Good line. Here’s another one, from a more contemporary contender. In the early stages of his 2020 Democratic presidential bid, before he decided that he was going to take a turn as a grumpy-old-man centrist who griped about “the revolutionary politics of the 1960s” and ended up endorsing Biden, Pete Buttigieg gave a perfectly Millennial response to a question from CNN’s Jake Tapper about Trump’s “never be a socialist country" line:
You can no longer simply kill off a line of discussion about a policy by saying that it's socialist. If someone my age or younger is weighing a policy idea, and somebody comes along and says ‘You can't do that; it's socialist,’ I think our answer will be, ‘Is it a good idea or is it not?’ That idea has lost its power when you think about the way it was applied to characterize the ACA: the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, invented by a conservative think tank, relying on market principles, implemented first by a Republican governor. And they said that was socialist. So I think the word has mostly lost its meaning.
Candidates who want to avoid the trap of protesting too much about the president’s accusations of secret socialism would do well to recall those Truman and Buttigieg lines—to shrug off the label and endorse the underlying policies. That might get them out of a spot. If Democrats want to actually move the debate forward, however, they’re going to have to level with the American people about why socialism has suddenly gained so much traction—especially with the young voters the party must mobilize in November.
Derek Thompson: How capitalism broke young adulthood
This country is in the midst of an economic, social, and political transformation that is going to require a whole lot of new and different thinking. “I’ve been talking to Americans around the country about automation. And they’re smart. They see what’s happening around them," explained Andrew Yang before he dropped out of the 2020 race. "Their Main Street stores are closing. They see a self-serve kiosk in every McDonald’s, every grocery store, every CVS.”
Yang did not run as a socialist, but he embraced ideas such as Medicare for All because many ideas that have long been dismissed as radical make a lot of sense to Americans who are already experiencing the combination of a globalization revolution, a digital revolution, and an automation revolution. Trump’s answer is to slap the slogan “Make America great again” on a red hat. That shouldn’t have worked in 2016, but it did because Democrats failed to fully recognize the sources of anxiety that left Americans open to impractical, absurd, racist, and xenophobic appeals. That shouldn’t work in 2020, but it could if Democrats fail to recognize that the answer to Trump’s “America again” politics is an “America next” politics that considers ideas such as Medicare for All, free higher education, technical training, and a Green New Deal not as ideological pipe dreams but as necessary responses to a new age.
Democrats can run from “socialist” ideas because they fear being labeled socialists. Or they can explain that Americans cannot afford to toss ideas overboard, whether they are socialist, libertarian, or so new that they are as yet unclassified.