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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

“Republicans In Need Of A Reagan Refresher”: Pointing To Reagan As Some Kind Of Platonic Ideal Is Ridiculous

A couple of weeks ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) presidential campaign launched a new television ad, condemning the international nuclear agreement. The funny part, however, was Christie’s argument that Obama should have followed the example set by … Ronald Reagan.

The subject came up again last night, when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was asked whether he’s prepared to abandon the U.S. commitment to the diplomatic deal on the first day of his imaginary presidency. The senator replied:

“I oppose the Iranian deal, and will vote against it. I don’t think that the president negotiated from a position of strength, but I don’t immediately discount negotiations. I’m a Reagan conservative.”

Paul went on to note that Reagan negotiated with the USSR, which is proof that the United States can engage in talks with our foes, though Paul opposes the Iran deal anyway for reasons he didn’t specify.

A little later in the debate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also added a dash of Ronaldus Magnus and Iran. Responding to a question on cyber-security, the Republican senator said, “It is worth emphasizing that Iran released our hostages in 1981 the day Ronald Reagan was sworn into office.”

It’s worth emphasizing that Cruz’s story is based on a GOP fairy tale.

Regardless, the underlying point remains the same: when it comes to U.S. policy towards Iran, the current crop of Republican presidential candidates keep pointing to Reagan as the model for contemporary leaders to follow. Perhaps they haven’t thought this through.

Let’s again set the record straight: the Reagan White House illegally tried to sell weapons to Iran in order to help finance an illegal war in Central America. It was one of the biggest scandals in American history. Much of Reagan’s national-security team ended up under criminal indictment.

At one point in 1986, Reagan delivered a nationally televised address in which he looked at the camera and promised Americans the scandal wasn’t true. Four months later, he was forced to deliver another televised address, conceding the fact that his claims in the first one weren’t true.

I can appreciate why Republicans find all of this quite inconvenient now, and why the right may prefer to wipe the scandal from the party’s collective memories, but when the subject of U.S. policy towards Iran comes up, pointing to Reagan as some kind of Platonic ideal is ridiculous.

 

By: Steven Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 7, 2015

August 8, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Primary Debates, Rand Paul, Ronald Reagan | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Three Questions For Ukraine Hawks”: There Are Real And Specific Questions We’d Better Ask Ourselves Before We Jump In

Watch an hour of cable—and I’m talking MSNBC; forget Fox—and you might well come away from the hyper-ventilations thinking that we will or should go to war over Vladimir Putin’s takeover of Crimea. Listen: Nobody’s going to war over Crimea. This isn’t 1853. Yes, it matters to us how Crimea may once again become a part of Russia, and we don’t like it a bit, but let’s face it, it doesn’t really matter to us in cold, hard, realpolitik terms, whether Crimea is a part of Russia. It’s used as a naval base, and Russia’s had that all along.

Now Ukraine, that’s different. Or so everyone on TV says. But when everyone starts saying something, I start doubting. After all, a decade ago, nearly “everyone”—every “grown up,” that is, every person who took a “properly expansive” view of American security in the post 9/11 age—said we needed to topple a dictator who had nothing to do with 9/11. So: Is Ukraine different? We may decide that yes, it is, but there are some real and specific questions we’d better ask ourselves before we just automatically make that declaration.

One way we decide these things is by looking at the historical record, and the historical record practically screams no, Ukraine is not different, is not a vital American or Western interest. Soviet Russia annexed Ukraine in 1922, after a war that had commenced in 1917, when the Bolsheviks took Moscow. The borders of Ukraine changed many times over the years. Even its capital was moved from Kharkiv in the east to Kiev in the west. At the end of World War II, the USSR expanded Ukraine again, as Stalin unilaterally redrew the Curzon Line to take in Eastern Galicia and Lvov, Poland, which became and still is Lviv, Ukraine.

There were further alterations after the war. In 1954, as we all now know, Crimea became part of Ukraine (staying within the USSR). If the Western countries objected to any of these moves, they objected lightly and only formally. Roosevelt and Churchill pestered Stalin about the Lvov/Lviv situation at Yalta, but Uncle Joe wasn’t having it, and they left it alone.

So historically, Ukraine hasn’t been something the West regarded as worth fussing over very much. In more recent years, after the USSR’s collapse, Russia asserted that Ukraine and, for that matter, all 14 former satellite SSR’s were within the Russian sphere of influence. They even coined a term for it: the “near abroad.” Not all Americans have accepted the idea that the near abroad falls strictly within the Russian sphere of influence, by any means. When John McCain and Joe Biden and others thunder about bringing Georgia into NATO, they’re rejecting the idea explicitly. But like it or not, three presidents have basically accepted the idea—none more so than George W. Bush, who confronted Putin about his 2008 Georgia incursion (both happened to be in Beijing for the Olympics) and whose administration took a few steps but who never imposed sanctions, as Barack Obama has now. Bush’s green light to Putin shone far brighter than Obama’s has.

Of course, history changes. The fact that we never cared about Ukraine before doesn’t by definition mean that we shouldn’t care about it today. First, there is the matter of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which the United States, Britain and Russia guaranteed Ukraine’s existing borders in exchange for it giving up its nukes. The Obama administration declared Russia in violation of that concord on March 1. More broadly, Putin is a despicable tyrant who wants glory for Mother Russia. If “glory” means swallowing back up those 14 former SSRs, then he does have to be countered. The Obama administration and the European Union should certainly impose tougher sanctions, and in the American case, on more than seven people. Maybe NATO troops should train Ukrainians, too—maybe not on Ukrainian soil, but somewhere in Europe. There are other similar steps that can be taken short of sending in a slew of “advisors” (special ops people) and military materiel just yet, like helping Ukraine get this new National Guard up and running.

But let’s just think hard about this. There’s nothing easier for pundits or commentators on cable to stomp the table about how Putin is playing us and running rings around Obama and he’s a madman who must be stopped. Our former ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, said yesterday after Putin’s duma speech that the post-Cold War era was over. McFaul has been a reliable guide through these rapids, but that’s nonsense. We aren’t in a new Cold War. Spend five minutes ruminating on what happened during the Cold War and what sparked it, and you should be able to clear your head of such combustible notions. We’re a long way from that yet.

I’d like to hear everyone tossing around those kind of rhetorical lightning bolts answer, in a calm voice, three questions: One, why should Ukraine, which never before was a realpolitik first-order concern of the United States, be one now? Two, what exact sacrifices are we willing to make to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity? And three, what broader risks might those acceptable sacrifices entail, and are they worth it?

There might be very good answers to all three questions. But our political culture has a very bad habit of not wanting to discuss them much. That’s a habit we need to change.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 19, 2014

March 20, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Ukraine | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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