Updated: Dec 18, 2019
The unreasoning fear and hatred of socialism are more than simply the hatred and fear of democracy. Such unreasoning hostility is nothing other than the fear and hatred of basic human rights.
These rights include access to decent housing, medical care, and support in times of dependency, childhood, sickness, accident, unemployment and old age. These rights also include access to a good education. All this is too often damned as “socialism”. But perhaps such condemnation has finally lost its bite?
ALL of these rights and more were actually included in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union Speech delivered in the throes of World War II while NAZI Germany still raged, undefeated. All these rights were fought for by the Democratic Party in the 1930s, 40s 50s, and 60s. And during that time period (when America was Great?) the Democratic Party made progress in institutionalizing these rights with no little support from many right thinking and far-seeing Republicans.
The Democratic Party’s subsequent retreat from these commitments was partially a response to the burgeoning prosperity of the 1960s when regulations were intact, the highest marginal income tax rates were much higher, and deficits were insignificant by today’s standards. The Democratic Party's retreat from these fundamental commitments was also partially a response to the growing power of concentrated wealth which was fortified by each successive tax reduction and the gradual elimination of market regulations designed to maintain a level playing field for competition and innovation.
Since the 1970s Republicans have been selling us tax cuts for the rich, falsely claiming they would not increase debt and deficits. But this was always a ruse to make the promise of America seem an impossible dream for all but a tiny few. There is a clear historical pattern demonstrating that as soon as Republicans drive up debt and deficits, they renew their screeches to cut back on protections for workers, the poor, women, consumers, old people, communities and the environment. (It’s their planetary destruction policy based on destroying jobs, hope, and our faith in each other.)
For too long establishment Democrats have been complicit or helpless in the face of the Republican passion for tax cuts craftily designed to appeal to those who feel most crushed by a system which then becomes even more crushing and ever more unfair with every tax cut that disproportionately benefits the very wealthy who can then find nothing productive to do with their accumulated wealth but “invest” it in frippery and casino capitalist speculations that only help to destroy the foundations of our economy and our society.
But the Democratic establishment may well be changing. “Becoming more ‘EXTREME’ and more Socialist!” cry the corporate pundits.
The right to a decent income.
The right to decent healthcare
The RIGHT to a good education
The RIGHT to all these things and more without the sense that any of them are “handouts” dangled before us in ways that diminish our freedom, pride, and dignity.
This is Socialism?
If this is Socialism, a new generation of Democrats may be preparing to make the most of it.
Populism is, in part, a generalized revulsion against so-called “experts” and “leaders” who have failed to regulate the system in ways that seem fair, honest, and effective. Populism is a commonly held frustration - and even disgust - with “the establishment.” The current US surge of populism includes Tea Party trimpulists but also Bernie style Democratic Socialists. What is frequently overlooked about both of these populist “wings” is that each is actually dominated by upscale and relatively well educated “whites”.
Of course, these upscale well educated “Socialist” Democrats (who are as willing to embrace the “S” word as they are the “L” word) are much younger than their authoritarian counterparts. They are more likely to be female, and they also include large cohorts of Asians and Hispanics. They are also new voters who, as they age, are somewhat likely to maintain higher levels of participation in electoral politics including voting for (and contributing funds to) candidates in off-year and primary elections. And knowing that doing so might help nudge the United States closer towards European style “Socialism” will only encourage them to maintain such commitments. Out of concern for their own future, the future of their children, and the future of the planet, these new Democratic voters harbor a certain amount of skepticism toward "establishment" Democrats who quail at the idea of being "too extreme."
Voters who do not participate in primary and off-year elections consign the fate of laws and regulations to a crusty, out of touch, minority. Citizens sell their future, their democratic rights, and the future of their children to a privileged elite when they do not support their candidates and causes with small donations of time, attention.
Citizens who do not participate in off-year and primary elections are sullenly surrendering their right and the rights of their sons, their daughters, their nieces, and their nephews. They are signing away the future of today’s generation of students.
And what are these rights?
