The American Right Needs to Stop Crying Wolf

Call social democrats extreme and voters won’t take you seriously when real socialists show up.

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders makes a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, July 18, 2015
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders makes a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, July 18, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

American conservatives who worry that the Democratic Party is becoming “socialist” should take a look across the Atlantic. In Britain, Labour has re-embraced actual statism and it is nevertheless polling neck and neck with the ruling Conservatives at 40 percent.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn calls for nationalizing industries and lifting regulatory restrictions on trade unions. He blames NATO for the Cold War, supports unilateral nuclear disarmament and sympathizes with seemingly every anti-Western cause, be it republican terrorism in Northern Ireland or Hamas and Hezbollah in the Holy Land.

The so-called socialism of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York candidate for Congress, and Bernie Sanders looks mild by comparison.

Universal health care? Debt-free college? More progressive taxation? That’s not even left-wing in Europe, it’s mainstream.

Social democrats

Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders may call themselves “democratic socialists”, but they are really social democrats.

Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren’s much-reviled proposal to put workers on company boards is even less radical. Far from a plan to “nationalize everything,” as Kevin D. Williamson absurdly argues in National Review, it is a sensible, centrist proposal modeled on labor relations in that hotbed of revolutionary socialism: Germany.

(For a fairer take on Warren’s plan, read Noah Smith in Bloomberg View.)

Crying wolf

If Americans are told that affordable health care and reining in the power of shareholders is “socialism”, then they won’t know the real thing when it hits them.

Call social democrats extreme and voters won’t take you seriously anymore when real socialists, à la Corbyn, show up.