Do Democrats have an s-word problem?


If President Trump wanted the Cuban community in Florida to worry that the Biden Democrats were soft on socialism, it seems to have worked. Cuban-Americans helped the president defy the polls and win the state. And Team Biden may have seen it coming. As the Financial Times notes:

In the final weeks before the November 3 election, Joe Biden’s campaign realised it had a problem in Florida: socialism. As campaign staffers descended on the Sunshine State, they saw that Donald Trump had succeeded in using his hardline foreign policy positions to broaden his support among Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American voters who had fled autocratic regimes before settling in Florida

Democrats think such charges are wildly unfair, as is the perception that the party has a problem with the s-word. After all, the party’s standard-bearer is no socialist by any reasonable definition of the term. If the party really wanted to march hard in a socialist direction, it could have chosen runner-up Bernie Sanders — whom Biden defeated — as its nominee.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks with student leaders at Kerrytown Market & Shops in Ann Arbor on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020 about the importance of voting in the 2020 election. Via REUTERS

Then again, Bernie almost was the nominee. And two of the party’s biggest stars, Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, describe themselves as socialists. To an outsider, it might reasonably seem like the party is a bit soft on socialism. Which is bad. Look, Democrats almost chose as their nominee someone who in 2019 told a Burlington, Iowa audience that while Soviet-style socialism was “not my thing.” Hardly a strong rebuke of the Evil Empire. Is it really that hard to tear into the abomination to human freedom that was the USSR?

Then there’s this: Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who is up by about a point in her race in Virginia, angrily told fellow Democrats in a conference call: “Don’t say socialism ever again.” Clearly, she thinks there’s a problem there. Indeed, when people over 45 hear that word, they are probably more likely to think of the soul-crushing brutality of the Soviet Union and Cuba than the $15 minimum wage and paid leave, as AOC might want them to.

Of course, there is a problem with market skepticism on the left and right these days. Advocacy of state-directed trade and greater government interference in the private sector is hardly three or even two cheers for market capitalism. (As George Will has put it: “Protectionism — government coercion supplanting the voluntary transactions of markets in the allocation of wealth and opportunity — is socialism for the well connected.”) Folks on the right would have a stronger case to criticize socialists and even progressives if that weren’t the case.

Learn more: Why Democrats have trouble attacking the democratic socialism of Bernie Sanders | Has Bernie Sanders learned anything over the past 50 years? | Yes, a $15 minimum wage everywhere in America really is a risky idea

James Pethokoukis is the Editor of AEIdeas and the DeWitt Wallace Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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