Accusations of socialism have lost their bite

Recently, Joe Biden declared that any future stimulus would need to be a “hell of a lot bigger” than the $2 trillion Cares Act. He isn’t alone. On Tuesday, House Democrats proposed a coronavirus rescue bill that would appropriate more than $3 trillion for health agencies, state and local governments, an extension of unemployment benefits and a second round of stimulus checks to Americans, among other components. Other prominent Democrats are pushing for even more, like monthly $2,000 payments.

Proponents of these and other measures do not seem afraid of being called “socialist,” and many of them have historically leaned toward the center, not the left. That’s obviously because of the moment. But it may also be among the legacies of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ historic run in the Democratic Party primary. In unapologetically embracing the “democratic socialist” moniker, Sanders, I-Vt., dulled the socialist label’s stigmatizing power and may have even normalized the term. In turn, it’s expanded the universe of policy solutions to support Americans during the pandemic – and beyond it.

That’s striking, given McCarthyism’s effect on American politics over the past 60 years. Most know McCarthyism as driving loyalty oaths and investigative boards throughout the 1950s that scrutinized people for associations with communism or broader left-wing sympathies. But its residual effects endured long after the House Un-American Activities Committee closed up shop. They’re on display any time an ambitious domestic policy proposal is denounced as “socialist.”

Consider, for example, health care. Every proposed expansion of government-funded coverage has had to deal with the boogeyman of socialism. The Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill in 1947, which would have created national health insurance, was smeared along those lines by opponents such as the American Medical Association, which characterized it as “socialized medicine” and government monopoly on medicine. The same happened with Medicare, though it eventually passed successfully. In 1962, future president Ronald Reagan declared, in a speech for the AMA, that if Medicare were to become a reality, the country would soon “awake to find that we have socialism.”

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama’s health-care proposals also attracted McCarthyist attacks, even though both relied heavily on private insurance companies and the market. Yet the distance between these proposals and socialism didn’t protect them from being attacked as “socialism.” Through his time in the White House, Obama constantly fended off persistent charges from right-wing groups that he was a socialist, largely because the Affordable Care Act expanded government intervention in the health-care market.

Source: SF Gate