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Time for change

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Demonization of the “Socialism” Label – and Bernie’s View of What Socialism Really Is

Labels are often used to demonize one’s adversaries. That is especially true in politics. There was little doubt from the beginning of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy that the “Socialist” label would be used to demonize him if his candidacy ever came to represent a threat to his opponents. And there is no doubt that as he continues to rise in the polls it will be used more and more. It could even be the single most important thing to derail his candidacy.

That would be a real shame. Because people should not be defined by labels – especially labels that have been demonized by an ignorant or dishonest faction of politicians. People, and especially candidates for political office, should instead be defined by their views and actions on issues important to the electorate that they strive to serve. Those views and actions are invariably much more complex than simple labels.


Socialism

Here is a common definition of Socialism

Socialism is a variety of social and economic systems characterized by social ownership and democratic control of the means of production as well as the political ideologies, theories, and movements that aim at their establishment. Social ownership may refer to forms of public, cooperative, or collective ownership; to citizen ownership of equity; or to any combination of these. Although there are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them; social ownership is the common element shared by its various forms.

Admittedly, the definition is rather vague, and as the article points out, there are many different definitions of socialism.


How socialism came to be demonized in the United States

It is worth considering how the word “Socialism” came to be demonized in the United States. I believe there are two causes of this demonization:

The demonization of Socialism reached its peak in the United States, and elsewhere to a lesser extent, during the Cold War, which began shortly after World War II and lasted until approximately 1989, or some could say 1991, when the Soviet Union was abolished.

The Cold War was a state of extreme tension between the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States, which many believe, no doubt correctly, could have resulted in World War III and a nuclear catastrophe. In the days when the Cold War began the Soviet Union was a Communist dictatorship, ruled by the iron hand of Joseph Stalin, one of the most ruthless and evil men ever to rule a nation.

So we were right to demonize him. But some things must be said about the phrase Communist dictatorship. Communism and dictatorship are not the same thing. One could argue that Communism leads to dictatorship, but they are not by definition the same thing, and arguing whether or not Communism is likely to lead to dictatorship is beyond the scope of this article, nor is a thorough discussion of Communism within the scope of this article, since Bernie Sanders has never considered himself a Communist.

Socialism has been described as a milder form of Communism, and I believe that is an accurate characterization. Here is a brief statement on some of the major differences between the two systems:

In a way, communism is an extreme form of socialism. Many countries have dominant socialist political parties but very few are truly communist. In fact, most countries - including staunch capitalist bastions like the U.S. and U.K. - have government programs that borrow from socialist principles. "Socialism" is sometimes used interchangeably with "communism" but the two philosophies have some stark differences. Most notably, while communism is a political system, socialism is primarily an economic system that can exist in various forms under a wide range of political systems.

But because of its association with Communism, Socialism was very easy to demonize during the Cold War. But Why was it demonized? Right wingers have always demonized Socialism because Socialism helps even the playing field between the rich and the poor and the middle class. As we all know, right wing politicians favor the rich, and they get money from the rich to run their political campaigns. When Medicare was proposed by President Johnson in the 1960s, right wing politicians mounted an aggressive campaign against it, saying that it was “Socialism”, because they were afraid that it might cut into the profits of the health care industry. Well, they were correct that Medicare is a Socialist program. But it had little or nothing to do with the Communist dictatorship that ruled the USSR.


Socialism in the United States

One thing that everyone needs to understand about Socialism is that it is not an all or nothing system. I would venture to say that few if any countries in the world today, and that includes the United States, have a completely Socialist or a completely capitalism economic system. Rather, almost all of them have a blend between the two, though with different degrees of emphasis on one or the other. Let’s consider some programs in the United States that are characterized by Socialism, at least to some degree. What these programs have in common, and why we considered it necessary to socialize them to some degree is that the people of the United States felt that they were necessities that everyone ought to have access to.

Education
Public education in the United States has been around for many decades. In my opinion, it has greatly benefited the people of the United States and was a great help in creating a large, productive, and comfortable middle class. What it did was give children who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford an education an opportunity to get one and turn their education into a good paying job. Grade schools and high schools were public and free to a great degree, and state universities were very inexpensive relative to today, because of government subsidization. (I went to a very good state University where tuition was $256 a semester and room and board were $1,000 a year. My parents were middle class, but even if they had considerably less money than they did, they would have been able to send me to such a college).

