When Rep. Ocasio-Cortez decided to pay her entry-level staff a salary of $52,000 per year, hosts on Fox News called it “socialism and communism on display.” This clearly isn’t actually communism, but the attack is a familiar one to anyone watching Fox News. Socialism and communism have long been the boogeymen of the Republican Party as they smear any attempt to address the many issues that cripple our nation.
But these days, the attack is becoming increasingly trite. We face the largest disparities of wealth since the Gilded Age, stagnating wages, and a tax bill from Congress that gave away billions in tax cuts to major corporations and the wealthy under the guise of helping the middle class. Working to fix these problems by expanding the safety net and curbing wealth inequality isn’t socialism or communism, it’s a return to the policies that truly made America great.
As much as it would pain Fox News to hear, America isn’t a solely capitalist country. Ever since the 18th century debates about fire departments being public, our nation has had a mixture of public and private ownership. Conservative scare tactics aside, the issue isn’t how you label these ideas – the real issue is that the GOP uses fear mongering to oppose policies that would make life better for all Americans.
The right uses “socialist” to conjure up Cold War fears against programs that would benefit working Americans. When Rep. Ocasio-Cortez raised wages for her staff, the debate became about ideology rather than workers earning a living wage. In a consumer economy like ours, when people spend money, it helps create a stronger and more robust economy. When people have the ability to spend more, we all benefit. Let’s bring this conversation back to reality: Increasing the wage doesn’t just help workers, it helps everyone.
The right loves to besmirch the minimum wage, but when workers are paid poverty-level wages they rely on public assistance to get by. Corporations like McDonalds and Walmart pay their employees so little, they rely on federal programs to keep themselves afloat. That is the kind of socialism that I am afraid of. These corporations have become so focused on increasing shareholder profits that they have neglected the employees who make that possible.
Considering that talking heads on the right call government safety nets “socialist programs,” the corporations that support them seem reliant on federal assistance to provide for their workers so they don’t have to. If they were as pro-free market as they claim, then they would be fighting for workers to get off assistance and have more cash in hand to exercise their economic freedoms.
According to Fox News, any proposed tax increase on the wealthiest Americans is considered socialist. Recently they’ve been targeting proposals like Ocasio-Cortez’s 70 percent marginal tax rate or Sen. Warren’s wealth tax, calling them a “new scheme.” Yet, just over a year ago, the GOP passed a massive tax break they claimed was for the middle class. A year later, all working Americans have seen is another “new scheme” for the wealthy.
The wealthy class have kept their boons to themselves thanks to record amounts of stock buybacks, while most Americans are receiving smaller refunds than they did last year. A reorientation of the tax burden could help negate the destabilizing wealth inequality that the tax cuts exacerbated. Taxes have long been one of the best ways to combat wealth inequality. They aren’t socialist or communist, new or radical. They are a return to our national roots.
When Fox News paints a picture of their ideal America, they often recall the glory days of post-war America. But what made those times so great is that we taxed the rich to pay for the social programs that provided for all Americans. We had stronger safety nets, more aggressive oversight, and higher marginal tax rates. Reviving that historic prosperity requires progressive policies.
Today’s Republicans slap the socialism label on any attempt to bring back the programs and policies that this country desperately needs. If the right truly wants to make America great again, then I suggest they embrace the programs that actually created it and can fix our current mess, rather than crying wolf about socialism.
Morris Pearl is a former managing director at BlackRock Inc. and chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, a coalition of high net worth Americans concerned about the destabilizing concentration of wealth and power in the U.S.