The Problem with Democratic-Socialism

If you’re like me, you probably first heard the term “Democratic-Socialism” in regards to Bernie Sanders in 2015 or 2016.  Since then, he’s been keeping it in the news a fair amount, but over the course of the last couple of months, a second big name in “Democratic-Socialism” has risen: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Ocasio-Cortez, is Democratic nominee for New York’s 14th district (Queens and the Bronx) US Congressional seat.  She recently upset the primary when she won the seat, both as the younger candidate, as well as because she is a self-proclaimed “Democratic-Socialist.”

There was some conversation on The View, in which not only Ocasio-Cortez’s stances, but the term “Democratic-Socialism” were discussed.  Notably Meghan McCain dismissed the policies, which ended up as a trending topic on Twitter, but to me the more interesting piece was Whoopi Goldberg’s response.  “If you’re a socialist, tell me that,” Goldberg said. “Don’t say that you’re a Democrat… we don’t have the same ideas of what should be happening.”

So, I want to talk about what Whoopi said.  You see, I think Whoopi innocently brings to the forefront the real issue with “Democratic-Socialism,” which as far as I can tell, is that few people seem to know what Socialism is.

I’m sure, you’re probably thinking, “I know what Socialism is, it’s a redistribution of wealth,” or perhaps you’re slightly more accurate, “it’s an institutionalized social safety net.”  That’s not what I’m talking about.

Socialism, is a system put in place by a government, but it is not itself a type of government.  Who is the head of a socialist government?  What structure in the form of branches does a socialist government have?  None, because it’s not a type.

Democracy, on the other hand, is a type of government.  “A government run by the people.”  In the United States, we’re actually a Democratic Republic, but I won’t get into that right now.

For argument’s sake, let’s say we’re a pure democracy, 1 citizen+1 vote.  If more than 50% of the people of a pure democracy vote to redistribute wealth in the form of social services, and attempt to create “equality of opportunity,” that would be a democratic decision, and it was also be a socialist decision.  These two things are not mutually exclusive.

One of the issues with talking about communism and socialism in real-world examples, is that we often conflate the structure of government, and this service of government.  People who want to discredit either term will point to places like Cuba and Russia, as obvious failures.  What isn’t taken into account, is that these are dictatorships, and authoritarian governments, which are fundamentally non-democratic.

I got into a debate a couple of years ago with someone who cited them, and I asked if communism/socialism (not the same but almost always used interchangeably in these arguments) were to blame for the problems, or the dictators, and I was given the answer that they were inseparable, and that totalitarianism is always a problem.  I was then told how we shouldn’t have any regulation and that the market will always correct itself, which I tried to argue was totalitarianism capitalism, and I got the two blink, “Dora The Explorer” stare.

Is Democratic-Socialism a good thing?  That’s a point worth debating, and discussing, but ultimately to have an honest discussion, and come to an honest conclusion, we need to actually understand what we’re talking about.  Unfortunately, I suspect Whoopi’s statement was pretty indicative of the norm.

I should mention, that I am glad Whoopi said what she did, because it hadn’t been expressed as clearly as she did, what the problem was, and I hope that her statement, which I think was born of sincerity will kick off a better dialogue.

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