One person to credit for the ongoing resurgence of socialism in the United States might be Bernie Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist who’s now making his second presidential run. Bernie deserves his fair share of credit, as does the Great Recession and its aftermath. But another, rather unlikely entity has played a key role in the normalization of socialism in America: the Republican Party.
A new Roll Call analysis has found that so far this year, “socialist” or socialism” has been uttered on the floor of the House and the Senate nearly every day that Congress has been in session. In fact, Roll Call projects that if the current rate continues, those words will be snarled into the congressional record somewhere between 100 and 150 times this year, the highest since 2010.
What happened in 2010, you might ask? The passage of the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. The previous year, 2009—when the healthcare law was first being debated—saw well over 250 mentions. Before that, according to Roll Call, the most mentions of “socialism” or “socialist” came all the way back in 1995, the year after the Republican Revolution. The president at the time was noted socialist Bill Clinton.
In both 1995 and 2009, the dominant strain of the Democratic Party wasn’t socialism or social democracy or even New Deal liberalism, but market-centered neoliberalism. Clinton was a deregulator-in-chief who helped the GOP destroy the safety net for the most vulnerable people in the country, and Obama himself nixed the idea of single-payer as his healthcare legacy in the summer of 2009. That, however, didn’t stop Republicans from slamming both presidents and their administrations as secret communists hellbent on mass nationalization of industry.
So where are we at today? A recent poll in Iowa showed that more than half of likely Democratic caucus-goers would be “satisfied” with a socialist presidential nominee. And poll after poll after poll shows that socialism has especially taken hold with millennials and Generation Z, the youngest voters in the country. All of this would seem to mean that even though the Republicans have continued to sound the alarm of socialism well after the fall of the Soviet Union, the label has still lost its stigma in a major way.
Or, taken another way: decades of labeling every Democrat from Sanders to Obama to Clinton to Joe Manchin as “socialists” has backfired spectacularly. Actually, on second thought: Keep doing what you’re doing, Republicans.