Opinion

BIDLACK | We are all socialists! It’s true — but not the way you might think

Author: Hal Bidlack - March 27, 2018 - Updated: March 27, 2018

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Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

Those on the right end of the political spectrum, and those continuing to defend Mr. Trump, often toss the charge of “socialism” around, thinking it somehow is a deep and powerful insult. But, dear readers, yelling “socialism” generally speaks to the accuser’s likely bias against the word, rather than the violation of democracy it is assumed to be.

Tune into Fox News, and you don’t have to spend too many fair and balanced minutes to hear a commentator denouncing some “liberal” program as either socialism or a step down the road to socialism. The self-named “Freedom Caucus” in the House of Representatives often rails against encroaching socialism. And last Halloween, Donald Trump (Junior, not the President) tweeted out that stealing a kid’s collected candy would be a good lesson in socialism. Apple, tree, not too far.

The problem is that we all, actually, believe in having some socialism in our lives. It’s true, you do! Socialism, simply put, is the idea that the government controls the means of production and distribution of something. Sounds very commie-ish, right? But stop for a moment and think about the rampant socialism you embrace daily. If you mail a letter, you are actively engaging in a socialist enterprise. The government, in the form of the pith-helmeted fine folks of the US Postal Service, sets the prices and controls the distribution of mail. Perhaps you only use email? Well, have you ever driven on a road? Unless you stick exclusively to privately-owned roads on private lands, you are (gasp!) willingly engaging in socialism! A county road is controlled by the county, which sets speed limits and speeding ticket fines for the sheriff. Ever drive on an interstate highway? Yup, socialism! Oh, and remember the famous statement by Mr. Obama that the GOP went nuts over? “You didn’t build it?” If you watch the actual speech, rather than a carefully pulled out-of-context sound bite, he was talking about the interstate highways system, and not a private company. He was pointing out the irony of complaining that the government does nothing, when a firm’s delivery trucks rely on the highway system.

When I taught the introductory course in American national government at the Air Force Academy, I found I was easily able to upset my largely conservative students by suggesting that they, cadets at USAFA, lived in the perfect communist society, with socialism to the max. I explained that they lived in government-provided housing, ate government-provided food, and were watched over and taught by government agents (like me, in my Air Force uniform). They didn’t like the analogy, but they ultimately accepted that socialism is a matter of degree.

We should have meaningful arguments about the extent of socialism in our government and our daily lives. It is entirely legitimate to talk about the size and reach of government, but the more hypocrisy we can avoid, the better. I think most Americans agree that government should be the size and should have the power needed to do the “proper” job of governance. Of course, the rub lies in the word “proper.”

Democrats often, though not always, are pegged as the party of “Big Government” and some of that is fair. Frankly, both sides can come up with statistics that they claim prove the economy does better under their party. Recall, please, as you leap to yell “Trump Stock Bump” that the markets actually went up more under Obama, during the first year, than under Trump. And, the market nearly tripled during his eight-year reign of terror (I threw that last comment in to annoy a good conservative friend of mine).

Mr. Trump has embraced capitalism his whole life, and appears to continue to embrace it, as he has not separated himself from his business interests as president. In fact, his signature properties, including his DC hotel and his Florida resort (where he played far more golf than Obama, whom he criticized for playing way too much golf, but that is for another column on hypocrisy). And yet he proposed what he called a $1 trillion infrastructure investment (truth be told, it’s only $200 billion, as he requires the states and cities to kick in the rest) which sure looks like a massive increase in government to me.

So, if you are outraged on either side of this issue, I urge you to contact your senator or congressperson. And do it by letter, because, you know, socialism.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.