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COMMENTARY: Joe Biden is no socialist; Donald Trump is no capitalist
THERE ARE many things that divide the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, but socialism is not one of them.Although the Republicans at their National Party Convention labeled Joe Biden and the Democratic Party as a “socialists” and a party with “radical left-wing” policies, neither Biden nor almost every Democrat on Capitol Hill (with the exception of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio–Cortez, D–N.Y.) is a socialist.Mr. Biden was actually the least progressive of all of the Democratic candidates who ran for president, even though President Trump tried to tar him as a socialist in their first and perhaps only debate.For starters, Biden does not support Medicare-for-All, the Green New Deal or defunding police departments. Indeed, his moderate approach to policy (which has admittedly become more progressive over the last few months) is precisely what turned off many Democratic voters, especially those who voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I–Vt., who says that he is a socialist—a “democratic socialist.”The reality is that Sen. Sanders is not a socialist either; he is a social democrat along the lines of the Nordic countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland. He has not called for the nationalization of all major industries—the defining feature of socialism—although he certainly does call for a number of major social programs that would cover all eligible citizens in a particular category, notably health care, college tuition, and child care.The issue here is not an academic one about how political perspectives are classified for a Politics 101 or a Political Philosophy 101 or an Economics 101 test. The issue here is about campaign politics and what distortions and lies you can get a sufficient number of voters in swing states like Virginia to believe.But so long as we are discussing political-economic categories, President Trump and the Republican Party are actually not capitalists either in any pure sense of the term. Our $4 trillion federal budget proves that.A capitalist in the laissez-faire tradition would call for the total elimination of Social Security and Medicare, our largest New Deal and Great Society social insurance programs, which account for close to 40 percent of our federal budget. These two programs represent an intervention of government into the private sector requiring individuals and companies (and nonprofits and other organizations in the workplace) to pay taxes that a traditional capitalist would not permit.President Trump, like former Vice President Biden, supports the “mixed economy”—a term that became popular in post-World War II Great Britain to represent those economies that are a mixture of capitalism and socialism.Mr. Trump would never admit this, although Mr. Biden probably would.The mixed economy is a genuine middle-position between capitalism and socialism. This is why the phrase was invented; namely to explain those economies that do not neatly fall into either category.Capitalism in its pure form, certainly laissez-faire capitalism, to borrow a line from the great 20th century Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, is “dead and gone and with O’Leary in the grave.” If you remove the fear-mongering about Biden and the false accusation that he supports a radical socialist agenda, you can find out what policies really divide the two presidential candidates.The character differences between the candidates are another matter altogether.And will someone please tell the American people that “capitalism” did not defeat Soviet Union communism in the Cold War, at least not capitalism in any traditional sense of the term? Rather, the mixed economy beat the Soviets, which is the political-economic system that involved major government programs and regulations, including Medicare, Social Security, food stamps, Medicaid, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the Interstate Highway Act and the Clean Air Act.All were designed to create a strong economy, fair competition in the market and keep U.S. citizens safe, healthy and secure.Yes, the military build-up during the Reagan administration was partly responsible for winning the Cold War, but that military build-up took place within the context of a vibrant mixed economy.When we finally defeated the Soviets, we had fundamentally changed our economic system for the good, whatever you call it, so long as you don’t just call it “capitalism.”Dave Anderson taught ethics and politics at George Washington University for 12 years and is editor of the 2014 book, “Leveraging.”Dave Anderson taught ethics and politics at George Washington University for 12 years and is editor of the 2014 book, "Leveraging."
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