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“The Narrow Definition Of Socialism Was Always Wrong”: What “Socialism” Means To Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton — And You

Once upon a time, socialists running for president in the United States had to explain that while they had no chance of actually winning an election, their campaigns were aimed at “educating” voters — about socialism.

As a successful politician twice elected to the U.S. Senate and showing very respectable numbers in most presidential primary polls, Bernie Sanders needs no such excuse. He assures voters that he is running to win and there is no reason to doubt him. But win or lose, his campaign nevertheless is proving highly educational for Americans perpetually perplexed by the meaning of “socialism.” Or as Sanders sometimes specifies, “democratic socialism,” or the even milder “social democracy.”

Since the advent of the Cold War and even before then, the multifarious meanings of the S-word were hidden behind the ideological and cultural defenses erected against communism. The Soviet dictatorship and its satellites claimed their authoritarian way was the only true socialism – and conservatives in the West seized that self-serving claim to crush arguments for social justice and progressive governance. American politicians of both parties embraced the blurring of socialism with communism.

But that narrow definition of socialism was always wrong. To accept it meant to ignore fundamental realities, both contemporary and historical – such as the bolstering of the Western alliance by European democracies that called themselves “socialist” or social democratic, all of which had adopted programs, such as universal health care, denounced by American politicians as steps on the road to Communist serfdom. Decades later, of course, those same countries – including all of Scandinavia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom – remain democratic, free, and open to enterprise.

As for the United States, Sanders might recall that this country once had a thriving Socialist Party, which elected mayors in cities like Milwaukee and even sent two of its leaders, Milwaukee’s Victor Berger and New York’s Meyer London, to Congress. Their movement enjoyed not only electoral victories but a strong record of municipal reform and reconstruction. They built sewers to clean up industry’s legacy of pollution; they built public housing; they ensured delivery of publicly owned, affordable water and power; and they cleaned up local government.

Between the triumph of the New Deal and the devastation of McCarthyism, the political space for American socialism virtually vanished. Before they were relegated to the margins, however, the socialists strongly influenced the direction of American social policy.

Long after the various socialist parties had faded, their heirs continued to serve as the nation’s most insistent advocates for reform and justice. Socialists (and yes, communists), were among the leading figures in the civil rights, labor, and women’s movements. It was a remarkable 1962 book by the late, great democratic socialist Michael Harrington, The Other America, that inspired President Kennedy and his brothers to draw attention to the continuing shame of poverty in the world’s richest nation. When Ronald Reagan warned in 1965 that Medicare was a hallmark of “socialism,” he wasn’t too far from the mark – except that 50 years later, the popular program has liberated older Americans, not enslaved them.

Now Bernie Sanders has taken up the old banner in a political atmosphere where more voters – and especially younger voters — are receptive to calm debate instead of hysterical redbaiting.

Certainly Hillary Clinton, whatever her view of Sanders’ ideology, understands social democracy: When her husband was president, the democratically elected socialist leaders of Western Europe were his closest international allies. In her first book, It Takes A Village, she highlighted many of the same social benefits in France, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries that Sanders advocates today.

So Clinton knows very well that “socialism,” as her primary rival uses that term, is no frighteningly alien worldview, but merely another set of ideas for organizing society to protect and uplift every human being.

It is long past time for the rest of the American electorate to learn that, too.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Featured Post, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, November 6, 2015

November 7, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Socialism | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Look No Further Than The Governor’s Race In Kentucky”: The Superficiality Of The Republican Commitment To Racial Justice

Last night in Kentucky, Matt Bevin, a Tea Party-aligned Republican who unsuccessfully attempted to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last year, was elected the state’s second GOP governor since the end of the Civil Rights Movement.

Conservatives are understandably elated. Bevin ran rightward even by Kentucky’s standards. His political career has been forged in the conservative backlash to President Obama, and Bevin supports both federalizing Kentucky’s extremely successful state-based health care exchange, and rescinding the state’s Medicaid expansion, which has brought coverage to over 400,000 poor Kentuckians since 2013. As a candidate for Senate, where his vote would’ve counted, he supported the outright repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

But amid the euphoria over a victorious politician who wants to roll back the tide of social justice, conservatives are also celebrating their own perceived sense of racial enlightenment. Because though Bevin and most of his supporters are white, his running mate, Lieutenant Governor-elect Jenean Hampton, is black.

In Kentucky we see the general scope of Republican minority outreach in microcosm—the touting of a popular black figurehead juxtaposed against an unrelenting pursuit of policies that harm, and are unpopular with, black voters nationally.

