In a recent commentary, Rep. Chris Stewart argued that the United States is faced with an “imminent threat” of Americans espousing socialism. While a few national politicians are using the term “democratic socialism,” no one is arguing for the implementation of socialism in the U.S.
Stewart either suffers from a disconnect between fact and fiction or he intentionally seeks to divert attention from fundamental issues faced by many Americans and his inability to solve those challenges.
First of all, what is socialism? Essentially, it refers to the ownership of the “means of production” by all people. In other words, the means of production denotes the public (i.e., the government) ownership of property, labor, capital and technology that produce goods and services.
Stewart claims that Americans want to replace our capitalist society based on individual ownership of these fundamental components of capitalism with a central government ownership of all aspects of the economy. Stewart appears to confuse the intellectual notion of “socialism” with popular American social policies, such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, public education and tax subsidies for businesses. He might also think that the bailout 10 years ago of insurance, banking and auto companies also demonstrates creeping socialism.
Moreover, Stewart inserts an ominous note in his creation of the Anti-Socialism Caucus in the House of Representatives. This runs parallel to Joseph McCarthy’s use of the House Un-American Activities Committee. As with McCarthyism, Stewart is floating a red herring with no basis in political reality in the U.S.
Who in America, as Stewart claims, is calling for the giving up even a “small measure of political and economic liberty”? Stewart uses the tired attack model of using a straw man to support his “imminent threat” claim. As an academic with more than 30 years of teaching political science at the University of Utah, I do not know of anyone who defends the intellectual bankrupt policies of the USSR or Venezuela. Rather, most thoughtful people concerned about social and economic policies in this country want to see an expansion of the opportunities that capitalism is meant to offer to all Americans. Instead of his inadequate claim that people in the U.S. want a more centralized government, most people want a more effective government led by incorruptible and ethical representatives in Congress and in the White House.
The imminent threat does not come from a fictitious and unwarranted view of socialism, but a failure by our national politicians to mitigate economic and social inequalities and a failure to usher in an advancement of capitalism that provides opportunities and benefits for all Americans. I encourage Stewart to avoid dog-whistle politics and get back to work on behalf of all Americans, especially those who have been marginalized in this country.
As a professor of younger people for many years, I have (must have) a hopeful and optimistic view that our politicians and the general population will be able to restore the delicate balance between the private sector and the government in order to ensure a prosperous and democratic society for everyone in this country.
Howard Lehman is a professor of political science at the University of Utah.