Despite what Antonin Scalia might believe, words have meaning. While many of them are open for interpretation, and this seems to be where Scalia takes issue, their meaning is evident when taken in to context. For example, the words “racist” and “bigot” have been thrown around quite a bit in recent weeks. Whether it was in response to the Supreme Court’s decision on gay-marriage, or the symbolism of the confederate flag, or what to call the white supremacists who have begun burning churches as a counter response to those who oppose the confederate flag (hint: terrorists), the labels themselves seem to be offensive. No one wants to be labeled as a bigot, or a racist, or a terrorist, but when actions and behaviors match the definition of a word then what else are we to call an individual?
Should Bernie Sanders be offended that Claire McCaskill labeled him a socialist? The U.S. Senator recognized that his colleague was using the word as a derogatory label, but he didn’t deny that it fit. The Presidential Candidate has been out and proud about his status as a Democratic Socialist, and why shouldn’t he be? Well, according to Curtis F at ReverbPress: “Americans who hear Bernie Sanders proclaim himself a Democratic Socialist will hear one word: socialist” and that’s nothing to be proud of, right? If we are shallow thinkers, if we get all squirmy-wormy at certain words, we would ignore the actions and behaviors that match the definition. We’d stop at whatever connotations we might have of the word and ignore its context and application to our lives. If that is the type of people we are then Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders, Democratic Socialist, has every reason to be concerned about the label, because Curtis F believes, “It would literally take a 94 percent turnout of socialist-supporting Democrats in America to the polls for him to even top Mitt Romney’s votes. With only a 63 percent turnout rate in 2008, arguably the most important election in our lifetime thus far, the chances of this are nil.” Literally. As a fellow self-described progressive (dare I say, Democratic Socialist) living Blue in a Red State, I have to disagree.
“Sixty percent of Americans agree with him that the “economic system unfairly favors the rich,” which may be one reason politicians in both parties are uncomfortably trying to fit into populist garb. Two-thirds of the American public think the rich pay too little in taxes. Two-thirds think CEO pay is too high.Three of four think climate change is a serious or very serious matter. In the 24 hours after he declared, he raised $1.5 million. Roughly 35,000 donors gave, on average, less than $50. A larger group of 145,000 signed up online to volunteer,” writes Robert L. Borosage. Democratic socialism may be hard to define, but when we see it in action many Americans support it. We agree that college debt has gotten out of control and we support a plan for making college tuition free. We think the rich pay too little in taxes and Bernie Sanders thinks that a 90% tax rate isn’t too high. 63% of us agree with Socialist Bernie Sanders that the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour by 2020 (though Bernie would like it done sooner). Single payer universal health care? Regulating Wall-Street? Income taxes, offshore tax havens, campaign finance reform, climate change, social services? Check them all off. The majority of Americans agree with Bernie Sanders. The majority of Americans, it seems, are Democratic Socialists. So what’s the rub?
“Marxism-Leninism…is only one strand of a progressive socialist tradition that also includes social democracy in its various forms, which is still a vital political force in most European countries — most prominently in Scandinavia,” writes Darrell Delamaide. “Comfortable in the conviction that the U.S. is the biggest, strongest economy in the world with the highest standard of living, Americans have for decades tended to sneer at these European countries as inferior, bogged down economically by anti-business policies.” We’re still stuck with visions of Russians in bread lines whenever we hear the word socialism (note the date of that link). Delamaide argues that we’ve been stuck listening to the same Republican/Conservative message since the end of World War Two. The one that relies on an “Us. v Them” dichotomy where everyone who doesn’t believe in the power of pure capitalism to set them free is a dirty, pinko commie. “But it is slowly dawning on wide portions of the American public — crushed by stagnant wages, robbed of middle-class jobs by competition with low-wage countries, deprived of health care, burdened by student debt and the astronomical costs of a college education — that this supposed superiority of ours is no longer true, if it ever was.” For example, in the last six years we’ve only heard the free-market alternative that Republicans and Libertarians have offered to Obamacare, and while many of us may not be satisfied with what the ACA offers, we know that the lack of competition in the insurance market isn’t what is driving up the cost of healthcare. Capitalism has its place in the American economy, but so does socialism. When it comes to education, healthcare, criminal justice, infrastructure, emergency services, and utilities, we’ve already accepted socialism as a viable alternative to laissez-faire economics. A rose by any other name, as Shakespeare said, is still a rose. There’s no point in being afraid of a label. It’s what we answer to that matters. And if you label Bernie Sanders a socialist, he will answer to it. And so will I.