The most apt symbol of this conception of racial tolerance is Ben Carson, who climbed out of poverty to become the most renowned black neurosurgeon in the world. He also sits well to the right of the median Republican primary candidate, which helps explain his surge in the polls. Last week, National Review’s Jonah Golberg wrote a column arguing that Carson is “even more authentically African American than Barack Obama, given that Obama’s mother was white and he was raised in part by his white grandparents.”

Goldberg interprets the fact that a person of such authentic blackness is a popular, conservative member of the Republican Party as a matter of deep significance, when in fact it confirms that the right’s commitment to racial justice has a deeply superficial quality. After a predictable backlash to the blackness scale he contrived, Goldberg revised and extended.

“The Democrats, MSNBC, Salon, et al,” he wrote, “are so invested in their narrative that the GOP is a racist cult that they have trouble dealing with the fact that Ben Carson—a black guy—is arguably the front-runner and certainly the most popular figure in the Republican field (and drawing most of his support from precisely the voters the MSNBC crowd is most convinced are the recrudescent racist heart of the conservative movement). Rather than celebrate this huge step forward in racial progress, or at least think about what it really means, they instead ignore it, dismiss it, or attack my ‘racism’ for pointing it out. Well, to Hell with that game.”

This would fatally undermine the liberal critique of racial politics on the right, if liberals argued that Republicans belonged to a segregated party that espoused hatred for minorities no matter their politics. Instead, Goldberg is celebrating tokenism on the scale of a national, ideological movement.

That Carson is black and popular among Republican primary voters is incontrovertible. It’s also largely beside the point. The question of why Carson is popular on the right is complicated, and surely in part related to his aforementioned conservative politics, his religious devotion, and his hypnotically avuncular demeanor. But it is just as surely related to the fact that Carson absolves conservatives of their coarse and patronizing view of black voters and political leaders. Carson attributes his unpopularity with liberals to the notion that he had the temerity to “come off the plantation.”

Needless to say, the fact that Republican voters like a guy who tells them that other black people—the ones who support Democrats—are like plantation slaves doesn’t harm the liberal critique of conservative racial politics at all. Nor does it cancel out or refute the existence of racism.

The Kentucky poor are now in limbo, though their position is tellingly strengthened by the fact that Kentucky is whiter than the median state. Beneficiaries of the Medicaid expansion there are whiter and more geographically dispersed than in other states. The prologue to their story may come from Arkansas, which declined to rescind its version of the Medicaid expansion, even after voters there replaced a retiring Democratic governor with a Republican.

So there is hope. But there’s also peril.  What distinguishes Kentucky is that its Medicaid expansion was undertaken unilaterally by outgoing Governor Steve Beshear. Though he softened his position during the general election, Bevin could rescind it on his own, without going to the legislature.

If he declines to do so, conservatives will consider it a great setback in their ongoing campaign against the national wave of Medicaid expansion, a campaign that has done disproportionate harm to low-income black people all over the country. And that says far more about the racial politics of their movement than the fact that Kentucky’s incoming lieutenant governor is black herself.

 

By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor at The New Republic, November 4, 2015

November 7, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Matt Bevin, Medicaid Expansion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Crossover In Louisiana”: Question Is Not Who Bobby Jindal Endorses, But Whether Either Candidate Would Accept His Support

Looking at the polls (there are now three of them) showing Democrat John Bel Edwards with a double-digit lead over U.S. Sen. David Vitter in the November 21 Louisiana gubernatorial runoff, you’d figure Republicans would be focused on a unity effort to bring Vitter’s defeated GOP rivals into the tent. If so, the effort suffered a blow this morning, when Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne endorsed Edwards in the runoff. Kevin Litten of the Times-Pic has some background:

Although Dardenne originally indicated he wouldn’t offer an endorsement in the general election, the source said his thinking on the subject evolved over time. Dardenne and Edwards had been talking since election day (Oct. 24), when Dardenne and Republican candidate Scott Angelle were defeated by Edwards and U.S. Sen. David Vitter.

“He went from ‘No I won’t’ to ‘I would if…’ to ‘I might have to,’ to ‘Let’s do this now,'” the source said.

Both Dardenne and Angelle, were the subject of withering political attacks during the primary launched by U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s campaign and the super PACS supporting him. Angelle struck back hard, and Dardenne complained bitterly about the ads during the last two weeks of the campaign during debates before running an ad criticizing Vitter in the last days of the campaign.

Dardenne finished fourth in the primary with 15% of the vote.

