Clayton Parr: Using the term ‘socialism’ as a weapon is divisive

(John Sherffius | Daily Camera via AP) John Sherffius published this political cartoon in November 2009. The cartoon, depicting fictional campaign buttons, was published while former President Barack Obama was working to pass the Affordable Care Act, the health care overhaul that was met with fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers who described it as government overreach. On Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting that Republicans have always described Democratic Party’s policies as socialism, citing the buttons as evidence.

The Aug. 1 commentary in The Salt Lake Tribune op-ed from Rep. Chris Stewart and Rick Larsen, titled “We need a new way to discuss socialism” was garbled and misleading.

After noting the difference between socialism (complete government economic control) and social democracy (government sponsored social programs within the capitalist system), they ignore the distinction and go on to describe the failures of pure socialistic systems, all with the purpose of denigrating several prominent Democrats who have made aggressive proposals for social action.

The glaring omission is the lack of any reference to problem solving. What really matters is whether, in particular instances, government programs need to be implemented to address pervasive societal problems that persist when left to the free market. The most pressing example is the swelling of the costs of medical care to levels beyond the financial capacity of large portions of our populace.

A revealing description of such a problem is provided in a subsequent Tribune commentary by Dr. Michael Incze on Aug. 4 titled, “Health care must be available to people without restriction,” that describes a diabetic woman with two children (Ms. C) who reduced insulin intake because of the expense and failed to consult a physician to check for what turned out to be critical high blood sugar impacts because she had no insurance.

“Her greatest concern [revealed in a hospital emergency room] was that she would lose the part-time job she had just acquired if she had a prolonged hospital stay,” Incze wrote.

Free market capitalism is the accepted fundamental economic system for the United States. We have been willing to undertake nuclear war with Russia to preserve it. The desire not to override free market operation with government programs has always created tension, as proposed remedies to meet societal needs have been debated. Examples are the highly charged political debates in the early 1900s over anti-trust laws designed to break up monopolies, in the 1930s over government programs, such as Social Security, directed to remedy impacts of the Great Depression, and in 1965 over Medicare.

A more recent example is the Affordable Care Act (ACA) enacted in 2012 to provide health insurance to all. Intense political opposition to “government overreach” has led to its being gutted.

Some level of balance is often achieved by including provisions to discourage freeloading, promote self-sufficiency and maintain business entity participation, e.g., work requirements, premium payments (payroll deductions for Social Security and Social Security payment diversions for Medicare), cost sharing (copays and deductibles for Medicare), and private insurance continuation (ACA).

There may be some extremists who advocate pure socialism, just as there are factions who advocate an untrammeled free-market economy. But by far the larger group includes those of us who believe in capitalism, and are willing to sacrifice to preserve it, but recognize that government intervention may be necessary when that system fails to alleviate widespread economic distress.

Voters should not be caught up in diversionary election hyperbole about whether a particular candidate is proposing a socialist agenda. That shallow tactic is just condemnation by labeling, which, unfortunately, will be employed ad nauseum by the Republican Party in advance of the 2020 elections.

The conclusion to be drawn from the message of Messrs. Stewart and Larsen is that it is better to let citizens endure pain and suffering rather than enact remedial legislation they consider to smack of socialism to deal with it.

This leaves us to shout out, “Don’t you admit there is a problem?” and “What is your solution?” “Let Ms. C deal with it herself” is not an acceptable answer.

Clayton Parr

Clayton Parr, Draper, is a retired natural resources attorney.