The DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz was asked a very provocative question from a very unlikely person. The unlikely person was Chris Matthews and the unlikely question was the following:
“You’re chairman of the democratic party. Tell me the difference between you and a socialist”
The reason Matthews asked the question was because of the rising popularity of self-identified socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who is challenging Hillary Clinton to be the presidential nominee of the Democrat Party. Clearly, Matthews along with most people who follow politics, does not believe that Bernie can actually prevail against Hillary (Bernie’s popularity among progressives notwithstanding). Given the tradition of both the Democrats and Republicans to give a prime time speaking slot during their respective national conventions, Matthews asked Schultz if Bernie would receive that honor.
Here is the video of the exchange.
At first blush, the question seems simple enough. Why couldn’t she answer?
But the more I thought about the question, it occurred to me that I couldn’t answer the question either (but in my defense, I’m not the DNC Chair either). I’m sure there must be a difference but unlike Chris Matthews, I don’t believe it’s a “huge” difference.
How does one go about answering this question? No two Democrats think exactly alike any more than any two Socialists or any two adherents to any other philosophy for that matter. Perhaps the better way to determine the differences between democrats and socialists is to compare party platforms.
This raises another problem: which party platforms?
For the Democrats, it makes the most sense to compare the DNC 2012 Platform (the most recent), but what about the Socialists? It seems that most third parties are Socialist in nature. Among these parties are the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Equality Party, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Socialist Action, and Socialist Party USA.
It seems that I have no other choice but to pick one. I’ll compare the DNC 2012 Platform to that of Socialist Party USA (2013-2015). For the purposes of this post going forward, the contents of this particular platform is what “socialists” believe. I will also restrict the range of issues to socioeconomic issues where there is probably broad agreement among those who subscribe to Socialism as the best way to organize society and government.
As I examined the two platforms, I realized that making apples-to-apples comparisons would be more difficult than I expected. To the credit of the Socialists, their platform is much more to the point and easier to understand than the DNC’s. Here’s an excerpt from their economics plank:
The Socialist Party stands for a fundamental transformation of the economy, focusing on production for need not profit. So-called fair trade is meaningless as long as the world economy is dominated by a few massive corporations. Only a global transformation from capitalism to democratic socialism will provide the conditions for international peace, justice, and economic cooperation based on the large-scale transfer of resources and technology from the developed to the developing countries.
• We demand the immediate withdrawal of the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and oppose the creation of a widened Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
• We call for worker and community ownership and control of corporations within the framework of a decentralized and democratically determined economic plan.
• We call for a minimum wage of $15 per hour, indexed to the cost of living.
• We call for a full employment policy. We support the provision of a livable guaranteed annual income.
• We call for all financial and insurance institutions to be socially owned and operated by a democratically-controlled national banking authority, which should include credit unions, mutual insurance cooperatives, and cooperative state banks. In the meantime, we call for reregulation of the banking and insurance industries.
• We call for a steeply graduated income tax and a steeply graduated estate tax, and a maximum income of no more than ten times the minimum. We oppose regressive taxes such as payroll tax, sales tax, and property taxes.
See what I mean? For all their failure to understand very basic economic principles, these Socialists understand economy of words. They have some terrible ideas but at least they know how to organize them!
That was the first 256 words from the Socialist “Economy” plank. What can we learn from the Democrat’s first 256 words about their economic policy?
This is where it becomes difficult to make comparisons. The DNC’s 2012 Platform doesn’t have a single section for economics. Under the heading “Moving America Forward” their platform is divided under categories such as “Putting Americans Back to Work,” “The Middle Class Bargain,” “Cutting Waste, Reducing the Deficit, Asking All to Pay Their Fair Share,” and “Economy Built to Last.”
To the DNC 2012 Platform:
Four years ago, Democrats, independents, and many Republicans came together as Americans to move our country forward. We were in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the previous administration had put two wars on our nation’s credit card, and the American Dream had slipped out of reach for too many.
Today, our economy is growing again, al-Qaeda is weaker than at any point since 9/11, and our manufacturing sector is growing for the first time in more than a decade. But there is more we need to do, and so we come together again to continue what we started. We gather to reclaim the basic bargain that built the largest middle class and the most prosperous nation on Earth—the simple principle that in America, hard work should pay off, responsibility should be rewarded, and each one of us should be able to go as far as our talent and drive take us.
This election is not simply a choice between two candidates or two political parties, but between two fundamentally different paths for our country and our families.
We Democrats offer America the opportunity to move our country forward by creating an economy built to last and built from the middle out. Mitt Romney and the Republican Party have a drastically different vision. They still believe the best way to grow the economy is from the top down—the same approach that benefited the wealthy few but crashed the economy and crushed the middle class.
Democrats see a young country continually [snip]
Sounds like a whole lot of nothing right? This is a typical political speech in which lots of words are spoken but nothing of substance is being said. “[H]ard work should pay off, responsibility should be rewarded, and each one of us should be able to go as far as our talent and drive take us.” Wow, how absolutely earth shattering! Who doesn’t agree with the statement above?
The DNC 2012 Platform goes on like this the rest of the way, short on specific policy proposals but long on flowery prose. To the extent there is something I can sink my teeth into: the wealthy don’t pay enough taxes, the undefined middle class needs more subsidies and tax breaks (the middle class being the largest voting bloc), and we’ll keep the Republicans hands off of Social Security and Medicare.
Maybe I need to scrap the idea of comparing platforms. What do Democrats believe these days?
I would love to be wrong, but I’m quite sure that much of the Socialist Party USA Platform would resonate with rank and file Democrats and “Occupy” Democrats in-particular.
“We call for a minimum wage of $15 per hour, indexed to the cost of living.” Many rank and file Democrats agree with this; Seattle has already passed a $15 per hour minimum wage.
“We call for a steeply graduated income tax and a steeply graduated estate tax, and a maximum income of no more than ten times the minimum. We oppose regressive taxes such as payroll tax, sales tax, and property taxes.” This almost certainly resonates with the Occupy Democrats. Could such a plank make its way on the 2016 DNC Platform?
“We call for a full employment policy. We support the provision of a livable guaranteed annual income.” Any serious objections from Chris Matthews on this one?
“We call for increased and expanded welfare assistance and increased and expanded unemployment compensation at 100% of a worker’s previous income or the minimum wage, whichever is higher, for the full period of unemployment or re-training, whichever is longer.” Certainly those who support Bernie Sanders would be on board; Hillary supporters maybe not. To extent there is disagreement, it’s only a matter of degree.
“We oppose the court-created precedent of “corporate personhood” that illegitimately gives corporations rights that were intended for human beings.” Democrats (and probably some Republicans) around the country are shouting “hallelujah” and “amen” reading this statement.
It seems to me that there isn’t a great deal of daylight between Democrats and Socialists on socioeconomic issues. Is it any wonder why the DNC Chair couldn’t answer the question?
The only reason Democrats and progressives don’t call themselves socialists is because the term probably doesn’t do well in focus groups.
Socialists or Democrats?
Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton?
To quote Hillary: “What difference at this point does it make?”