Vitter countered with an endorsement from former Gov. Mike Foster, who left office in 2004. You’d normally figure a big target of any Republican unity campaign would be the sitting two-term Republican governor of the state. But according to the Baton Rouge Advocate, Bobby Jindal is “not in a hurry” to endorse a successor:

Both candidates remaining in the governor’s race — Democrat John Bel Edwards and Republican David Vitter — have repeatedly criticized Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal on the campaign trail.

And it appears Jindal isn’t eager to pick which of the two he would prefer succeeds him in the Governor’s Office.

The National Review caught up with Jindal in Boulder, Colorado, on Wednesday and asked whom he prefers.

Jindal has frequently butted heads with both men.

“We haven’t made that decision yet,” Jindal, who is running for president, demurred when asked if he planned to endorse in the race, NRO reports. “That doesn’t mean we won’t. But we haven’t made that decision yet.”

It’s no secret that Jindal and Vitter have an icy relationship. And as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Edwards has been one of Jindal’s most vocal opponents at the State Capitol.

The bigger question may not be who Bobby chooses to endorse between campaign events in Iowa, but rather whether either candidate would accept his support.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, November 5, 2015

November 7, 2015 Posted by | Bobby Jindal, David Vitter, Louisiana Governors Race | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Wild And Wacky Stuff”: The Conspiracy Theories Of Ben Carson: A Brief Introduction

The world is now a-BuzzFeed with the discovery of a video from 1998, in which Dr. Ben Carson opined that the pyramids of Egypt were really built as grain houses — not as majestic tombs for the kings. Carson made his case by citing the Bible — specifically the story from Genesis of Joseph advising the Pharaoh of his day to store up grain in order to prepare for seven years of famine.

The alternative, Carson said, was to listen to all those scientists who say the pyramids were built by aliens. As if there were no middle ground there.

In recent days, Carson has reaffirmed these beliefs to a CBS reporter. (Is it possible that Carson was wary of discussing “pyramids” on the record, lest he give a subtle tipoff about his campaign’s very suspicious fundraising and spending operation?)

But this got us wondering: What other wild and wacky stuff does Ben Carson believe, which the wider electorate just hasn’t become totally aware yet? Here’s just a short introduction.

  1. Barack Obama Is Part Of The Communist Conspiracy To Bring Down America

In 2014, Carson declared that President Obama and then-Attorney General Eric Holder were acting out roles in a decades-long communist conspiracy to subvert America.

In doing so, he cited a book from the 1950s by fringe right-wing conspiracy theorist Cleon Skousen, The Naked Communist. (Skousen was also a major racist, even defending the honor of antebellum Southern slavery and the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision.)

  1. The Theory Of Evolution Came From The Devil

In a 2011 speech to a church group, Carson declared: “I personally believe that this theory, that Darwin came up with, was something that was encouraged by the Adversary.”

Carson elaborated on this point: “Now this whole creation vs. evolution controversy has been raging on, really since the beginning. Because what is Satan’s plan? To get rid of God — to disparage God, to mischaracterize God.”

About a month ago, Carson appeared with Bill O’Reilly and dismissed attacks on his beliefs regarding evolution as part of a pattern of liberals attacking African-American conservatives. As for the substance of things, well, he hedged — and asked what those scientists even know, anyway.

“People don’t realize, he’s God — if he wanted to create an Earth that was billions of years old, he could do it. They can’t do it — how come they’re always trying to put themselves in the same category as God?”

  1. Gay Rights Is A Communist Plot — And Men In Prison Prove That Homosexuality Is A Choice

In a 2014 speech to the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, Carson again referenced the aforementioned Cleon Skousen — and said that “neo-Marxists” had “systematically attacked” the family in order to bring down the United States.

In an appearance on CNN earlier this year, Carson argued that homosexuality is a choice — an argument, he said, was lent credence by the experience of some prisoners.

“Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight, and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question,” Carson said.

Yes — “something” did happen to them in there. In addition to sexual assault, which is rampant in prisons, there is also what is referred to as “situational homosexuality,” which occurs to men in prisons.

Anyway, clearly the good doctor does not favor a fact-based approach to answering life’s lingering questions. But he loves a good story.

 

By: By Eric Kleefeld, Featured Post, The National Memo, November 5, 2015

November 7, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Conspiracy Theories, Evolution | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Why Are Candidates So Afraid Of The Press?”: What Presidential Candidates Lack Today Is Guts

Just before the doors to the press bus close with a sigh, a tall, tanned man with weathered skin leaps aboard and walks to the rear.

He is wearing a brown suit with a carefully folded white handkerchief in the pocket. His dark hair is slicked back. It is 1976. He is Ronald Reagan, and he is running for president.

His presence on the press bus — virtually unheard of for a candidate today — does not attract any special attention. Reporters fill the air of the bus with the clack, clack, clack, ping, zip of their portable typewriters.

