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Democrats have a 'socialist' albatross around their necks

Democrats have a 'socialist' albatross around their necks
House Oversight and Reform Committee members, from left, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), listen during a committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Feb. 26. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

A Green New Deal and a single-payer healthcare system may be just as much pie in the sky today as they were before the 2016 elections. But all the talk about them among liberal Democrats appears to have moved public opinion — about the Democratic Party.

In a new survey for the Hill by Harvard University and the Harris Poll, 64% of the 1,792 registered voters questioned said they believed the party supports socialism, compared with 36% who said it opposes socialism.

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Granted, it’s not at all clear what “socialism” means to people. And chances are that few in the 64% would say Democrats favored the sort of governing system championed by Lenin, Stalin and Mao. (OK, maybe more than a few. But still.)

If the poll accurately reflects America at large, though, it shows how well President Trump and his allies have turned some of the party’s least mainstream voices — such as freshmen Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) — into the face of the entire party.

And that’s the point. Trump wants his opponents to be seen as extreme, even un-American. The “socialist” tag conveys the message that these people are not just unlike us, they’re a threat to our values.

Trump has been assisted on this front by risible proposals like the Green New Deal resolution introduced by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), which reads more like a liberal wish list than a piece of legislation. (Sample requirement: “guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States.”)

Note how a recurring theme for Trump since the election is that the Democratic Party has been taken over by “radical” elements on the left. And to drive that point home, the Republicans who continue to control the Senate have sought to force Democrats to vote on proposals by or inspired by the party’s most liberal members. Next up: a Senate vote on the Green New Deal resolution.

This exercise will be repeated multiple times between now and the 2020 elections unless Democrats find a way to inoculate themselves against the socialist virus. Otherwise, they’ll have to persuade the public that a new 21st century version of socialism is the antidote to the policies that have concentrated wealth, power and opportunity into the hands of the very few in this country. The more that memories of the Cold War fade, the more chance that argument has of succeeding. But it seems like a long shot.

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