In recent years, there’s been a surge of socialist movements across Western Europe and the Americas. While liberals are more likely to embrace socialist programs, conservative Americans generally stand in staunch opposition to the staple socialist policies — but we’ll see that even this seemingly obvious statement is more complicated than it appears. Let’s look at a few socialist concepts in America and talk about some misconceptions and fallacies that are inhibiting their successful implementation.
To start, I want to go over some historical information that sheds light on the way conservatives and liberals discuss socialism and why they often disagree. Contrary to popular belief, a fair portion of socialist policies in the U.S. originated or garnered serious support from conservative politicians. Reagan believed that a nationwide healthcare system was excessive, unwarranted and wouldn’t be able to meet the specific needs of each state. He instead opted to support bills that provided bulk federal funding to states in order to set up their own healthcare programs. In a similar vein, Nixon was a huge proponent of certain socialist policies. Not only did Nixon initiate a national health insurance partnership program, he also proposed a negative income tax to the federal welfare system, expanded the food stamp program and created the Supplemental Security Income, ensuring that elderly and disabled citizens were guaranteed an income. Historically speaking, conservatives haven’t been all that opposed to socialist policies. Whether or not they labelled them as such is a different matter — these policies are undeniably socialist.
This prompts me to wonder why modern conservatives are so quick to dismiss socialism as a failed experiment when many of their predecessors respected it. It is undeniable that part of our society is supported by socialist policies. It is even more obvious that these policies are good and humane — basic courtesies for a society as wealthy as ours. I think it’s a fair assessment that pure socialism generally fails to meet the needs of all individuals while maintaining protections for liberties, but it’s equally true that pure capitalism, while ensuring liberty, fails to provide for many people’s basic needs. The optimal solution must therefore be somewhere in the middle — the gray area.
Implementing certain socialist policies doesn’t mean that we implement all socialist policies. A welfare program here and a trustbuster bill there is an excellent way to go about creating a modified version of capitalism that optimizes social mobility with adequate safety nets to make sure blue-collar Americans enjoy a reasonable standard of living during all economic conditions. Conservatives should embrace that point of view, not just for the sake of basic human decency, but also because most of their voters are blue-collar Americans who would be the primary beneficiaries of these common-sense socialist programs.
Since the beginning of the Obama administration, there’s been a slow and steady climb out of economic recession that’s continued into the Trump era. But with multiple economic warning signs flashing, it is more important than ever that liberals and conservatives learn to have real discussions about safety net policies — lives are on the line.