My Turn: Republicans still conjuring the socialist bogeyman

For the Monitor
Published: 7/22/2019 8:30:15 AM

The recent letters raising the specter of socialism suggest that the GOP is worried by the positive attention the Democrats received in two national debates. The candidates boldly took positions on major issues facing the nation: health care (millions without insurance), climate change, economic inequalities, the inadequacy of the minimum wage and the opioid crisis.

The conservative response from the Concord Monitor’s circulation area follows an old GOP playbook. Over the 20th century, conservatives in America have called public policy programs they don’t like or feared “socialist” or “communist” or both, sometimes interchangeably.

The fear had a real target when, in Russia, the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 devolved into the horrors of economic socialism (public ownership and management of the means of production) and political totalitarianism under Joseph Stalin in the USSR and its satellites. I was on active duty as an air defense artillery (missiles) officer in the late 1950s and early 1960s to deter a Soviet attack.

Today, in the developed world, the target has been dead for decades. There are no socialist countries along the model of the old USSR. While it existed, the USSR was our Cold War foe in the battle between good Americans and evil commies. Most Americans, including me, were hostile to the USSR, and historically the GOP has been strongly anti-Russian. With the fall of the USSR, socialism became the new bogeyman. In fact, today in the developed world, no one wants Soviet-style socialism, or any other socialism where the means of production are all owned by the government.

Yet the bogeyman is fundamental for Republicans. When economic inequalities in the Gilded Age and unregulated capitalism led to the Great Depression of 1929-32, the GOP declared the New Deal to be “socialistic,” never mind that it lifted America out of unemployment and that Social Security is woven into the fabric of the nation. Labor unions, to conservatives, were “socialist.” So what! Strong labor unions in the auto, steel and coal mining, as well as other industries, promoted a strong economy with higher pay and better working conditions for a good part of the 20th century, especially from the 1950s to about 1973, when wages began decades of stagnation. Similarly, the GOP portrays the Affordable Care Act, which is greatly popular, as taking the country toward socialistic totalitarianism.

So, who might listen to the Democratic presidential candidates and their call for justice and social and economic fairness?

I think of the following:

■The unemployed worker, especially in Berlin, who wants, but cannot find, a productive job with a living wage.

■The parents of any of the one in 10 children in New Hampshire who live in poverty and need a better deal.

■The single parents, working two jobs and wanting, but not finding, more than a minimum wage to make ends meet and to pay for child care while they work.

■The high school graduates who are priced out of higher education, and, for those who do get a college degree, leave with crushing debt and realize that they may be poorer than their parents.

■The 8% of New Hampshire’s population who are without health insurance, and the 44 million people nationally who have no health insurance, and the additional 38 million who have inadequate insurance and whose lives would be better, in my opinion, with a national health insurance policy.

Is it any wonder that the Democratic candidates find that their call for a fairer, more equitable America is gaining traction across a wide spectrum of voters?

(Kent Hackmann lives in Andover.)

(Correction: An earlier version of this column included incorrect information about the percentage of people in New Hampshire who are without health insurance.)


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