A few months ago, Hillary Clinton was asked about whether her self-identification as a capitalist had hurt her among members of her own core constituency. She said it had. She was right. And the Democratic Party is now moving openly in the direction of embracing socialism.
All of this follows what are, in any serious sense, relatively minor wins for self-proclaimed Democratic Socialists within the party. The momentum began with Bernie Sanders’ stunning 2016 presidential run, which galvanized young people in a way Hillary’s campaign never did. Sanders’ radicalism permeated the party and radicalized ambitious politicians like Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). But Warren and Booker and Harris and Gillibrand still don’t openly embrace socialism as a philosophy.
Not so with a few fringe members of the party getting outsized attention for winning primaries. These would be Summer Lee, 30, and Sara Innamorato, 32, and Elizabeth Fiedler, 37, all three of whom won nominations for the Pennsylvania State Legislature in the Democratic Party. And the latest and greatest of these emissaries of Marx is, of course, the media’s beloved Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28, who just knocked off Joe Crowley in a primary vote in New York.
Now, Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times points out that millennials are embracing socialism in large numbers:
Talk of popular control of the means of production is anathema to many older Democrats, even very liberal ones. It plays a lot better with the young; one recent survey shows that 61 percent of Democrats between 18 and 34 view socialism positively… Indeed, while there’s a lot of talk about an ideological civil war among Democrats, on the ground, boundaries seem more fluid. In Pennsylvania recently, I met with moderate suburban resistance activists who’d volunteered for Innamorato, thrilled to support a young woman who could help revitalize the Democratic Party.
And herein lies the issue for Democrats: while the agenda of the DSA is utterly unworkable and insane — nationalized healthcare, guaranteed housing, guaranteed government jobs — the Democratic Party is happy to embrace the crowd, even if it means embracing unworkable policies. Socialism allows Democrats to fit President Trump’s victory into an ideological framework: he’s the apotheosis of evil capitalism run amok, finally at the head of American government. As Goldberg writes:
The young members of the D.S.A., meanwhile, are hopeful because their analysis helps them make sense of the Trump catastrophe. They often seem less panicked about what is happening in America right now than liberals are, because they believe they know why our society is coming undone, and how it can be rebuilt. … After Ocasio-Cortez’s win, Pelosi denied Republican claims that socialism is ascendant in the Democratic Party. It’s hard to blame her for being defensive, since for generations “socialist” was considered a slur, and it’s one that’s hurled at Democrats indiscriminately. But I think she’s wrong. There are more candidates like Ocasio-Cortez out there, and the Democrats should welcome them. It needs their youth and zeal and willingness to do the work of rebuilding the party as a neighborhood institution. And they’re coming, whether the party’s leadership likes it or not.
Now, socialism has failed every time it has been tried. European-style socialism isn’t actually socialism in the true sense — it doesn’t nationalize the means of production, or “democratize” them. But socialism provides a sense of meaning to people who have none. Perhaps the most interesting part of Goldberg’s piece is her insistence that socialists are working to recreate social fabric:
I was struck by the work they put into building community. On some days that public schools are closed, the D.S.A.’s socialist-feminist committee puts on all-day events with child care and free lunches. Like several other chapters, the Pittsburgh D.S.A. holds clinics where members change people’s burned-out car brake lights for free, helping them avoid unnecessary police run-ins while making inroads into the community. A local mechanic named Metal Mary helped train them.
But this all comes to an end the moment socialists actually hold power. Then they abandon local charitable solutions, and immediately turn to government. Socialism isn’t voluntary. It’s inherently coerced.
The Democratic move toward socialism is easy to mock, but the reality is that Americans tend to swing from party to party electorally. There will come some point when Democrats are again ascendant. If they’re the party of Bernie Sanders when that happens, get ready for American liberties to be thrown under the bus in favor of hackneyed nostrums about the power of the people, amidst increasing suffering of individuals.