Beware careless talk about socialism

Warren Henry uses a Federalist column to point toward use of sloppy political terminology that could pave the way for a future President Elizabeth Warren.

How we “got Trump” is still a popular subject almost two years after the 2016 election, not least because the left continues to behave in ways that contributed to his upset win. There’s a lesson in their behavior for conservatives interested in avoiding a future discussion about how we “got Elizabeth Warren” (or someone similar).

Oddly, the lesson begins with a tweet from Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel, who pointed out conservatives may have inadvertently watered down the term socialism, by using it too broadly, and may now suffer the consequences as some Democrats start pushing full-blown socialist policies. …

… Seriously, the right should consider that overplaying the “socialism” card may cause many on the left to stop seeing it as a restraint on their politics, much like the left’s constant accusations of bigotry have desensitized some on the right to the charge. This realization is useful in understanding how our politics have become both more polarized and more confused.

According to a recent Gallup poll, a majority of Democrats and young adults have a positive view of socialism, while their view of capitalism has declined over the past eight years. Those results grabbed the public’s attention, but they merely confirmed trends shown in polling from the American Culture and Faith Institute, Harvard University, and YouGov (for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation). What those results mean, however, depends on whether people have a good or common understanding of what those terms mean — and it is far from clear they do.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the current darling of “democratic socialism,” seems to think the concept includes things like public parks and voluntarily-organized cooperative businesses. Neither of these things are socialist. Not even employee-owned business are necessarily socialist when they result from choices made in a free market.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...