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Tuesday, July 08, 2003
the socialist strategy
I haven't bashed My People much here lately, and maybe it's time. Of course, I'll probably take a few shots at the right along the way...
Around the time of the mid-80's "culture wars," conservatives hit on the singularly evil (not to say ineffective) trick of using the left's terms and tools of dissent for their own causes. So we've seen an answer to the left's technique of jumping on anyone making racist / homophobic / sexist statements with the right jumping on anyone making Maoist / Stalinist / communist statements. The major modern progenitor of this trend is McCarthy groupie Anne Coulter, but it's pretty widespread among the right in general as a "gotcha." (Although maybe it is a good sign that the simpler "liberal" tag isn't an effective smackdown anymore.)
On a certain level, this seems silly; aside from the imbeciles who will consciously identify themselves as Maoists (analogous in my mind to the nitwits who consciously identify themselves as white supremacists) there just aren't any Stalinists in the mainstream left, whereas Strom Thurmond, a former segregationist, was well within the conservative fold, and there are way more ex-Trotskyistes in the mainstream right than in the mainstream left. While you can find a member of the Senate's Republican leadership denouncing homosexuality as evil, you can't really find any elected Democrats saying Stalin was a pretty good guy, so they have to settle for denouncing statements about how the USSR wasn't all that bad, and fair enough, maybe they should. Maybe Stalin doesn't have an evil enough public reputation, and we should be teaching kids that he's as bad as Hitler, but I don't think that's revelatory of a particular liberal bias (a European bias, or maybe a bias towards focusing on evil men the US did, in fact, take down) or an ambivalence in liberals towards the man / ideology. Totalitarianism is bad. Genocide is bad. We're unequivocal in denouncing those, and if we slip up, it's because of a bias towards socialism, which is as debased in this country as racism.
But that got me thinking about the GOP's "Southern strategy," wherein they exploited white anger in the formerly Democratic South towards the Dems' embrace of civil rights by using certain code words in their public statements to endorse the morally, um, difficult stance of being against African-American rights. So if they could do this, do Democratic candidates have a way of similarly evoking a shamed ideology, socialism, in their comments? Certainly these policies remain resonant with a certain part of the base (labor especially). So while it's clearly not institutionalized like the GOP's technique, is there an unspoken "Socialist Strategy?"
It seems like there is. Progressive taxation, say, or universal health care, or welfare: all of these seem, at root, socialist policies, moreso than liberal / humanist policies. And I think that's OK. I'm not in favor of socialism, either as a political or intellectual doctrine, but its worldview was a certain advancement on classical liberalism.
So maybe there should be a Socialist Strategy. Not spoken--never spoken, that's sort of the point--but if conservatives can openly talk about their hatred of homosexuals and make allusions to racism, then why not a few more unashamed gestures on the left toward that most idealistic of leftist doctrines? No point in making policy based on it, but maybe it might be a good idea for campaigns. I dunno. Just a thought.