Today there is a large trend towards privatization of education in the United States. I have nothing against private schools, and neither does Bernie. But when they are used as an excuse to drain money away from our public schools, then they create a caste-like system which results in little opportunity for children from poor households to get a decent education. I believe that is wrong, and so does Bernie.

Health Care
The biggest example of socialized health care in the United States is Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare has been a life-saving program for millions of our senior citizens, without which they would have been driven into poverty through no fault of their own.

Water
Human beings cannot live without water, and that is why the good majority of water systems are provided to us by the government. In recent years in this country (and in other countries as well), some jurisdictional water systems have been privatized. Detroit is perhaps the most notorious example. Where water systems have been privatized, the result has been disaster for many of the area’s citizens, who often aren’t able to afford the skyrocketing cost of water. The water companies that take over our water systems don’t have the primary goal of serving the public interest. Their goal is to make a profit. When they do so, both the quality and the availability of our water plummets for many of our citizens.

Social Security
Social Security is sort of a government operated pension plan. It has caused the poverty rate for our senior citizens to go way down. But as popular as our Social Security system is, right wing politicians have been very aggressive in attacking it. Of course, they can’t do so directly and honestly, because it is too popular for that. So they make up the excuse that is costing us too much, so we need to cut benefits to save the system.

Prison System
Our prison system, as an integral part of our justice system, has in the past been run mostly or totally by government – as it should be. It should be run and owned solely by government, rather than by private corporations because all of our citizens should have equal access to justice under the law. Such is not the case when our prison system becomes a system that is run for profit rather than for justice.

But the trend in privatization of our prison system in recent years has made our prison system into a disgrace, in which prison conditions have become more abominable than ever, and imprisonment rate in this country has skyrocketed into by far the highest in the world. As private corporations have taken over our prison system, in their quest for ever higher profits, they have made many of them into slave labor camps. Worse yet, they have successfully lobbied (a polite word for legal bribery) our government into policies that imprison more and more of our population for minor offenses. Needless to say, this affects our poor and black populations far disproportionately (See my post on Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow”).


Bernie on Socialism

So it is of the utmost importance that as people decide whom to vote for in the Democratic primaries and the general election, that they understand, not just that Bernie has been a Socialist or a Democratic Socialist, but what views of his are represented by these labels. Here is an article that recounts many of the things Bernie has said about his identification with Socialism. Bernie is no fool, and he is well aware of the stigmatism of the label. In 1974 he said “I myself don’t use the word Socialism…. because people have been brainwashed into thinking that Socialism means slave-labor camps, dictatorship, and lack of freedom of speech”. Here are some of the most important things that he has said about what he considers to be his socialistic outlook:

Socialism and democracy:
I believe in democracy, and by democracy I mean that, to as great an extent as possible, human beings have the right to control their own lives. And that means that you cannot separate the political structure from the economic structure. One has to be an idiot to believe that the average working person who’s making $10,000 or $12,000 a year is equal in political power to somebody who is the head of a large bank or corporation. So if you believe in political democracy, if you believe in equality, you have to believe in economic democracy as well.”…. I am confident that the vast majority of the people will understand that there is nothing incompatible between socialism and democracy.

Economics, wages, poverty, and the power of corporations
What being a socialist means is … that you hold out … a vision of society where poverty is absolutely unnecessary, where international relations are not based on greed … but on cooperation … where human beings can own the means of production and work together rather than having to work as semi-slaves to other people who can hire and fire…

I think it means the government has got to play a very important role in making sure that as a right of citizenship, all of our people have health care; that as a right, all of our kids, regardless of income, have quality childcare, are able to go to college without going deeply into debt; that it means we do not allow large corporations and moneyed interests to destroy our environment; that we create a government in which it is not dominated by big money interest… Is it right that the middle class continues to disappear while there has been a massive transfer of wealth from working families to the top one-tenth of 1 percent?

The need for all citizens to have the necessities of life
I wouldn’t deny it. Not for one second. I’m a democratic socialist. … In Norway, parents get a paid year to care for infants. Finland and Sweden have national health care, free college, affordable housing and a higher standard of living. … . Why shouldn’t that appeal to our disappearing middle class? …

Bottom line meaning of Socialism
To me, socialism doesn’t mean state ownership of everything, by any means, it means creating a nation, and a world, in which all human beings have a decent standard of living.”


