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Why Is Socialism Scary Again?

Last week, one of my guests on San Diego Week, the TV program I host, took aim at the media’s “conservative white talk show hosts,” Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Her complaint was that their inflammatory rhetoric contributed to the recent escalation in hate crimes in the U.S. After the show, I was approached – or perhaps reproached is a better word here - by a long-time associate who complained that the critical remarks about Limbaugh and Beck were unfair since both men were doing the nation a service. They were warning us about the danger of socialism taking over the federal government.

Brian Stern of Belgrade, Montana protests outside a town hall meeting on heal...
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Above: Brian Stern of Belgrade, Montana protests outside a town hall meeting on health care attended by President Barack Obama in a hangar at Gallatin Field Airport August 14, 2009 in Belgrade, Montana.

Video unavailable. Read transcript below.

Above: Ethnic groups are targeted by white supremacy groups in East County. The editors discuss possible reasons for the about 30 percent increase in hate crimes.

Since my colleague is a responsible and capable person, I decided to check out those warnings. And, sure enough, there’s plenty of evidence that the two super-stars are busily frightening their audiences about the change that President Obama is trying to bring to America. Not since the Cold War has the fear of socialism spread so rapidly and penetrated so deeply among otherwise rational folks.

The problem is that this devil word is not clearly understood. For some, socialism equates to public ownership of and equal access to resources. More extremely, it is interpreted as President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress wanting to abolish private property and take over the economy of the United States. For others, it means state control of capital and the complete nationalization of production and distribution. For those who confuse socialism (the economic theory) with Soviet communism which combines totalitarianism, drastic curtailment of human rights and the existence of only one political party, it is a fearsome prospect which must be smothered along with its leaders.

Unfortunately, fear comes with blinders. We already have public ownership and most of us like it a lot. We have public schools and universities, public highways, Medicare/Medicaid, the V.A., the good old U.S. Postal Service, and Social Security. Twenty-six years ago, when Ronald Reagan worked for a huge FICA tax hike to save Social Security, chances are he wasn’t called a socialist. When George W. Bush poured record amounts of money into government spending, there was no whisper that he was a socialist.

So what’s different this time? Could it be that we are so tantalizingly close to real change in one giant system that touches everyone – health care – that it threatens the corporate status quo? This includes those who are so suspicious of government-tainted anything that they’ve lost their logical thinking and are susceptible to scare tactics and the desperation maneuvers of the weakened party-out-of-power?

Could it be that even those older citizens who already are dependent on government-provided health care have been so successfully targeted with threats of death panels, medical decisions from demon bureaucrats, and medical rationing based on political party registration that they have judged change as something bad. Perhaps it is socialism knocking at the door and thus it must be bad, although it sure looks like Medicare. These are passionate times when emotion rules. This is when cautious, clear thinking is king and homework is the most effective weapon.

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Avatar for user 'Kevin'

Kevin | October 8, 2009 at 2:15 p.m. ― 7 years, 5 months ago

There is no fear of Socialism here in the USA it is just a fact of life now. Neither one of the Consumer Protection Agencies, nor any government program is showing successful statistics towards real social benefit! Why do you think socializing medicine is going to be anything different? Welfare programs are all supposed to be designed as temporary measures when a person has no other options; but welfare has become a way for liberals to create pseudo sympathy for people who need to face up to their own necessities, which is the mother of invention. Giving individuals endless handouts doesn’t benefit individuals, it feeds the parasites who re-distribute the funds which rarely get to the person it is intended to serve. I agree with one thing being said here and that is that Republicans are as guilty of socialism as Democrats, and oligarchy is the tool which drives it all. History shows that a form of totalitarianism soon follows once socialism takes power.
Strong individuals, schools and government that fairly reward those of us who stand on our own feet and don’t rely on social programs are the foundation of true civilization. Without those of us who are completely independent there would be no social programs! Socialism is the over burdening of the individuals to benefit one mob or another; this is exactly what is happening here in the USA now. The real solution to all of this is to put all government run programs and funded departments on merit pay, and fund them only if they are showing successes! The other thing that needs to be done is to completely get rid of insurance and let the free market dictate trade between doctors and patients. A lot of doctors are already refusing to take insurance because of the dictating factors that inherently exist; if you think government run healthcare is going to be more honest and less abused you are dreaming. Those of you who have government funded healthcare already know how easy it is to be a hypochondriac and abuse the system because you have no necessity to take care of yourselves!

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Avatar for user 'Kevin'

Kevin | October 8, 2009 at 2:24 p.m. ― 7 years, 5 months ago

Let me make it simple for you! When the schools fail to teach all individuals to survive and succeed on their own and the government has to create program after program to correct the failures of our education system then we are Socialist. The root word of Socialism, Socialized, and Socialist isn’t Social by mistake. Make no mistake Socializing is the exact opposite to supporting individual freedoms which the US Constitution was intended to protect! Even our local governments want to create tenant landlord laws to invade private property and privacy because the majority is becoming nothing but a bunch of lazy people with un-deserved entitlements. Obama’s healthcare is just the nail in the coffin for the doctors who are supposed to be our elite thinkers.

