You may have noticed that the word socialist and its related terms are tossed around a lot as political insults. Typically, the right-wing does this to place their opponents in a political phylum for ease of dismissal. They make no attempt to engage with the actual arguments of their opponents. The mere application of a label is supposed to make them go away. Such a tactic is, of course, a red herring. A shiny thing designed to distract from the actual issue.
A Local Example: Bronwyn Bishop
Some may recall former House Speaker Bronwyn Bishop using the term socialist to deflect criticism away from a minister who abused her parliamentary entitlements. The mere use of socialist, which was utterly unrelated to the issue, was supposed to make the detractors vanish. The tacit admission here is that Ms. Bishop could not actually defend what the former minister had done, so she resorted to name-calling.
Murica: Bernie and AOC
The term socialist is commonplace in US politics, even more so than it is here. Essentially, anyone to the left of you can be (and often is) considered a socialist. Common targets of this alleged barb include Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). I have written about AOC in another place, but a brief recap might be useful here. She is a new breed of politician who ran on a popular platform, took no donor money and serves the people. Shocking in a democracy I know. She has been the subject of torrents of abuse as a socialist with ‘radical ideas’.
The Shift of The Overton Window
The reason both of these politicians have the label socialist and ‘radical left’ attached to them is because, compared to the rest of the political establishment, they are. The overton window, that is the acceptable range of political opinion, has moved so far to the right that common sense social democratic positions are now viewed as ‘socialist’ and ‘far/radical left’. Perspective matters. When the default position, along with the underlying political and economic assumptions, moves increasingly to the right, middle of the road positions look increasingly left wing. The details of the positions have not changed at all, but the political conversation has shifted so much that formerly accepted policies and positions are now viewed as radical. This is a result of corporate influence on politics through money.
Politicians and Socialism
There is deep hypocrisy in politicians’ attitudes to socialism. Despite how they rail against it when it comes to the social safety net, they quite like their own pensions and perks. They also seem to quite like corporate subsidies (coal in Australia, oil and the banks in America) and tax cuts for the rich. The reality is that politicians do not actually hate socialism. In reality, they hate socialism for the wrong people. Socialism itself is not the problem, it is the recipients.
There is never any talk of cutting politicians’ pensions or pay. There is never talk of ending corporate subsidies in an allegedly capitalist system. The idea of ‘how will we pay for this?’ is only ever applied to social programmes such as medicare (and its counterpart in the US Medicare4All) but never to corporate subsidies or the military or any other corporate or rich priority. For those sectors of society, the treasury is their plaything. But when it comes to social programmes for the peasants (even if that term is never used) suddenly politicians evolve into deficit hawks. This hypocrisy must stop.
What is good for the goose, as the saying goes, is good for the gander.
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