Creeping Socialism

The Republicans have been describing a public option for health care insurance as creeping socialism. It occurred to me that I have been hearing that charge since I was a wee lad. So I looked back at the archives of the Times. It’s hard to go back to when I was a boy, but back in 1936 former President Herbert “Hoover … [said] ‘some principles … cannot be compromised … Either … a society based upon ordered liberty and the initiative of the individual, or … a planned society that means dictation no matter what you call it. . . . They cannot be mixed.’ … In his declining years … Hoover … [continued to worry] about ‘creeping socialism.'” Indeed the “‘creeping socialism’ of the New Deal” has been a common refrain ever since Roosevelt was in office. That included flood control and hydro-electric projects like the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The future President Reagan worried about “‘creeping socialism” in 1961. Conservatives labeled antipoverty programs and Medicare “creeping socialism” in the 1960s. Consumer advocates were “creeping socialis[ts]” to the Advertising Federation chairman in 1973. Socialism seemed to be creeping all over the world by 1976 and hit sports big time. In the mid-70’s, “golf traditionalists screamed that … [the new U.S.G.A. handicapping system] was an index of creeping socialism”. The 1982 Broncos’ quarterback described the Players Association’s demand for a percentage of the clubs’ gross as “socialism”. And Steinbrenner called revenue sharing among the clubs ”creeping socialism.”

And it’s international. In 1981 Salvadoran oligarchs described a minimum wage and a six-day work week “as creeping socialism.” In 1984, French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen called his election success the “creeping socialism” of the traditional French right.

In 1985, Pat Buchanan, some time Republican presidential aspirant, called New York Governor Mario Cuomo a creeping socialist for his support for the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes.

“The [1987] debates in Congress over … housing bills were filled with angry references to ‘’interference in free enterprise,’ … ‘breaking down American self-reliance,’ … ‘creeping socialism,’ ‘Communist subversion of the free-enterprise system’ [and] accusations that the public-housing advocates were acting as ‘the cutting edge of the Communist front.’”

In 1993, a management executive told the Times “creeping socialism begins at the $5.05 level,” referring to the minimum wage. Socialism reached cable in 1997 when a local cable company attacked a popular municipal video and telecommunications network as “creeping socialism.”

Just last year the Bush Administration’s efforts to stop the economic downturn were labeled “creeping socialism”.

Just for fun I took a look at the National Review, although it has only been online a few years. In 1952 Senator Robert Taft defined “the fundamental issue of the campaign, as … liberty against the creeping socialism in every domestic field.”

In 2002, a contributing editor of the National Review, decried “the creeping socialism of the past 30 years.” That is, mostly, Republican years. And the next year he wanted to “Disenfranchise nonmilitary government employees. Take away their vote [in order to squelch] the creeping socialism that is slowly throttling our liberties out of existence.” In 2004, William F. Buckley Jr. hailed the vision of Isabel Paterson for a 1943 book attacking “creeping socialism”.

For good measure let’s add in the reservoirs that have delivered us clean water for over a century, the public health system that fights epidemics, the highways and bridges that have been facilitating the national economy – all public projects, all projects that help people do what they want to do without regard to income, occupation or other distinction.

Apparently conservatives are scared stiff about the possibility of lending a helping hand, so they can’t stop crying wolf about “creeping socialism.” It’s time to outgrow childish fears. Americans don’t shudder at the thought of making life better for everyone.

This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, December 8, 2009.

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