John McCain tried to use it as a bludgeon against Barack Obama, and nearly every Republican since McCarthy has tried to find a way to use it to tar Democratic opponents as un-American.
Still, in a stunning result, Republican pollster Rassmussen finds that Americans might not be so terrified of the old whipping dog. A scant majority of Americans, only 53%, say they prefer capitalism over socialism. Yes! Socialism.
Only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism.
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 20% disagree and say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are not sure which is better.
Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided. Thirty-somethings are a bit more supportive of the free-enterprise approach with 49% for capitalism and 26% for socialism. Adults over 40 strongly favor capitalism, and just 13% of those older Americans believe socialism is better.
I find this result astonishing.
Count me among that 53%. As someone who was actually alive when there was a big scary red menace on the other side of the Berlin Wall, the very idea of totalitarian governments still gives me the heebie-jeebies. Also, as the founder of numerous small businesses, I can tell you that given a chance, capitalism really can work.
Clearly, Americans have had their faith market fundamentalism shattered by the Bush Depression as soundly as old Soviets had their socialist faith shattered when the USSR died. But there's an intentional mixing of terms that is implied in Rasmussen's poll and in the Socialism as cudgel tactic.
Socialism in itself can be very successful way to manage an economy, and every modern democratic capitalist society has some safety net. We have Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and many other ways government reduces the suffering of those in need. This isn't a bad thing at all. In fact, it's incredibly important to a society that deems itself moral. Moreover, it's critical for maintaining economic stability. Imagine the economic turmoil if everyone who couldn't work because of age or disability were suddenly homeless and starving - you think the Bush Depression is a disaster!?
What the right is really threatening with the hysterical "Socialism" talk, is authoritarianism. Intrusive government that restricts movement within and across borders, keeps the populace under tight surveillance and curtails the free speech of dissenters. We just lived through 8 years of it, so it's bound to seem familiar.
See, that's the problem with right-wing propaganda of all sorts. It always overreaches, over simplifies, and ignores reality in favor of short-term political gain. Sure, saying a Democrats economic policies are socialist sounds scary, but when you throw the term around in the face of world economic collapse caused by unregulated markets, some common sense Americans on Main Street are likely to start doubting the credibility of "free market" zealots, aka Republicans.
This same effect is continually underway throughout the American discourse. In the minds of delusional right-wingers, Democrats who want to extend unemployment benefits through this Depression are Jack Booted thugs, and they're channeling their anger at corporate excess towards laughable revolution-style "Tea Bagging" parties.
For some well deserved ribbing on that one, here's Rachel Maddow and also Jed from DKos:
Clearly as the credibility of the right approaches zero, the "journalism" of FOX news races towards hilarious, and the bogeyman of socialism becomes increasingly acceptable.