A specter is haunting conservatism — the specter of democratic socialism!
For decades the Right has lazily tossed off pro-forma denunciations of socialism as inimical to our wonderful capitalist system. But after years of declining wage growth and benefits, things are changing: Polls show many people, especially younger ones, think capitalism isn’t working so well for them. And the June 26 victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the charismatic young democratic socialist who beat incumbent Joe Crowley to take the Democratic nomination for a congressional seat covering parts of Queens and the Bronx, makes socialism look like more of a winner.
Conservatives now find themselves having to make more of an effort to explain what’s so bad about bread and roses, and their rustiness is embarrassingly evident.
In last year’s state and local elections, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), to which Ocasio-Cortez belongs, saw fifteen of its members elected to local office. But Ocasio-Cortez is making a bigger splash than they did because she won a primary for a U.S. congressional seat in the nation’s biggest media market, and happens to be young, attractive, Latina, and eloquent.
This last impression conservatives labored mightily to dispute, with articles like “Socialist Ocasio-Cortez Can’t Differentiate Between Socialism, Democratic Socialism” at Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire — not only an inaccurate portrayal, but one based on the assumption that anyone not bred like an orc in a right-wing think tank would give a shit about such a difference.
In fact, Ocasio-Cortez has been very successful on TV — certainly more interesting than the grey grin-flashers Democrats normally nominate — and her Twitter posts are salty and fun. Conservatives haven’t been great at countering this. For example, when Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “If you think the GOP is terrified of my politics now, just wait until they find out about public libraries,” Shapiro’s Daily Wire published a rather unfortunate collection of what they considered to be snappy right-wing comebacks, including “Have you ever been to [a library]? It’s a haven for the homeless.”
The Daily Wire also made several references to Venezuela, a legacy dis by conservatives who believe national bankruptcy is the only possible outcome of any socialist program (Scandinavia’s Nordic social democracies notwithstanding, they usually rush to explain, because their successes prove they’re not socialist) that erupted afresh with Ocasio-Cortez’s nomination.
“Here’s a one-word piece of advice for America’s growing socialist left: Venezuela,” snarled the New York Post. “The specter of Venezuela, and its 43,000 percent inflation rate, looms over any left-wing economic message,” intoned James P. Pinkerton at the American Conservative. “The Democrats Go Full Venezuela,” cried Roger L. Simon at PJ Media. “The Democrats’ New Evita Peron Needs to Spend 3 Months in Venezuela,” wrote a geographically confused John Zmirak at the Stream.
Even when they got off Venezuela, the brethren’s explanation of socialism, democratic or otherwise, did not improve. The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft forthrightly, or I should say forthwrongly, declared, “The Democrat Socialists of America support no borders, no profit, no prisons and no cash bail.” At the New American, Selwyn Duke wrote that socialism is “precisely what most people think communism is.… Why do you think the USSR stood for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics?” He’s got us there — just like with National Socialism!
Conservatives didn’t do very well attacking Ocasio-Cortez on nonideological grounds, either. At WorldNetDaily, Star Parker dismissed Ocasio-Cortez’s victory because her district is “50 percent Hispanic…and 67.8 percent report that they speak a language other than English at home…a district that is so-called majority minority,” and you know how those people are. Plus Ocasio-Cortez “traces her roots” to Puerto Rico, noted Parker, and Puerto Rico is an “economic basket case,” despite all those paper towels President Trump threw at it after it was destroyed by a hurricane.
The brethren also suggested Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t authentically from the Bronx because she grew up in a modest home in nearby Yorktown Heights, a hilarious assertion in the age of Man of the People Donald Trump. Ben Shapiro even suggested that she wasn’t authentically Latina; when Ocasio-Cortez tweeted about her day “grabbing an iced cafecito, [and] chopping it up with everyone” at her local bodega, Shapiro jeered, “Hillary once ate at a Chipotle.”
