- - Tuesday, October 29, 2019

In his 1982 dystopian book “The Running Man,” Stephen King explored the American appetite for televised gladiatorial combat. 

The book comes to mind after watching Rand Paul’s recent appearance on “The View,” in which the junior senator from Kentucky promoted his new book, “The Case Against Socialism.”

In three bizarre minutes of television, the libertarian-leaning Republican was accused of being a sympathizer of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and “mansplaining” when he declined to get into a shouting match with Ana Navarro, a host of the program who also moonlights as a CNN commentator.

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Ms. Navarro seemed upset when Mr. Paul deflected her question asking if Mr. Paul agreed with Republicans who said Democrats will “turn the United States into Venezuela,” a country suffering from one of the sharpest economic declines in modern history. 

“Well, if you vote for a socialist you might get socialism,” Mr. Paul replied. 

“Cmon, don’t do that,” Ms. Navarro replied. “Maduro is not a socialist.”

In fact, Mr. Maduro is a socialist. He has been a member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela since its inception in 2007. The party was founded by Mr. Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, a self-described Marxist who aligned Venezuela with Castro’s Cuba, in addition to the socialist regimes in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua under Evo Morales, Rafael Correa and Daniel Ortega, respectively. 

The party Mr. Maduro would soon lead clearly spelled out its principles in an extensive document published at the “Extraordinary Congress” in April 2010. The document described the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (USPV) as the “political vanguard of the revolutionary process” to achieve its “general principles,” which, it said, included socialism, Marxism, and Bolivarianism.

The fact that Venezuela and its leaders were socialist was not even a point of contention until recently. After all, the USPV, when it was formed in 2007, had dispensed with the “democratic” part of “democratic socialism” Chavez had used in his previous political party, the Fifth Republic Movement. Indeed, as recently as 2013, many were still gushing about the “economic miracle” Chavez’s brand of socialism had produced. 

“Chavez became the bugaboo of American politics because his full-throated advocacy of socialism and redistributionism,” the writer David Sirota explained in Salon, but Venezuela’s economic success showed it was clearly “a threat to the corporate capitalism.” (Mr. Sirota today is a senior adviser and speechwriter to presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders.)

In 2013, following Chavez’s death, British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn explained that Chavez had “showed us that there is a different, and a better way of doing things. It’s called socialism … In his death, we will march on, to that better, just, peaceful and hopeful world.”

Alas, the story did not end in 2013. As one writer has noted, in his lust for power, Chavez, the godfather of “21st-century socialism,” forgot that the resources he promised to shower on the masses after nationalizing the nation’s oil production actually had to be produced. 

The tragic results of Venezuela’s redistributive policies and central planning are well chronicled. 

Roughly 90 percent of Venezuelans today live below the poverty line and more than 4 million have fled the country. Inflation in 2019 is expected to hit 200,000 percent, and the median monthly income is about $8. Women who once held professional jobs are selling their bodies to feed their families. This in a nation with the highest oil reserves in the world, which as recently as 1959 had a per capita GDP 10 percent higher than the United States.

To declare that “Maduro is not a socialist” takes an extraordinary cognitive dissonance or a blatant disregard for truth. Yet such claims fit a familiar pattern. 

In his compelling 2019 book “Socialism: The Failed Idea That Never Dies,” Kristian Niemietz, the Head of Political Economy at the Institute of Economic Affairs in London, explains the cycle of socialism.

Phase 1: It begins with “the honeymoon period” and initial success. During this time period, few dispute the socialist character of the experiment. 

Phase 2: Honeymoons, by definition, never last. This second phase is defined by hardship. The initial success peters out or the economic pains are simply revealed to the larger world. The experiment is no longer an example to demonstrate the socialist idea to political opponents. 

Phase 3: The final phase is the “not-real-socialism stage.” The economic experiment, now recognized as a failure by the general public, is shunned and derided by the intellectuals who had supported it. Now a liability and embarrassment, its supporters contend it was not truly socialism.

This, Mr. Niemietz explains, is how socialism persists despite 100 years of chronicled failures in more than two dozen nations, including the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Albania, Algeria, Poland, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, North Korea, Hungary, East Germany, Cuba, Tanzania, Romania, Benin, Laos, Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, the Congo, Cambodia, Mozambique, Angola, Nicaragua, China and, now, Venezuela.

Perhaps Ms. Navarro was unaware that Nicolas Maduro was literally elected under the banner of socialism when she angrily claimed that “Maduro is not a socialist.” 

More likely, she simply doesn’t care. After all, that’s not real socialism.

• Jon Miltimore is the managing editor of FEE.org.

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