Here they are in the words of FDR in a State of the Union speech delivered in January of 1944.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed. Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being. America's own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.
Notice the reference to “monopolies at home and abroad”. Remember that FDR advocated a top marginal income tax rate of 90% to help prevent the accumulation of wealth that crushes opportunity and hope for the vast majority. Today we know that in order to protect human rights and democracy, powerful corporations will have to be reoriented so that their obligations to society represented by workers, consumers, and communities cannot be disparaged, ignored, or subsumed into more selfish and irresponsible ends.
This will not be easy, but the complexities involved should not daunt us. Systems can be designed to protect the rights of property and individuals in ways that encourage even more vitality and innovation than the bitter and destructive state capitalism we suffer today.
FDR know how to design systems to stay protected against the insidious influences of concentrated wealth and the potential for general slackness. Note how the “pay it forward” aspect of the Social Security system has, so far, been able to fend off the attacks of casino capitalists and purveyors of financial snake oil.
The right to basic income and amenities
The right to healthcare
The right to an education
All these rights are now being claimed by a new generation of populists, progressives, and Democrats inc. But will we have the will and persistence to not only “claim” these rights but “institute” them such so that they may withstand the wily attacks of corporate wealth and the deadening complacence of future generations who may forget our current and future struggles?
Here are more words from that same wartime State of the Union address:
This Nation in the past two years has become an active partner in the world's greatest war against human slavery. We have joined with like-minded people in order to defend ourselves in a world that has been gravely threatened with gangster rule. But I do not think that any of us Americans can be content with mere survival. Sacrifices that we and our allies are making impose upon us all a sacred obligation to see to it that out of this war we and our children will gain something better than mere survival. We are united in determination that this war shall not be followed by another interim which leads to new disaster- that we shall not repeat the tragic errors of ostrich isolationism—that we shall not repeat the excesses of the wild twenties when this Nation went for a joy ride on a roller coaster which ended in a tragic crash.
Today the greatest threat of “gangster rule” is not emanating from the destructive terrorism of those who delude themselves about an Islamic caliphate. We are also in little danger of being enslaved by Russians or the Chinese. The gravest dangers to our institutions of freedom and security are coming from the irresponsible greed and complacency of those who are illegitimately positioned to have an inordinate influence in the design of a globalized economy and the automation of our production processes. FDR knew these types very well and did not hesitate to call them out as “economic royalists” and “malefactors of great wealth.”
They, in turn, called FDR a “Socialist”!
Let the greatest of American presidents speak out for himself:
There are people who burrow through our Nation like unseeing moles, and attempt to spread the suspicion that if other Nations are encouraged to raise their standards of living, our own American standard of living must of necessity be depressed. The fact is the very contrary. It has been shown time and again that if the standard of living of any country goes up, so does its purchasing power- and that such a rise encourages a better standard of living in neighboring countries with whom it trades. That is just plain common sense.
* * *
However, while the majority goes on about its great work without complaint, a noisy minority maintains an uproar of demands for special favors for special groups. There are pests who swarm through the lobbies of the Congress and the cocktail bars of Washington, representing these special groups as opposed to the basic interests of the Nation as a whole.
There are always those who will demand “special favors for special groups”. And then there are rights that belong to all people though we have not yet had the will or the resources to institute these rights in a sustainable way.
These basic rights include
The right to food
The right to shelter
The right to dignified freedom and recreation
The right to healthcare
The right to an education
The post-Watergate generation of Congressional Democrats which included Joe Biden slacked off in their commitment to instituting those rights. For some of them, it was only a strategic retreat. For others, there may still be time for them to redeem themselves as honorable fighters for the cause of universal human rights. But we must depend on a new generation to learn from old mistakes.
One thing we can all agree upon is that to institute necessary rights for all humanity the right way, it must be done within the context of the greater system of liberal democracy where even the will of the people is subsumed under the rule of law as we seek to counter, balance, divide, and control illegitimate forms of concentrated wealth and power.
Good old American Socialism. Let’s do it right this time!