Is socialism now out of the closet?
It appears so, at least according to a new Gallup poll.
With self-avowed socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders running for the Democratic nomination for president, Gallup polled Americans on their feelings about a potential socialist president.
The headline, “Poll: Most Americans unwilling to vote for a socialist,” lent a sense of relief. After nearly seven years of enduring European-style socialism pushed by President Obama on everything from health care to energy, it seemed that the country had resisted the full-court socialist press.
But the poll results were more disturbing: “Just 47 percent of Americans would vote for a socialist if their party nominated one, while 50 percent said they would not.”
“Just 47 percent?” While half of those polled said they would not vote for a socialist, a full 47 percent would. That seems like a frighteningly high percentage willing to go down the road of France or worse, Greece. (This, of course, assumes that the respondents even knew what socialism is.)
What gives? Have Mr. Obama and his radical band of leftists so changed the nature of America that what was once rejected as a morally corrupt, anti-American ideology has now become acceptable, even fashionable?
The answer may be found in two very different but important statements.
First, at the height of the 2012 presidential campaign and at what he thought was a private event, Republican nominee Mitt Romney referred to the growing percentage of Americans increasingly dependent on government programs, saying, “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it — that that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax. … [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Though harshly criticized for dismissing nearly half of the country, Mr. Romney was correct that approximately 47 percent of American households paid no federal income tax, although most paid payroll taxes and some combination of state and local taxes.
But note the number that landed Mr. Romney in so much trouble: 47 percent. That’s the same percentage that says it would consider voting for a socialist for president.
Perhaps not, given that the Obama years have delivered exploding government and dependence on it, from massive new programs such as Obamacare to widespread unemployment and underemployment. The labor participation rate remains historically low, meaning that ever-greater numbers of people are more likely to be dependent on government assistance. Just as the left intends.
The result? After decades of the left chipping away at American capitalism and nearly seven years of Mr. Obama’s accelerated push toward statism, more Americans are finding vicious class warfare, radical wealth redistribution and equal shares of mediocrity to be palatable, if not preferable to capitalist competition and prosperity.
This should frighten every American who cares about retaining American core values and the exceptionalism that has been their result.
One of the biggest reasons why the left has been able to reduce the stigma of socialism is its ability to dress it up so prettily. For his fellow leftists, Mr. Obama was like manna from heaven, the perfect, cool, charismatic vehicle to turn socialism into a hip, even necessary, path.
Of course, when Mr. Obama began his political career, he knew the American people were still not ready to swallow full-on socialism, so he ran (as fellow leftists like Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have done) with a “D” following his name. Now, however, after years of dogged efforts to mainstream socialism, 47 percent of the public appears willing to actually vote for a socialist.
If Mr. Romney’s statement helped to explain why socialism may be more acceptable, the Rev. Al Sharpton’s comment on March 21, 2010, explains how Mr. Obama pulled it off:
“First of all,” he said, “then we have to say the American public overwhelmingly voted for socialism when they elected President Obama. Let’s not act as though the president didn’t tell the American people — the president offered the American people health reform when he ran. He was overwhelmingly elected running on that and he has delivered what he promised.”
Socialism is no longer a dirty word, but we can halt its rise by restoring policies of limited government and economic freedom. That’s the challenge before the Republican presidential candidates. Can they beat back the red tide? I’d put the odds at about 47 percent.
• Monica Crowley is online opinion editor at The Washington Times.