Poor Congressman Chris Stewart. He doesn’t seem to know Social Security from third base. A sneaky beast called socialism, he proclaims, is coming to destroy the United States. Don’t tell granny.

Our stalwart congressman, who has organized an “Anti-Socialism Caucus” in the House of Representatives, says nothing less than our freedom is at stake. Perhaps he could call it the Un-American Activities Caucus — after all, this is frightening stuff.

Just look at Cuba and the former Soviet Union, he exclaims in a recent Salt Lake Tribune column. That is what lies ahead if we follow the lead of sinister characters, such as New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders. They want things like affordable medical care and education for everyone. And they want to tax rich people to pay for it. How sinister can you get?

We should not be duped, the congressman warns: “The siren call of socialism is always the same,” he says, “if citizens are willing to give up a small measure of political and economic liberty, they will gain equality and security in return.”

Heaven forbid, we could end up like Denmark or Sweden. But wait, those countries don’t have gulags or Siberia. But they do have washing machines and cars that actually work, not to mention affordable health care and education.

It seems that poor Chris Stewart is confabulating socialism with totalitarianism based on the false precept of communism. Well, you’ve got to hand to Republicans, when it comes to semantics and twisting things with catchy phrases, they are unrivaled. How do you spell “Bogeyman.”

For generations, many seniors in this country were destitute, but in 1935 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pushed Social Security to help them get by — clearly a socialist measure. At the time, conservative Republicans said it signaled the end to a free society and America as we know it.

A strong middle class emerged in this country after World War II because returning veterans were offered college education and mortgages through the G.I. Bill — socialist initiatives that put this country on the most solid economic footing in its history.

We have other socialist programs, of course. Among them is Medicare to help seniors with medical costs. Medicaid to provide some health care to our poorest citizens. The Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) for children of the poor. And the Food Stamp program that keeps people from going hungry as the struggle to get back on their feet.

These initiatives continue to be critical as average Americans lose spending power while the wealthy get wealthier. Many low-wage earners work two jobs just to make ends meet. Food pantries are stretched thin. One in five children in America doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from. At the same time, college students leave school with large debts. And over 60 percent of bankruptcies are the fallout from medical expenses.

But don’t be fooled, Stewart says: “More important than the economic despair that socialism creates is the inevitable loss of freedom.”

Well, let them eat cake. Americans who are losing ground to the rip-currents of trickle-down capitalism need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, for goodness sakes. Stewart’s purposeful naïveté regarding the current economic struggles of a growing number of Americans would be embarrassing if it were not so sinister.

The struggle of the working class in a system engineered by the representatives of the rich and powerful is nothing new. Ronald Reagan railed against “welfare queens driving Cadillacs” and proclaimed ketchup a vegetable in order to cut costs of subsidized school lunches for poor kids. To this day, Congress will not raise the minimum wage because, they say, it would hurt the economy. Not coincidentally, corporate America holds the same view.

Where then, we should ask Mr. Stewart, can people turn when, despite their hard work and good intentions, they cannot realize their American dream?

How long will they suffer, we might ask, before they begin to see that Stewart’s political rhetoric is just that and politicians like him are little more than protectors of the status quo?

Christopher Smart

Christopher Smart is a veteran Utah journalist who makes his home in Salt Lake City.