Tue, Sep 10, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Socialism used to be a dirty word, but the US might be ready to embrace it

Voters’ feelings on socialism have shifted with half of those 40 or younger saying they would prefer to live in a socialist country

By Gary Younge  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Yusha

In his 1998 film, Bulworth, Warren Beatty played a US senator in the Democratic Party who goes rogue, embarking on a truth-telling binge in which he spouts radical truths no Democrat serious about election would ever utter. At one stage, Bulworth even mentions socialism.

“In America that’s like saying cocksucker,” Beatty told me with a chuckle over dinner at his home in Los Angeles shortly before the film came out. “We have this so-called thriving economy that has missed most people and, while the disparity between rich and poor increases, we have just one party — the money party, made up of Republicans and Democrats.”

When I suggested to him that he sounded like a socialist, he swatted the term away.

“I’m interested in a government that looks out for people who need to be looked out for,” Beatty said. “Ideology seems to be so unfashionable, so why not take advantage of it and not name oneself with a term that has become particularly problematic?”

Polls vary on how Americans feel about socialism now. In May, Gallup found that 43 percent thought that some form of socialism would be good for the country, putting socialism at a statistical tie with Trump, whose approval ratings were 42 percent. The term was particularly popular among the non-white and the young.

A Harris poll released a couple of weeks earlier found that only 24 percent said that they would vote for a socialist. An NBC poll indicated “socialist” was the least attractive trait voters were looking for in a president, significantly lagging “someone over the age of 75” and “a Muslim.” A Harris poll from March suggests that half of those 40 or younger would “prefer to live in a socialist country.”

Three-quarters of US Democrats believe that the country would be “better off” if it were more socialist.

However, quite what people mean by “socialist” is an open question.

“The way I translated it to people was: You shouldn’t have to choose between paying for a prescription and paying for groceries,” said Sarah Innamorata, a socialist Pennsylvania state representative that I met in Pittsburgh, who defeated a five-term incumbent who had been elected unopposed the past three times.

“If you work for 40 hours a week, you deserve to be able to support yourself and your family. And when you go outside you should be able to breathe clean air, and turn on the faucets and get clean water. And really none of that is going to change unless we change who represents us and we change the way our government works,” she said.

To some extent, the views on socialism say as much about how people are feeling about capitalism. This is not a new trend.

When former US president Barack Obama was planning his run for a second term, his pollsters noticed that the time-honored rhetorical appeals to a life of relentless progress and upward mobility were not working.

“The language around the American dream wasn’t carrying the same resonance,” Joel Benenson, one of Obama’s key pollsters, told the Washington Post.

“Some of the symbols of achieving the American dream were becoming burdens: owning that house with the big mortgage was expensive, owning two cars and more debts, having your kid go to college,” Benenson added. “The cost and burden of taking out those loans was making a lot of Americans ambivalent. They weren’t sure a college education was worth it.”

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