Washington Wednesday: The rise of democratic socialism


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the 26th of September, 2018.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

First up on The World and Everything in It, Washington Wednesday.

In 2008, Democrats won the presidency and the U.S. House and Senate in convincing fashion.

Two years later, an energized Republican base fueled what became known as the Tea Party election of 2010. The GOP picked up 63 seats to take control of the House.

These political newbies came to Washington vowing upset the status quo.

And in some ways, they did.

SAWYER: There is a budget showdown in Washington, D.C., tonight. The clock is ticking—time is running down. Republicans and Democrats are locked on a budget collision course. And if this lasts until Friday, the government will shut down.

EICHER: Over and over again, Tea Party Republicans fought battles their own leadership was loath to fight… on Obamacare, spending bills, and the federal debt limit.

And when leadership didn’t cooperate, the Tea Party called them out on Capitol Hill and at the ballot box.

CNN: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor losing his primary to a little-known conservative challenger—economics professor David Brat.

Now eight years later, it’s Democrats who are out of power. Their base is fired up. And their left flank is challenging the status quo.

ABC: Democrats shocked after one of their leaders in Congress beat by a socialist—poised to become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

You heard that word there—socialist. What exactly is behind that term as it’s used today? And what does it mean for the U.S. political scene?

Well, WORLD Magazine national editor Jamie Dean recently delved into this topic for our sister print publication. She’s on the line now from her home in North Carolina. Jamie, good morning.

JAMIE DEAN, NATIONAL EDITOR: Good morning, Nick.

EICHER: Well, great piece in the current issue of the magazine, Jamie. Actually read it on the new iPhone app! Couldn’t wait for the print. But you wrote about this leftward lurch for the Democratic Party, now to the point that openly identifying socialists seem to be on the rise in the run-up to the mid-term elections about a month from now. But this, by which I mean democratic socialism, is not exactly a brand new phenomenon, is it?

DEAN: No, it’s really not. Most voters will remember that Sen. Bernie Sanders—an Independent from Vermont—really lit up the 2016 presidential elections when he mounted a pretty formidable campaign against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

Sanders identified with ideas surrounding democratic socialism during that election, and it seems pretty clear those ideas have gained traction since then.

EICHER: Jamie, quantify for me the growth of democratic socialism?

DEAN: Yeah, there are some numbers we can look at. The organization that calls itself the Democratic Socialists of America had 6,000 members between 1982 and 2016. Since 2016, the membership has swelled to about 50,000. So we can see some pretty big growth there.

And a couple of candidates who identify as democratic socialists have made a big splash in this year’s mid-term races. The most famous, I think, is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s a 28-year-old woman from New York City who ousted a 10-term incumbent in a Democratic primary race for the U.S. Congress. She’s expected to easily win her race in November.

There’s also Rashida Tlaib, a former member of the Michigan House, who won her Democratic primary for U.S. Congress, and she’s a member of the Democratic Socialists of America as well.

EICHER: You know, I think it’s probably a good idea at this point just to clarify that the Democratic Socialists of America is not a specific political party.

DEAN: That’s right, they are not a political party. The DSA is an advocacy organization. They have due-paying members and those members all rally around some of these ideas of democratic socialism.

EICHER: And I’m sure it’s all based on ability to pay. But define democratic socialism for me.

DEAN: Yeah, here’s where it gets interesting. So far, the candidates espousing what they call democratic socialism have not been calling for the kinds of policies or ideas most consistent with what we’ve known historically as socialism. So, they aren’t calling for the confiscation of private property, for example. They’re not calling for the imprisonment of dissenters.

The kinds of policies these candidates support would produce more of a vast entitlement state, with ideas like Medicare for all. And that’s an effort that would cost as much as $32 trillion in the first decade, according to at least one economist. And I think there’s an irony here. These programs that democratic socialists are calling for would be paid for by taxpayers, most of whom are working within the capitalist system that socialists say is unfair. So there is some irony here.

But even if these ideas aren’t socialism as we’ve known the term historically, these ideas are still have a lot of problems. I spoke with Jay Richards. He’s a fellow at the Discovery Institute, and he’s an expert on economics and free markets, and he said one of the big problems with this movement is that it can set the country on a trajectory toward socialism. Here’s a little of what he said about that:

RICHARDS: That’s essentially what I think democratic socialism is. It’s a movement in which a population gets more and more accustomed to this dependency. Rather than focusing on how we create value and wealth for ourselves and others, we focus on how we confiscate the wealth of other people. The more the population is in that confiscatory mode, the more dangerous it gets, and I think, frankly, that’s what happened in Venezuela. We see in the case of that country just how quickly it can happen. That didn’t happen as the result of a violent Marxist revolution. That happened at the ballot box over a period of a decade or so. We see where it’s led.

EICHER: Well, and Jamie, we should note that some mainstream Democrats have sought to distance themselves from those who identify as democratic socialists. In fact, after Ocasio-Cortez defeated Congressman Joe Crowley, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it didn’t signify any larger trends.

PELOSI: It’s ascendant in that district, perhaps. Each of our members is elected to be the independent representative of their district. So nobody’s district is representative of somebody else’s district. It’s just a sign of the vitality of our party. We’re not a rubber stamp.

EICHER: So there is clearly some pushback even from among Democrats. But we know democratic socialism is ascendant in some areas, and you found that extends into young Christians as well.

DEAN: Well, I talked with a couple people who actually heard this among young Christians themselves. Jay Richards is one of those. Dr. Richards was saying he’s seen this interest among younger Christians especially, and he thinks it’s because they are often moved by valid, moral concerns for the dignity of all people, everyone made in God’s image. But he also said if you attach a strong moral passion to a faulty view of economic reality, you can end up doing a lot of damage.

And on the religious front, Dr. Richards mentioned how socialism itself becomes a form of religion for some people. Here’s what he said about that:

RICHARDS: Socialism becomes a kind of alternate spirituality and world view for people. You don’t believe in God. You don’t believe in the after life. You don’t think history is going anywhere. But what’s frustrating is that Christians, we have the intellectual resources and the spiritual resources to understand why these economic ideas have to fail and yet so many young Christians I think are falling for these same really bad arguments. People can be forgiven for believing this in the 30s and 40s when these things had not happened, but we have a century of experience with these economic experiments now and so I think we have more of a responsibility to think clearly now that we know how these things worked out.

EICHER: Jamie Dean is national editor for WORLD Magazine. We will link your article online at worldandeverything.org. Jamie, terrific work. Thank you!

DEAN: Thank you, Nick.


(AP Photo/Al Goldis, File) In this Nov. 6, 2008 file photo, Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat, is photographed outside the Michigan Capitol in Lansing, Mich.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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