“Socialist” – the word is fraught with history, of upheaval and revolution. In its standard usage, it defines a government in control of the means of production and suggests, perhaps not so subtly, a tilt towards totalitarianism, a rigid adherence to doctrine and an unwillingness to compromise.
In today’s environment, the term “Socialist” is easily weaponized by those who support the status quo and oppose change. Donald Trump, most Republicans, and even some so-called “moderate” Democrats, have already begun to use the label to smear all Democrats calling for substantive political and economic reform.
But the truth is, notwithstanding Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, self-styled “democratic socialists,” most reform-minded Democrats identify as “Progressives.”
In the tradition of the Progressive reform movement in the early 1900’s, and the New Deal led by Franklin Roosevelt, today’s Progressives believe in government and an economy that works for all people, not just big corporations and the wealthy.
Progressives believe government should identify and serve the “public good.” As Elizabeth Warren has argued, there should be rules in place to ensure markets work for the good of all and are not skewed to advantage mega-corporations.
Progressives believe we should have a fair system of taxation in which corporations and individuals pay higher rates in proportion to their ability to pay and the benefits they have received.
And, as Progressives, we believe in growing our economy and creating jobs and opportunity for all through investment in infrastructure, education, job training, affordable housing and health care.
Bernie Sanders, in a speech recently at George Washington University, reaffirmed that he is a ”democratic socialist” while likening his philosophy to that of Franklin Roosevelt.
Except that Roosevelt was not a Socialist, democratic or otherwise. He was, in effect, a Progressive who saw his duty as restoring faith in our system of government following the ravages of the Great Depression and W.W. II. He adamantly disavowed Socialism while proposing an “Economic Bill of Rights,” part of a “New Deal,” in which all Americans were entitled to a living wage, a decent education, housing, and health care.
Today there are obvious parallels to the original Progressive era in the early 1900’s, Roosevelt’s New Deal and today’s Progressive movement. Major reforms are needed now, as they were in earlier times, to ensure that the big banks and monopolistic corporations don’t again take down our economy and that the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes.
And yet instead of reform, what we are getting is the exact opposite: a government that is lowering taxes on major corporations and those with high incomes; rolling back regulations designed to protect consumers and the environment; failing to constrain big banks from overly aggressive lending and failing to limit the size of corporations to ensure we have real competition in the marketplace.
Rhetorically, Bernie may have a point that, in today’s dysfunctional, indeed corrupt, political environment, it may take something akin a socialist political revolution to bring about real and lasting change.
But while, as Progressives, we aspire to meaningful reform that lifts people out of poverty and provides economic opportunity for all people, perhaps we should dial back the “Socialist” rhetoric just a bit and not hand our political opponents a cudgel to beat us with.
Rather, let us reaffirm our commitment to a true Progressive agenda that, in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, builds a strong and robust economy, second to none in the world, one that works for all people, not just big corporations and the wealthy.