One of the big issues in 2020 will be socialism. At least that’s what many politicians are hoping.

Debate about social programs and the role of government in the economy could be instructive, but only if there are fact-based discussions about the benefits and disadvantages of different economic models.

So far, that isn’t the case. Rather, it’s as if we’re watching a cheesy horror movie and are expected to gasp in fear as Republicans warn that socialism will destroy our way of life.

“Are we going to turn this into a socialist country?” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asked recently. “Don’t assume it cannot happen. It will all be in the hands, I think, of the voters of this country next year.”

In a different setting, but on the same topic, McConnell vowed to play the role of the “grim reaper.” He vowed he would kill all socialist proposals that come before the U.S. Senate.

At his campaign rallies, President Donald Trump shouts the same warnings about socialism, which are echoed by his supporters from coast to coast. Even red states such as Indiana, we are warned, are living in peril.

“The socialist wave we warned was coming is here,” NRA lobbyist Chris Cox told those at an NRA convention in Indianapolis. “And it’s not just the two coasts that are underwater, the wave is hitting the heartland of America. …”

So, with that in mind, let’s consider the proposal of Medicare for All. Different Democrats and socialist candidates have varying proposals about providing universal health care. Some would allow Americans to buy into the system that manages Medicare. Others would create a single-payer system that covers everyone with a Medicare-like system.

Republicans brand these ideas as socialist.

If that’s the case, then isn’t the current Medicare system socialist? And was it socialist for the Republican Senate, Republican House and Republican president to support expansion of Medicare benefits to cover prescription drugs in 2003?

Do Republicans think some socialism is good? Or that socialism is good for some parts of society, but not others?

In an op-ed for Yes magazine, Robert Reich argues that the real purveyors and beneficiaries of socialism are the wealthy who get richer with government contracts, subsidies and laws that protect their status.

He notes that about 60 percent of American wealth is inherited. And he notes that laws – such as those for bankruptcy – allow the wealthy to shield themselves from their own bad decisions.

“To the conservative mind, the specter of socialism conjures up a society in which no one is held accountable, and no one has to work for what they receive,” Reich writes. “Yet, that’s exactly the society Trump and the Republicans are promoting for the rich.”

Reich was secretary of labor in President Bill Clinton’s administration. That was in the 1990s, when the economy performed markedly better than it is now. (Despite Trump’s claims.)

In the current discussions of socialism, many liberals point to Scandinavian nations as examples. But many conservatives claim those nations aren’t socialist, and they point to Venezuela instead.

Such arguments are more political than academic. Reputable economists will agree that most successful economies use a mix of capitalism and socialism.

Pure free enterprise, without socialist regulations, would mean no Social Security, no food safety rules, no laws regarding what people or companies could dump in your drinking water, no public parks, and no right to an education. Religious and racial discrimination would be allowed.

Pure socialism, without any capitalism, would mean that we all act for the collective good – all the time. That means no privately owned property, no opportunity to choose your own career and no financial incentive to be good at it. It also would likely mean fewer choices regarding what we eat, where we live, what we wear and what we do for fun or cultural enrichment.

It’s useful to have discussions about what role government should play in our economy and our lives. But voters should be wary of politicians who resort to scare tactics. Candidates who use fear to manipulate the public are much scarier than any socialist.


A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.