Bob Ehrlich: Socialism Is for Dummies


You may have read recent polls reflecting on American millennials’ infatuation with socialism. Yep — 50 percent of millennials and their younger contemporaries in “Gen Z” claim they would prefer to live in a socialist country, while a similar percentage express support for “The Green New Deal.”

No real surprise here. These disquieting numbers have been consistent over the past half-decade, reflecting the highly successful political indoctrination your kids receive at our institutions of “higher” learning.

In response, those of us who live in the real world may seek to lash out — write a check to Trump re-elect or immerse yourself in talk radio and Fox News for the evening. Both are reasonable responses.

Still, before you get yourself too worked up, it might be constructive (and instructive) to consider the history of socialism’s persistent appeal despite its legacy of failure. Such a step back from the precipice will save you much personal angst — fewer mood swings — even as you watch the entertaining likes of Mayor Bill DeBlasio demand a moratorium on hot dogs and glass/steel buildings — in New York City!

Students of history are familiar with the propensity of Western elitists to be charmed by foreign dictators and their regimes. A most brutal chapter here was the well-chronicled in the American left’s infatuation with Soviet-style communism, wherein many of America’s leading reporters and intellectuals (Anna Louise Strong, Waldo Frank, Walter Duranty) wrote approvingly of Stalinist-era collectivism.

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High-profile visits to the alleged socialist utopia buttressed the case for the regime. Some fellow travelers remained enamored with the totalitarian dictatorship even after the likes of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and his fellow refuseniks began to report the horrific truth.

The left’s interest in autocratic regimes of more recent vintage is equally well-documented. Hollywood actors, labor leaders, well-known academics and politicians have picked up the torch in the latter decades of the 20th century. For context, recall Sen. Sanders’ positive reviews for the Soviet Union’s youth and cultural programs — an observation offered upon return from his 1988 honeymoon in that same workers’ paradise.

More recently, a long list of celebrity types manifested their enthusiasm for Fidel’s island experiment in brutal state control. Here, a familiar takeaway looms: a new iteration of socialism is always going to be the next big thing. It is can’t miss stuff — attainable if only the public could shake off its bourgeois blinders in time to see.

This last point is important. The intellectual left’s enthusiasm for centralized control carries a mandatory caveat: “If not this time, surely the next.” It is history’s most dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy. Indeed, generations of progressive apologists have nothing on those long-suffering Red Sox fans who saw a World Series within their grasp every year — for over 100 years.

Yet, inevitably, the gruesome reviews would begin to filter out: a corrupt Soviet Union would implode, broke and drunk; David Ortega’s Nicaraguan revolution would fizzle; those Castro boys would build their very own Gulag, this time 90 miles from our shores; tanks would roll through Tiananmen Square — and over democracy protestors — 25 years after Mao’s murderous cultural revolution; African strong-men would come and go, often with tens of thousands of corpses in their wake; and who could forget Pol Pot’s bloody killing fields in Cambodia? Socialist body counts are indeed never-ending.

Still, the dream continues — and not just in campus faculty lounges around the country. Here, a new rationalization has emerged in recent years, popularized by the likes of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her peers.

It’s all about Scandinavia, most particularly Sweden — in the way that the country has figured it out — or done socialism “right.” You may even hear about Sweden’s benign brand of socialism from progressive Democrats running for president this year.

But, as they say in Vegas, not so fast. Even this dressed up and oversold “socialism lite” falls short of the mark. You see, Sweden in the 1990s began to reverse course after an up-close and personal view of centralized control.

Today, democratic Sweden qualifies as a mixed bag, including a large social safety net (universal health care, free education) combined with a deregulatory, market-oriented, free-trade brand of capitalism. Such is not what American progressives have in mind!

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As for our impressionable young people force-fed a steady brand of economic mush on campus, an old Churchill critique best sums it up: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

Maybe a free week-long stay at “Club Med Venezuela” would wise up American youth, or make them less enthusiastic about “feeling the Bern” in 2020. Just a thought.

The views expressed in this opinion article are those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website. If you are interested in contributing an Op-Ed to The Western Journal, you can learn about our submission guidelines and process here.

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Robert Ehrlich is a former governor of Maryland as well as a former U.S. congressman and state legislator. He is the author of “Bet You Didn’t See That One Coming: Obama, Trump, and the End of Washington’s Regular Order,” in addition to “Turn This Car Around,” “America: Hope for Change" and “Turning Point.” Ehrlich is currently a counsel at the firm of King & Spalding in Washington, D.C.