Douthat brings up socialism: The Democrats Have a Culture Problem
Now that energy has transformed Democratic politics. We have a swelling Democratic 2020 field in which a capital-S Socialist is arguably the front-runner, most of the declared candidates are offering maximal ideological ambition, and the last Democratic vice president is hesitating to run in part because of all his long-gone compromises with conservatism.
With Clintonism as toxic as Bill Clinton’s post-#MeToo reputation, even the old Clintonites are throwing in the towel. In a memorable Twitter thread, the center-left economist Brad DeLong argued that the time has come for centrists to become, in effect, junior partners in the Democratic coalition, working to sharpen and smarten up the new socialism rather than seeking Republican partners and bipartisan reforms.
This is part of what pisses me off about political discourse and pundits, including even nuanced ones such as Ross Douthat: just as there is no right-wing nationalist uprising or death of liberal democracy, there is no ‘new socialism’ either. It’s just part of a trend of laziness and reduction of complicated things to simple incantations and narratives. All we have are a handful of politicians proposing policy that has elements of possible socialism should they be ratified as they presently are, which is a big ‘if’. The odds of such policy making it through all these hurdles are low.
As for today, at present, there is no socialism. Taxes are low, people can keep their wealth, private property still in effect, S&P 500 companies making more money than ever (which is redistributed to investors in the form of dividends and or buybacks), etc. It’s not news that young people tend to be more liberal than older generations, but this is attenuated to some degree by the fact they have low voter turn-out and are are concentrated in urban areas that are culturally left-wing.
Why can’t we just stick to reality as it exists in plain sight, instead of creating our own realities based on tenuous threads of information pieced together to confirm our preexisting biases. Just as Trump is not in any way like Hitler, we are very far from socialism (a large welfare state is not socialism; socialism deals specifically with ownership of capital and property ). Both sides do this, whether it’s premature pronouncements of socialism or supposed right-wing uprisings. A reality-based approach to politics and life is still the best one.
Hype and fear over socialism is not new and goes back decades. In 2008-2010, pundits said the same thing about socialism in regard to the bank bailouts, yet a decade later, private ownership–whether it’s real estate, stocks, art, whatever…–is the highest it has ever been. So much for that. Had I sold my stocks due to irrational fears of socialism, I would have missed out on the biggest bull market in equities ever, that a decade later continues to this day. Infusing capital into a few key financial institutions that were too big to fail does not make socialism. Thousands of businesses fail every year and do not get bailed out, so it’s not like the government is ‘preventing failure’.
It doesn’t have to be socialism…it’s whatever the latest media-generated fear is, whether it’s comparisons to Trump and Hitler, fear over the national debt, the certainty of WMDs in Iraq, the existence of ‘toxic masculinity’, imaginary campus rape epidemics, Ebola, economic crisis, etc. If the media is saying “X will happen!” or “X is Y!” there is a high likelihood x will not happen and x is not like y.
Furthermore, it’s not like the left is unilaterally opposed to corporations, individual wealth, and private property. The left seldom objects to Hollywood actors making millions of dollars and buying mansions, nor are they opposed to financiers such as Soros making billions of dollars, provided some of that money funds left-wing initiatives. A shown with Nike, Gillette, and Disney, the trend is for the left to use corporations as a tool to enforce and promote social justice, whether it’s propaganda masquerading as culture or onerous employee codes of conduct.
Overall, I’m not that worried. As for the democrats moving further to the left, this is also well-established. Yet democrats, thankfully, have had much less success in office than on the campaign trail, just as Trump, in office, has fallen way short of his fiery campaign rhetoric and ambitious promises to restrict immigration and build a concrete wall. The ‘right’ has always given up ground on cultural issues, which is where the left has had much more success, versus economic issues, in which the left has had little success. Even governments and leaders that are more left-wing than that of the Untied States, such as in Northern Europe, respect private property rights even if terrible in others respects. Socialism can happen, in theory, if a majority agrees to it, because America is a democracy, but the possibly seems too remote for me to be that concerned, for now.
 One would think that for a word that is thrown around so often, we would have a good idea what it means, but socialism is hard to define and can mean multiple things depending on context. What a lot of pundits mean by socialism is a big social safety net, than the erasure of private property and ownership rights. Although one can argue that higher taxes are a weak form of socialism, the good news is, taxes are the lowest they have ever been, including the estate tax, in which the exemption threshold was in 2017 increased from $5 million to $11 million. This is additional evidence that we’re far from socialism.