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The Right’s New “Socialist” Rhetoric

By Matthew Yglesias  

"The Right’s New “Socialist” Rhetoric"

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One thing most people probably don’t realize is that there are these international organizations of political parties from around the world. The big right-of-center parties—including the GOP, the Christian Democrats in Germany, the Conservatives in the UK and Canada, etc.—are in the International Democratic Union. The major left-of-center parties are typically in the Socialist International. But there’s also a “Liberal International” which is for liberal parties in the European sense, usually small right-of-center outfits that emphasis deregulation, social tolerance, and a business perspective. But based on what’s essentially terminological confusion and a desire to not be attacked as “socialists,” the Democratic Party isn’t a member of the Socialist International even though basically all the equivalent parties abroad—the sundry “labor” and “social democrat” parties of the UK, Australia, and the continent—are.

I wonder if the medium-term impact of the new red scare that the right is currently engaged in will be to change this dynamic. Mark Liebovich reports for The New York Times:

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It seems that “socialist” has supplanted “liberal” as the go-to slur among much of a conservative world confronting a one-two-three punch of bank bailouts, budget blowouts and stimulus bills. Right-leaning bloggers and talk radio hosts are wearing out the brickbat. Senate and House Republicans have been tripping over their podiums to invoke it. The S-bomb has become as surefire a red-meat line at conservative gatherings as “Clinton” was in the 1990s and “Pelosi” is today.

“Earlier this week, we heard the world’s best salesman of socialism address the nation,” Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, said on Friday, referring, naturally, to a certain socialist in chief.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas decried the creation of “socialist republics” in the United States. “Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff,” Mr. Huckabee said, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference here over the weekend, a kind of Woodstock for young conservatives.

By redirecting their rhetoric several clicks to the left, conservatives seem to me to be essentially collaborating in efforts to shift the center of public opinion to the left. Instead of a scenario in which progressive politicians had to squirm awkwardly away from the liberal label, the scary concept is now socialism. This actually makes it much easier to sell progressive policy as little more than a practical response to shifting events, but the ideological agenda it’s allegedly serving has been made so much more outlandish. At the same time, by associating socialism” with a popular president, they’re bestowing it with new legitimacy. If Obama’s policies can succeed in turning the economy around, maybe people will decide they like socialism just fine. Of course that’s a big “if” but it’s the “if” that hangs over all present-day political conversations.

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