From John Quiggin over at Crooked Timber comes this article about how at least 33% of Americans under 30 think Socialism is just dandy. Which is interesting for a number of reasons, very few of them having to do with Socialism as an ideology or political model.
Republicans and other Conservatives have spent the last 30 years decrying everything left of Genghis Khan to be “Socialism,” so there’s a hefty percent of the population who have grown up with this meme buzzing in the background. This was intended to associate Democrats and all non-conservatives as being in league with the evil Socialist Hegemony of the Soviet Block. But then, 20 years ago, they disappeared. But the rhetoric of Democratic reform = Socialism didn’t. With no concrete examples to rely on, this idea simmered in the back of our minds, free association style. Conservatives thought this was a great idea and ran with it, attaching the Socialist label to everything they didn’t like, which, after 20 years of rightward drift in their little subculture, now includes an awful lot of things that most Americans are pretty fond of, like sex, drugs and rock and roll. Also, affordable healthcare, a 40 hour work week and kittens.*
So, now here we are in 2009, with a large percentage of the under 30 population having been convinced that 1) the Capitalist GOP has screwed things up pretty badly and 2) the Socialist Dems are trying to fix things. The GOP tactic of associating Democrats with Socialism has backfired. Instead of making Democrats scary bogeymen, it’s made “Socialism” seem like a viable alternative.
Nevermind that this word you keep using doesn’t mean what you think it means. In the minds of most Americans, Socialism now encompasses Healthcare that, if not outright Universal, is at least affordable, a sensible foreign policy, more transparency in government and a transcontinental high speed rail network. Socialism in the US now means the opposite of the GOP’s brand of Capitalism, which led to a pointless war, the city of New Orleans being abandoned after a hurricane and a nearly bankrupt world economy. If your only alternative is an apocalyptic hellscape of Malthusian depredation, torture and the world slowly sinking into the sea while the rich and stupid sail away on their yachts, then yeah, Socialism starts to look pretty good.
* Other things Conservatives think are Socialist: video games, beer, porn, Hollywood movies, TV shows that don’t star Keifer Sutherland, Hollywood the city, most of the rest of California, Jews, Muslims, academics, interracial couples, homosexuals who want to get married, New York City, salsa, spicy food, women who can read and think for themselves, doctors, scientists, telescopes (because they show a universe that is wide, beautiful and full of wonder without God), atheists, agnostics, people who wear blue jeans, rich people who aren’t assholes, an infrastructure built on the revenue collected from moderate taxation, poor people, minorities and convential grammar and spelling (serioulsy, check out some of the signs these nitwits were carrying during the recent Tea Parties. I’ve seen monkeys who could make more coherent signs, and they lack language!).