Gehrke: Republicans want to run against ‘socialism.' Let’s hope voters see through the ploy.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

It’s official: The Republican Party is fresh out of ideas.

To fill the void, they have turned to waging a war on a trumped-up boogeyman — the socialist menace infiltrating our society.

This vapid, focus-grouped talking point was touted prominently at the state GOP Convention over the weekend. In 2020, warned Sen. Mike Lee, the socialist Democrats “are coming for you.”

Oooh. Scary. And the Republican delegates ate it up.

If anyone stopped to think about it — and fortunately nobody did — the sky-is-falling rhetoric was tinged with more than a little irony.

Each of the doomsday-espousing speakers delivered their diatribes from a taxpayer-funded podium, at a state-run, taxpayer-paid-for arena, on the campus of a government-owned-operated-and-paid for university.

We built that. We socialized the costs, just like we socialized the costs of the roads they all used to get there.

You’re welcome.

Is that socialism? Well, it’s not free-market capitalism. It also wasn’t really free-market capitalism when Gov. Gary Herbert advocated for an Obamacare-style expansion to Medicaid, but that’s what he did for years.

And to be clear, it was absolutely the right thing to do. It will likely mean as many as 90,000 Utahns will get access to health care. It’s a safety net program that exists solely because the free market wasn’t solving the issue and voters decided it wasn’t acceptable to let people go without treatment just because they were poor.

Even among this courageous band manning the wall, protecting us against the socialist hordes, none was quite as adamant or colorful as Rep. Chris Stewart.

Stewart, you will remember, co-founded the House anti-socialism caucus earlier this year — a bad idea and colossal waste of time, even by congressional standards.

Stewart warned that Democrats would prohibit anyone from buying private insurance and force you to use less fossil fuels by taking away your truck, require everyone to switch to renewable energy and (somehow) remodel your homes — like it’s Queer Eye for the Socialist Guy. At least Stewart’s socialist nightmare will be sensibly decorated.

“They’ve not just embraced socialism,” Stewart said of Democrats, “they’ve embraced it and kissed it on the lips and took it home to meet their mommies.”

Turns out, “their mommies” were way ahead of the game. Mom has been getting a Social Security check and Medicare health coverage for years. If Stewart wants to dismantle the evil socialist welfare state, he could start by kicking grandmas off of Social Security. See how that goes.

Then he could move on to getting rid of the truest model of socialized medicine we have in this country, one he actually is eligible for as a former Air Force pilot — the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The VA operates 1,243 government-run, taxpayer funded socialized health care facilities that care for more than 9 million American veterans who, yes, earned their care, but get it in an entirely government-run system.

After that maybe these Utah Republicans can set out to privatize the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, a socialist model of state-owned-and-operated, taxpayer-funded retail outlets. A government-controlled socialist system if there ever was one.

They can take our karaoke bars, but they can never take OUR FREEDOM!

I get where Republicans’ anti-socialist hysteria is coming from. Republicans look at Democrats like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and can’t help but drool over the chance to build them up and burn them down like strawmen.

But the reason people are listening to Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, and people like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, is that they are talking about problems — college affordability, for example — that the free market capitalists like Herbert and Lee and Stewart haven’t been able to fix.

Frankly, they’ve never even tried.

This over-simplified “socialism-threatening-capitalism” nonsense doesn’t do anyone any favors. The reality is a lot more complex than that. But I guarantee that over the next 18 months we’re all going to be fed a steady diet of fear by Republican politicians in Utah and nationwide.

They’re coming for you, as Lee would say.

So we need to get ready for it. We need to see through it. And we need to start demanding more than Chicken Little fear-mongering from our elected officials. We should demand that they offer solutions or we should vote for someone who does.