public management of the health care industry is necessary to ensure that the poor and middle class, and not just the rich, have the health care they need, because all people have a right to health care. We work toward fair trade because we believe it’s wrong for the rich to profit by exporting American jobs overseas because there they are able to produce cheaper goods on the backs of abused foreign workers.

We need, once again, to talk to the American people about economic and social justice not just in terms of convenience, but in terms of morality. It is profoundly immoral to have so much wealth concentrated in the hands of a few while the many suffer, both here at home and abroad. People today are receptive to this message and will not listen to the fear-mongering of the right. People will not dismiss such moral discussion as communism, for communism is dead, we have prevailed in the cold war, and people now see that America cannot and will not become a communist dictatorship. People are ready for an economy that is democratically managed for the benefit of all the American people, and not just the wealthiest among us.

But we can’t begin this new socialist project unless Democratic politicians are willing to be bold and imaginative. They must stop heeding the warnings of right-leaning interests like the Democratic Leadership Council to be cautious, for it has been this kind of cautiousness encouraged by the right-leaning fringe of our party that has lost us two elections. They must be bold, they must speak out strongly in favor of the middle and working classes, and they must reveal Republican capitalism for what it is: an ideology that favors the rich and seeks to keep all wealth, and thus all power, in their hands. Democrats today must remember the words of Franklin Roosevelt:

First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

This is exactly the kind of terror that the right has been fomenting for decades to prevent economic reform, and again and again Democrats have given into this fear. It is time to end the paralysis, time to stop fearing the Republican fear-mongering, and time to stand up and boldly declare that we will take back the American economy and make it a system that is of the people, by the people and for the people.

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