In Summary

In summary, if you’re thinking of voting for Bernie, but you’re scared off by the “Socialist” label, please ignore the label, and look instead at his actual views and actions.


Posted by Time for change | Wed Feb 10, 2016, 05:43 PM (5 replies)

What Would-Be Bernie Supporters Don’t Understand

The claim that Bernie is “unelectable”

I have friends who would otherwise vote for Bernie in the primaries, but who are swayed by the widespread claim that he is “unelectable”, to vote for Hillary instead. They consider themselves “realists”, saying that they would much rather vote for a moderate who has a good chance of beating a Republican than a better candidate who is unelectable.

But to the extent that the “unelectable” claim has any validity at all, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If such claims are repeated often enough – and they are repeated quite often – polls will continue to show the better known candidate with a sizable lead. That such people who repeat such claims consider themselves “realists” is a joke. True realists look at real data before making such claims.


Polls showing Hillary and Bernie running against the top Republican candidates

Here is an average of the most current polls:

Vs. Trump: Sanders +7.7; Clinton + 4.0
Vs. Bush: Sanders +3.0; Clinton +2.4
Vs. Cruz: Sanders +1.5; Clinton -1.0
Vs. Rubio: Sanders -1.5; Clinton -5.0

Additionally, Bernie has the best net favorability rating of any candidate in either party.

So where is the evidence in all that that Bernie is unelectable or even that he is less electable than Clinton? If anything, these data show him to be more electable than Clinton.


Current polling data obviously understates Bernie’s electability compared to Hillary’s

This latest polling data comes at a time when Bernie continues to gain momentum, compared to other candidates. The more he becomes known, the further he rises in the polls. There is a very good reason for that: His views on the issues are in much greater accordance with the views (and interests) of the good majority of Americans, compared to all of the other candidates. Here is a timeline of the polling data:

Bernie started from nowhere at the time he announced his candidacy. In January 2015 he was losing to Hillary in the national polls by 61-4. He has progressively gained on her since then, until now a recent poll has Hillary leading him nationally by only 44-42. And that difference is largely, if not solely attributable to the fact that many Democrats, even liberal Democrats, consider him unelectable. If not for that false belief, he could be way ahead in the Democratic race at this time.


The Wall Street Connection

As a liberal, I long hoped for and awaited an announcement from either Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders that they would run for President in 2016. That was not only because I believed and still believe that either one of them would be our best President since JFK or FDR, but because I dreaded and still dread a Presidency by the long presumed Democratic nominee for 2016, Hillary Clinton (though not as much as I dread a Republican President). All I have to know about her to dread her being elected President in 2016 is her strong support by Wall Street.

In the early money race to launch the campaigns of the leading contenders, an article titled “Wall Street is Putting Money Behind These Presidential Candidates”, the following statistics were given for campaign contributions from “big bank institutions”, which include JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and others:
Clinton: $432,610
Bush: $353,150
Rubio: $105,669

As we all know, the finance industry, more than anything else, was responsible for the recession of 2008 and the continuing tremendous wealth and income inequality in our country, which in recent years has been as large or larger than what we saw in the 1920’s, prior to the Great Depression. Here is a graph that shows the percentage of wealth share by the top 0.1% of in the U.S.

From a high of 25% in 1928, due in large part to the financial reforms initiated by the FDR Presidency, we reached a low of about 7% in 1978, but ever since then it has continued to zoom upwards. This graph goes only until 2013, but the situation has gotten no better since then. This all, of course, is to the great detriment of the poor and the middle class, and it is directly related to the huge sums of money that the finance industry contributes to candidates who they know will support their agenda. Clinton also has been an early and strong supporter of the “Trans-Pacific Partnership”, which she has called “the gold standard in trade agreements….”, but which is actually mostly a boondoggle for our wealthiest corporations, at the expense of our environment and a living wage.


In summary

The unelectable issue is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Would-be Bernie supporters who won’t vote for him because they consider him to be unelectable, and who voice that thought are helping to make him unelectable. So I have just one thing to say to those people: Don’t believe everything you hear. Look at the polls showing how he and Hillary are running against the Republican candidates. The numbers are on our side!
Posted by Time for change | Sun Feb 7, 2016, 05:43 PM (37 replies)
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