Have you noticed a lot of Democrats are saying the s-word lately?
“We have to say yes to socialism — to the word and everything,” legendary comedian and Trump critic Jim Carrey told Bill Maher recently. “We have to stop apologizing.”
This was more than two comedians looking for laughs. This debate is the beating heart of what liberal voters hope for — and Trump voters fear — if Democrats take control of the House after this year’s midterm elections.
In Democratic primaries for House seats, the party’s biggest stars of 2018 stood up to GOP screams about the dangers of “socialism,” by saying they ran for office to defend ObamaCare and support a living wage for workers, as well as to protect Social Security for the elderly.
Congressional candidates Ayanna Pressley in Boston and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, as well as Andrew Gillum in Florida’s gubernatorial primary, won by running on the message that government should provide an economic safety net for Americans.
All Americans deserve the “minimum elements necessary to lead a dignified American life,” Ocasio-Cortez told voters to standing ovations.
These candidates are following in the footsteps of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders Texas House Republican tests positive for coronavirus in latest breakthrough case In defense of share buybacks Progressives seething over Biden's migrant policies MORE’ (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential campaign.
The Vermont senator has proudly identified as a democratic socialist throughout his career. In his presidential run, he gave Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE a surprisingly tough race by winning a high level of support from young supporters who embraced his calls for universal healthcare, free college tuition and higher taxes on the wealthiest one percent of Americans to pay for social welfare programs.
“When I use the world ‘socialist’ — and I know some people aren’t comfortable about it — I’m saying that it is imperative [to] create a government that works for all and not just the few,” Sanders said in a 2015 interview.
“I don’t believe government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal.”
A Gallup poll last month found that a majority of Democrats and left-leaning independents view Sanders’ style of socialism more favorably than capitalism. Fifty-seven percent have a favorable view of socialism, whereas only 47 percent have a favorable view of capitalism.
Democrats are quick to point out that modern American governance has long been a hybrid of capitalism and socialism. They are not talking about a government takeover of business.
Nearly two-thirds of the federal budget goes to ‘socialist’-type programs — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These programs are wildly popular and politicians who threaten them are punished by the voters. Republican Congresses rejected Republican President George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security — just as they rejected then-Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE’s (R-Wis.) infamous budget which would have ended Medicare and Medicaid as we know them.
The big-ticket item for Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez Democrats is Medicare-for-All, a.k.a. “BernieCare,” a.k.a. “universal health care,” a.k.a. “Canadian-style single payer.”
A Reuters-Ipsos poll from last month found that a whopping 70 percent of Americans support Medicare-for-All — including 52 percent of self-described Republicans. This socialist proposal is wildly popular among the electorate — and it now has Democrats running toward it instead of away from it.
“I grew up in Canada, OK, we have socialized medicine,” Carrey explained to Maher. “And I’m here to tell you…It is not a failure, and I never waited for anything in my life. I chose my own doctors. My mother never paid for a prescription — it was fantastic.”
In two of the most hotly contested gubernatorial races — Florida and Wisconsin — the Democratic candidates are unapologetically running on a platform of Medicare-for-All, with Medicaid expansion as the first step.
Gillum, in Florida, is telling voters he will raise taxes on corporations to pay for the program. The state’s current Gov. Rick Scott (R) — now running for the U.S. Senate — refused to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare. His Democratic opponent, Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonTechnology is easy but politics is hard for NASA's Lunar Human Landing System Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by The American Petroleum Institute — Climate change turning US into coffee country Elon Musk mocks Biden for ignoring his company's historic space flight MORE, is using that refusal to attack Scott as lacking concern for working families and as a puppet for big business.
In Michigan and Nevada, Republican Govs. Rick Snyder and Brian Sandoval did expand Medicaid. The Republicans running to replace them are on record saying they opposed that decision and their Democratic opponents are clobbering them for it, while also campaigning on Medicare-for-All.
Big business has long made “socialism” a dirty word in American politics. It has been a rhetorical cudgel Republicans used to bash Democrats as soft on the threat of Soviet communism, and to portray the left as wanting to raise people’s taxes to give money to undeserving, lazy, shiftless, poor people.
The Democrats’ energized base of young, female, immigrant and racially mixed voters see Trump and Congressional Republicans as damning working people by trying to end ObamaCare and giving huge tax cuts to corporations and the rich.
Even as the GOP drives up the debt with tax cuts, the Trump party is intent on cutting programs that make up the social safety net, such as Social Security.
With Trump in the White House and Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate, Democrats are no longer afraid to stand behind popular programs for the middle and working class — even if the GOP yells ‘Socialist.’
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel. His new book, "What The Hell Do You Have To Lose? — Trump's War on Civil Rights," will be published on Sep. 25 by Public Affairs Books.