It is said that if you're not a liberal when you're young, you have no heart, and if you're not a conservative when you're old, you have no brain. May I add that if you believe government is always the problem and never the solution, your philosophy needs a reality check.
- CNN screenshot
- Bernie Sanders
As the 2020 primary season begins and the poor and working classes threaten to coalesce around a "socialist" candidate, the GOP has predictably trotted out its latest version of the Red Scare. And, bless their hearts, Democratic candidates are too terrified or inept to explain what socialism really is. Not to mention that "democratic" socialism, such as that practiced in much of Europe, including Germany, is a system of the people, by the people, and for the people. Which, of course, is what terrifies the powerful.
Democracy is a political system. It is frequently conflated with capitalism, which is an economic system. One can exist without the other, and this obfuscation is no accident. Somewhere in the rugged individualist propaganda is the use of the word "freedom," which is a well-worn rhetorical device used by conservatives to make sure the inflation-adjusted rate of CEO pay doesn't keep pace with that of the federal minimum wage.
So, as you step into the voting booth amid this Chicken Little hysteria about the dangers of "gubmint," please consider the following set of qualifying questions:
Do you live in an enclave of hearty pioneers who dug their own wells rather than rely on a municipal water supply? Do you travel on taxpayer-funded roads? Did you grow all your own food instead of purchasing comestibles inspected by the FDA and the USDA? Was that food nourished by clean air, soil, and water protected by the EPA? If these stores of food are threatened, do you have your own security personnel and have no need to rely on law enforcement? Were your homes built under construction codes designed to protect against an electrical fire? If such a fire occurs, is it extinguished by other residents armed with buckets instead of a fire department? If you live in a flood zone, do you self-insure? If that flood occurs, do you refuse FEMA assistance? Does your outpost have its own sewer system and power grid, too?
Speaking of utilities, does your band of rugged individualists eschew any entertainment that involves satellites? Does whatever news you receive about the socialist horde come from a traveling town crier who brings news of the outside world without any need of the internet?
Were your children born at home without the assistance of university-trained physicians and without modern medicine and equipment developed by government research institutions?
Will your travel plans eliminate using a publicly built airport to travel to a federally operated national park or to visit a war monument commemorating the military fallen who were paid with defense department checks? And if you wish to read what the Founding Fathers actually had to say about our origins, will you refuse to view these documents being housed in a taxpayer-provided facility known as the National Archives?
Long ago and far away, in the mythical America of Republican wet dreams where there existed no federal income tax and few laws constraining behavior, it might have been possible for those who lived in near isolation on a mountaintop to do as they pleased. Curiously, Republicans and libertarians (aka "closet anarchists") never seem to consider the negative impact of this theoretical citizen if he dumps his garbage on a slope that rainfall sends flowing to his downhill neighbor. Nor does it occur to them that the power of the government is what protects the rights of the minority, including what remedies exist for the guy downhill.
Government can't do everything, but neither does it achieve nothing. Government creates the thin veneer of civilization that mitigates "might makes right" and, in doing so, protects all of us who aren't rich enough to purchase our own elected official or private army.
At the core of the most ardent anti-government zealot is an opportunist who seeks to gain maximum social benefit with a minimum of financial responsibility. A citizen whose true philosophy and definition of socialism can be summed up as "any government largess from which I do not personally benefit."
So does that make all of us socialists? Unless your answer to all of the questions above was "no," the answer to that one is "yes."
Ruth Ogles Johnson is an occasional contributor to the Flyer.