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Avatar for user 'Kevin'

Kevin | October 8, 2009 at 2:26 p.m. ― 7 years, 5 months ago

The lawyers and judges whom back all this are parasites and leaches to the full degree that they can be already.

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Avatar for user 'Cristobal'

Cristobal | October 8, 2009 at 6:52 p.m. ― 7 years, 5 months ago

Scare tactics aside on both sides of the issue, the underlying source of the "pushback" is coming from at least three realities.

First, the ability to choose is fundamentally American. The current health plan that proposes to cover 94% of us is over-reaching (especially when only 13% of the population is currently uncovered), negates that freedom of choice, and pushes us all into a mediocre middle game that says "you're not capable of making good choices, so we'll do it for you." (With that arrogance of supposed-competence and expertise, why doesn't Congress tell me which cell phone plan is best for me!?)

Second, Congress happily slept (dreaming of the contributions it could exact from the financial industry!) while the financial meltdown was in the making. Now, that same Congress is attempting to position itself as "get tough" while it really knows no more about economics and the unintended consequences of its legislation and regulation, than it did about steroids in baseball. That lack of economic "cause and effect" thinking is resulting in unprecedented and irreparable government spending that will further the recession and push the entire U.S. economy to a mediocre middle game on the world playing field.

Finally, the government bureaucracy has consistently demonstrated its incompetence (effectiveness and economics) at most of what it touches - - the military excepted. That bureaucracy is touching too much of American life. Health care is intensely personal and the government's role ("the best predictor of future performance is past performance") is expected to be invasive, more so causing the reactions we've seen, than the scare tactics coming from either side.

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Avatar for user 'Cheznation'

Cheznation | October 9, 2009 at 7:08 a.m. ― 7 years, 5 months ago

all capitalists are aware that the system is a mix of private enterprise and free markets with public functions facilitated with a mix of taxes and regulation

the debate is what should be private and what should be public. If the ratio is 67 private/33 public, and this balance was arrived at over a long period of time of economic development and political debate, and some people want to change the ratio to 60/40 (leftist democrats), then this shift will be contested

the reporter of this article argues that people who are against socialism are stupid, which means she is a socialist who is unable to understand why her religion is not supported by others

the reporter might consider the following thought exercise: assume that the people she is critiquing are smarter than her (the rule is the dumber side is the one wearing the "blinders"). Given this environment, how would she like the people she critiques to view her? With respect, or with derision?

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Avatar for user 'dseaman'

dseaman | October 9, 2009 at 4:51 p.m. ― 7 years, 5 months ago

It is sad and scary for me to see such anger and vitriol since the election of Obama. It seems there is some confusion about what 'socialism' means but I think the more specific problem is that people's faith and respect for our elected representatives is in tatters.
With the economic collapse built up over the last 10 (mostly Republican) years and the apparent inability of our federal government to head it off, we citizens are left very vulnerable.
I feel we are victims of forces over which we have little control. And we are looking for control. With the size and complexity of our current civilization it's unlikely that many of us can just depend on ourselves. We are interconnected and interdependent. We need to find better ways to talk to each other and, together, solve the problems we face as a society.

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Avatar for user 'MattthewCScallon'

MattthewCScallon | October 29, 2009 at 10:50 a.m. ― 7 years, 5 months ago

"We already have public ownership and most of us like it a lot. We have public schools and universities, public highways, Medicare/Medicaid, the V.A., the good old U.S. Postal Service, and Social Security."

First off, you're holding up public schools as something most of us like is a red herring. Most of us are stuck paying for incompetence of public schools with our tax dollars, and many of us, especially those of us in neighborhoods of color, would rather send our children to Catholic school, were not all of the tax money going to the public schools.

Public highways have become increasingly toll roads run by private companies, so that too is a straw man.

Medicaid and Medicare are routinely exploited for overpayment, to the point that even the left-leaning "60 Minutes" had to report on it.

The good old Postal Service has escalated postage rates so often that I'm stilling using stamps from 5 increases ago, and still they are running at a deficit.

As far as Social Security, what Social Security? This is FDR's ultimate Ponzi scheme that, because of the declining birth rate and rising abortion rate, there are no longer enough younger workers paying into the system in order to prop it up.

"When George W. Bush poured record amounts of money into government spending, there was no whisper that he was a socialist."

I guess you weren't following Citizen Voices back then on this very web site. There was plenty of socialism complaints from both the bloggers and the commenters. As well, none other than Glenn Beck complained that we can't have capitalism in times of proserity but socialism in times of decline. He was a different network back then, so that might be why you may not heard it. It was, nonetheless, far more than a whisper.

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Avatar for user 'NCview'

NCview | February 20, 2010 at 4:26 p.m. ― 7 years, 1 month ago

The real reason that socialism is scary again is because the GOP needed to come up with something to scare the masses and make them fear Obama. They couldn't stand that after allowing G. W. Bush and the Rebpulican lead congress bring the country to the brink of financial collapse they were actually going to loose power. The majority of those in the middle, who do not follow what is going on, are easily swayed by the next bright thing that comes along. Now it is the fear of "socialism" or that Obama is a Nazi, or a communist, not born in this country, or whateve they can get the uninformed to believe. It seems to be working, which is very sad that this nation as a whole is made up of such gullible people.