The bus begins to roll and one by one the reporters go back to talk to Reagan. Finally, I am the only one who has not spoken to him. The press secretary looms over me in my seat.

“C’mon,” he says. “Time to talk to the governor.” (Reagan had been governor of California.)

“Think I’ll skip it,” I mumble. “Don’t really have anything to ask him.” It was my first campaign and I was very nervous.

“You’ve got to go back there,” the press secretary says. “The governor will be hurt if you don’t.” He is serious.

I unfold myself from my seat and follow him.

Reagan greets me warmly. He has an easy smile and long laugh lines that crinkle his face.

“Is there something you would like to ask me?” he says.

I paw through the pages of my notebook, which are limp with sweat. Reagan’s favorite issue is the Panama Canal and how Jimmy Carter wants to give it back to Panama.

At each stop, Reagan says one of three things about the canal:

“We bought it, we paid for it, we built it, and we intend to keep it.”

“We built it, we paid for it, it’s ours and we are going to keep it.”

“We built it. We paid for it. It’s ours.”

I flick through my damp notes. Um, um, I say. Um, how do you feel about the Panama Canal?

Reagan’s face brightens. He leans forward and speaks to me with the utmost seriousness. “We built it,” he says. “We paid for it. It’s ours.” He then leans back in his seat.

Great, I say. Thanks a lot. Really.

I get up and he stops me to shake my hand. “Nice meeting you,” he says sincerely. “I’m sure we’ll do this again.”

And we do. Day after day. (I learn to ask slightly more complex questions.) And nearly every day, Reagan also holds a full-fledged press conference at which reporters can ask him anything.

This, too, has gone the way of the carrier pigeon, the great auk, and the woolly mammoth. These days, candidates have advisers and coaches and pollsters. What they lack is guts.

They hide from the press whenever possible.

Today, covering a presidential candidate means never having to say you saw him.

Ronald Reagan railed against a number of things including communism, big government and high taxes. But I never heard him rail against reporters. He was not a blame-the-press president.

Flash-forward to Nov. 6, 1992. This is how my column begins:

“After one of George (H.W.) Bush’s last campaign speeches, Torie Clarke, his spokeswoman, climbed onto the press bus to answer a few questions.

“As we pulled away, Clarke gazed out the window onto a familiar sight: Crowds of people shaking their fists at the media.

“‘I hate it when I ride with you guys,’ she said with a sigh. ‘I’m always afraid someone will throw a Molotov cocktail.’

“She was kidding. A little.

“At nearly every stop in the last weeks of his campaign, George Bush would bash the media.

“Attacking the media was good politics. Just like Willie Horton had been good politics. A scapegoat had to be found to explain the lousy poll numbers. And the media were convenient.”

At the time, I interviewed a photographer who told me how he had been standing by a cyclone fence taking pictures of Bush, when a man reached over the fence, grabbed the photographer’s hair and slammed the photographer’s head into the fence.

“He kept yelling, ‘Get an honest job, get an honest job.’ I thought it was bad when they just spat on us,” the photographer said. “But this was worse.”

In Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, a large crowd awaited us. Two yellow ropes created a gauntlet for us to walk through.

A gray-haired gentleman leaned over the rope line and waved his small American flag in my face.

“Scum!” he yelled at me. “You scum!”

Bush walked out and delivered what had become his stock line.

“Annoy the media!” he shouted. “Re-elect George Bush!”

The people did not re-elect George H.W. Bush, but now just about everybody — including me — has warm feelings about him.

I actually had forgotten about his incidents with the press and only stumbled across them when I was looking for columns about how presidential campaigning has changed and how attacking the press has become a tactic that guarantees cheap applause and maybe a point or two in the polls.

Recently, Donald Trump said of reporters: “They’re scum. They’re horrible people. They are so illegitimate. They are just terrible people.”

Some of the Republican candidates want debate moderators who will be easy on them — or else.

“I’m not going to allow them to ask stupid questions,” Chris Christie said recently. (Maybe he knows some guys.)

Today, Republicans invoke the name Ronald Reagan as if he were a god. But they forget how he actually behaved. Reagan, for all his faults, had something today’s candidates lack: a spine.

He did not quiver like a bowl of Jell-O or whine when asked a “gotcha” question.

A gotcha question is one that seeks to reveal a difficult truth.

So you can see why today’s candidates are so afraid of them.

 

By: Roger Simon, Chief Political Columnist, Politico; The National Memo, November 5, 2015

November 7, 2015 Posted by | Political Media, Presidential Candidates, Ronald Reagan | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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