Of course, all this had much less to do with defeating Ocasio-Cortez, who has the general election more or less in the bag, than with tarnishing the Democrats in general. Though Ocasio-Cortez’s positions — including Medicare for All, a federal jobs guarantee, and abolition of the paramilitary brownskin-expeller unit ICE — are way more peppery than those of most of the party’s moldy figs, some of whom have tried to throw cold water on her campaign, conservatives are hoping to convince fence-straddlers that the Democrats have turned into a bunch of commies come to take away their precious free market.
The Week‘s Damon Linker for example, claimed “socialist politicians have enjoyed so little electoral success in this country…because there’s a widespread aversion to the big-government policies they tend to favor” — like Medicare for All, which has the support of a mere 59 percent of voters, not to mention those notorious vote-losers Social Security and Medicare.
At TownHall, Arthur Schaper visibly recoiled from Ocasio-Cortez’s platform — “she calls housing ‘a right,’ ” gasp! — and claimed “the left tends to cannibalize itself when the younger generation demands socialist outcomes at a faster rate,” citing as examples, I shit you not, the French and Russian Revolutions, plus Walter Mondale. Schaper declared that “the Trump Administration’s regulatory rollback and tax reforms have unleashed unprecedented wealth, prosperity, and opportunity,” which he predicted would lead, despite Trump’s lousy poll numbers, to “a 49-state victory.”
If the Democrats “actually believe a far-left push is the key to winning those mid-term elections,” sputtered Scott McKay at the American Spectator, then America is set (again, against all polling evidence) for a “red wave, rather than a blue one” in November.
Where triumphalism failed, terror was tried: Sopranos extra Jeanine Pirro declared to her Fox News audience that “the rise of socialism has never been more clear…an ongoing step-by-step agenda to change our country at its very core.… We are witnessing the evolution of a socialist coup,” setting America’s rest homes ablaze with patriotic fear and fervor.
At National Review, Heather Wilhelm acknowledged that millennials are more favorable toward socialism than previous generations, but explained that this was due to their lack of childbearing, as revealed in a New York Times/Morning Consult poll; she believed the youngs are “increasingly atomized and individualist” and this — not their shitty economic prospects — make them childless and lead them to seek “forced togetherness — found in the form of socialism.” She also mentioned “Venezuela, which is a terrible, tragic mess.”
Things reached a nadir, as they often do these days, at the New York Times, where Bret Stephens bade Democrats eschew “Democratic socialism” or “social democracy” or whatever the kids are calling it these days because “Hugo Chávez was also a democratic socialist” — yes, he got Venezuela in there without using the word Venezuela; that’s how the pros do it, folks! — and suggested they instead “try some version of Bill Clinton (minus the grossness) for a change.”
Bill Clinton minus the grossness — wasn’t that Hillary Clinton? And speaking of “grossness,” who won that year? It sounds like Stephens, like a lot of the people inexplicably holding major media real estate, are just finding new ways to tell Democrats to give up.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party has been fielding some interesting candidates of its own: In an Illinois congressional race, for example, they’re running an honest-to-God Holocaust-denying Nazi, Arthur Jones, and his fellow GOP nominees have only slowly and gingerly denounced him — just as Republican Virginia senate nominee Corey Stewart only slowly distanced himself from Paul Nehlen, a Wisconsin white nationalist running to replace Paul Ryan in the House. Longtime Texas libertarian-Republican congressman Ron Paul, once known for his racist newsletters, recently returned to form with an absurdly anti-Semitic, racist illustrated tweet about “Cultural Marxism” and the racial stereotypes who support it, and Washington State Republicans elected as a local precinct committee officer one James Allsup, a white nationalist who marched with the tiki-Nazis in Charlottesville. Then there’s John Fitzgerald, the Republican House candidate in California who thinks the Holocaust was a fraud…
Democrats may well ask, if Ocasio-Cortez and other DSA endorsees mean their party is turning socialist, whether these candidates mean the Republican Party is turning something considerable worse.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 9, 2018