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Avatar for user 'Stan522'

Stan522 | April 23, 2010 at 8:27 a.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

I’ve read many news articles and blogs about the displeasure with our government for some time now. It seems to be the common theme. The trend of government intervention can be traced back to Teddy Roosevelt and the New Deal. This isn’t necessarily an obama thing. The bottom line is all presidents and their respective congresses have taken us down this path. More recently, with Bush towards the end of his last term and what obama has done throughout his entire first year, we are on hyper-drive towards socialism.

They have been bailing out the free market in many market segments and then dictating the terms on how to conduct business. Below is a link, I highly recommend all of you view. It best defines the various forms of government. I saw this video for the first time last August. It really opened my eyes. It helped me understand ours, as it was originally intended, is truly the best. You have to be naive, biased, or stupid if you do not see the trend our country has been plummeting towards. Our government has been taking more and more control of every aspect of our lives. This isn’t a democrat thing, or republican. We all have to stop arguing from that perspective—they both are doing it.

We must understand how we have progressed, or shall I state digressed as a nation. It’s not too late. Let’s see if we can reverse this socialist trend. This is well worth the watch.

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | April 23, 2010 at 9:53 a.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

America is neither a pure capitalist or socialist system - it has elements of both. And I believe both are needed for things to work well.

Somehow I can't help but think this fear mongering about America becoming too socialist is from the same types of people who come to rallies with guns and threaten violence to take the country back. Amazing what putting a smart person of color in the White Hose can do to some folks.

Welcome to the world of those who see everything as either black or white, they deny any existence of truth somewhere in the middle.

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Avatar for user 'Stan522'

Stan522 | April 23, 2010 at 10:12 a.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

Rallies with guns and threatening violence?.. Are you talking about those SEIU meetings? I've attended at least 5 TEA Party rallies to see what they are all about. I saw neither a gun, or any violence. Now I have seen videos of thugs beating up conservatives.

Sure we are a country with a mixture of socialism and capitalism. I believe the issue at hand is we now are in hyper-drive towards socialism. You now see the proverbial frog jumping out of the boiling pot of water. Like it or not, this is what we have.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | April 23, 2010 at 12:03 p.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

Stan, New Deal was FDR, not TR.

NC, Socialism was scary when Bush was president too. I do agree that the state of gullibility is sad. For instance, we have convinced people we can perpetually consume more than we produce. We have convinced people they are entitled to money thay have not earned. We have convinced people that they deserve whatever is available regardless of their ability to pay for it.

When we wake up we are in for a big shock. I wonder how many are hoping that our credit will last through their lifetime and don't care about the debt they will leave behind?

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | April 23, 2010 at 12:24 p.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

As to the question of why socialism is scary, I suppose it depends on how one compares oneself to others. I one believes oneself capable of more than average success, one is not likely to want to drag the rest up the slope to attain that success. If one does not believe that, then socialism is probably not scary until those who are doing the dragging stop.

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Avatar for user 'Stan522'

Stan522 | April 24, 2010 at 6:38 a.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

Benz, I like your analogy and I might add that what we see today in America is a collective awakening of those dragging. Have “we” awakened to the point to take action? Only time will tell.

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Avatar for user 'Gloria Penner'

Gloria Penner | April 24, 2010 at 12:44 p.m. ― 6 years, 11 months ago

It is gratifying to see that an article that I wrote last October continues to elicit reaction from our readers - well written and thoughtful comments. Let the conversation continue!

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Avatar for user 'D1'

D1 | May 25, 2010 at 5:18 p.m. ― 6 years, 10 months ago

The label “Socialist” is being resurrected by certain age group who were around during the 1950’s. The rest of the chatter is from people who have no clue whatsoever on what they are talking about. These nostalgic group of people have been indoctrinated to use socialism as a tool to induce fear.

Conveniently, socialism has been used in the past to associate any alternative view just so that a political gain could be made. It worked effectively during those days in destroying any one’s reputation by just spreading actual or phantom rumors. It looks like those old tricks are being sought against Obama in hopes of garnering support against his administration.

I doubt socialism will be able to ever make a comeback, because the ideology is proven dead by even the most ardent socialists. However, it looks like that some angry elements are bent to destroy Obama until proven wrong. In time they will be drowned by their own babble; and fade away for lack of proof. Now days, we should be fearful of tea-baggers who have no coherent stand on any social, economical, nor political views.

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Avatar for user 'Stan522'

Stan522 | July 11, 2010 at 4:29 p.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

"However, it looks like that some angry elements are bent to destroy Obama until proven wrong."

You mean sort of like the progressives (too nice a word) did to GWB during his two terms? You wouldn't know socialism even if you were sitting next to Stalin. Your analysis is flawed. If you cannot see the government takeover of banking, automotive, and health care as socialism, you will never get it. Here check out this short lesson on our form of government and tell me really what you think we are closer to:

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