Socialism is a scare word.”  When speaking about the GOP in 1952, President Harry Truman went on to say, “Socialism is their name for anything that helps all people.”

The theme of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAP) Convention held last March was “America Versus Socialism”.   Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, told attendees: “It’s a very intended theme. Our view is it’s not capitalism versus socialism because socialism isn’t just about economics. Socialism, we believe, gets to the very core of violating the dignity of the individual human being that has God given rights.”

In expanding on this theme throughout the year the Republican Party has gone so far as to suggest that if the United States would adopt the Democratic Socialist ideas of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the country would be another Cuba or Venezuela where the government—rather than individuals or businesses—would own and control major industries, and the economy would be planned centrally.

In a Letter to the Editor entitled “We need progressive politics” Duwane Huffaker explained why Sanders and Warren are not socialists.  He said they are advocates for implementing the fundamental purposes and guiding principles stated in the preamble of the U.S. Constitution.

One of these principles is “to provide for the general welfare” of our great country. They are advocating health care for all, free public education to obtain a skill to become a knowledgeable and productive member of society great, and the necessary social programs to improve the general welfare.

Social programs are those services that are available to all citizens. They are schools, roads, police and fire protection.  Socialism is an economic philosophy where the workers of the world own the means of production.

Though the U.S. is clearly a capitalist country, one of the hallmarks of its government system is Social Security, a government-run benefits program instituted in 1935, in the depths of the Great Depression.  When Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act in the 1930s, many Americans were unconvinced that the program was good policy. Republican critics of the Social Security Act worried that the program’s old age pensions and unemployment insurance were based on socialism.

In the 1960’s conservatives strongly opposed Medicare.  They warned that a government-run program that provided health coverage to virtually all of the nation’s elderly and a large share of people with disabilities would lead to socialism in America.

The Department of Veteran’s Affairs is the most progressive agency in the government. The VA provides opportunities in education, employment, and small-business development.  Today veterans of all socioeconomic backgrounds are provided comprehensive and high-quality care for free or low cost. It is socialism in action and we must defend it from privatization.

The current anti-government Republican psyche goes back to the 1971 and the infamous “Powell Memo.”  It warned that our “free enterprise system” is “under broad attack.”   He wanted the business elite to spread the message that the very survival of freedom of this system is threatened by those who seek to extend the power of government. He warned that business must fight back with the anti-government message.

So, what Powell was saying is that “freedom” isn’t freedom of opportunity—as social movements had been insisting—but rather freedom from government interference. Government action to promote the general welfare—as in rules protecting clean air or voting rights or fair labor practices—denies freedom.

Lack of government interference has led to political power being amassed by America’s biggest corporations allowing them to corrupt government and pass laws that benefit themselves at the expense of everyone else.  In the 1980’s the Reagan administration overturned decades of antitrust laws.  This led to workers being disadvantaged and salaries remaining stagnant.  Executive pay, however, skyrocketed 1,000 percent.

COVID-19 has made economic inequality more extreme than that of more than a hundred other countries.  In the months we have already spent facing this common, invisible enemy has led to a deeper awareness of our connected fates.  Losses have heightened our awareness of the need for government as our shared tool in protecting life and livelihood.

With millions of jobs evaporating, many permanently, a public health care system could meet the human needs the private health care system isn’t able to provide.  The government has all the power that it needs to solve at least access issues to both health care and medicines.  Everything is at (its) disposal.

The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was the first step in bringing healthcare to millions of Americans who had no other health insurance.  Rather than being eliminated as the Republicans have tried to do for years, the system needs to be expanded so that no one has to go without health insurance ever again.

For the first time a majority of Americans agree climate change action should be a top national priority.  Republicans mock changes outlined in the Green New Deal and scoff at its price tag.  However, the pandemic is awakening Americans to fact that its only matter of political will.  Our government can solve these pressing problems the question is whether or not we have the political will to do it.

The future is not America versus socialism.  America needs to continue its ownership of capital goods by private individuals and businesses while at the same time continuing to embrace programs which improve its citizen’s health and well-being.

Shawano Dems Op-Ed

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