Frank Zeidler would be delighted.

The last Socialist Party leader of a major American city, Zeidler died in 2006 at the age of 93. But, to the end, the man who served three terms as the “red mayor” of Milwaukee always believed that it was only a matter of time before America would renew its interest in socialism.

It seems that Zeidler was right.

A new Gallup Poll finds that socialism is now viewed positively by 39 percent of Americans, up from 36 percent in 2010. Among self-described liberals, socialism enjoyed a 62 percent positive rating, while 53 percent of Democrats and independent voters who lean Democratic gave socialism a thumb’s up.

Needless to say, this provoked the predictable fine whine of right-wing media. The conservative Washington Times newspaper declared: “Yes, Democrats, liberals favor socialism.” The Business Insider website announced: “Everything Republicans fear about Democrats is true.” William F. Buckley’s old magazine, the National Review, allowed as how there is “much that is peculiar, and much that is worrying” about the new polling data.

That reactionary Republicans get a little hysterical at the mention of the word “socialism” is not news. But the reaction to their reaction is. No two groups of Americans talk so much about socialism in so many public settings these days as Republican candidates and conservative commentators. And this appears to be influencing the discourse.

Indeed, it is fair to say that nothing has done more to promote the cause of socialism than the ranting and raving of Sarah Palin, Paul Ryan, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. It’s not just that the right has spread the word about socialism, raising the ideology’s profile to levels rarely experienced in recent decades — if ever — and associating the ideology with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, President Obama and a lot of other programs and people that Americans actually like. The fact that so many agitated, angry and — at least in some cases — politically toxic characters go apoplectic at the mere mention of the ideology has undoubtedly caused millions of Americans who don’t know much about socialism to say to themselves: “Anything that Paul Ryan does not like must have some merit.”

But I have to agree with the National Review assessment that the Gallup survey information “is worrying” — at least for conservatives. The most significant increases in sympathy for socialism over the past two years — since the last time Gallup polled on economic and ideological terms such as “socialism” and “capitalism” — have been among self-identified “conservatives” and “Republicans.”

In 2010, only 20 percent of conservatives viewed socialism favorably. Today, the number is 25 percent. That’s right: One-quarter of American conservatives view socialism favorably.

Among Republicans, the increase has been slightly more notable. In 2010, only 17 percent of self-identified Republicans had a positive view of socialism. Now, that number had increased to 23 percent. So if you meet four Republicans, one of them is harboring socialist sentiments.

Shocking?

Not really.

Socialism has deep American roots — going back to when Tom Paine used his final pamphlet, “Agrarian Justice,” to outline a social-democratic model for establishing a just and equitable society. Socialist communes and political movements flourished in the United States during the first decades of the republic’s history, and the advocates for those movements found a home in the radical experiment that came to be known as the “Republican” Party.

Founded at Ripon, Wis., in 1854 by utopian socialists and militant abolitionists, the Republican Party in its early days included many German-American immigrants who arrived in America after the European revolutions that stirred in 1848 were repressed. The man who issued the call for that meeting in Ripon, and who is to this day frequently identified as a founding figure for the Republican Party, was Alvan Earle Bovay, a veteran radical who had led militant movements for land reform that urged the poor to organize politically and “Vote Yourself a Farm.”

Among the first Republicans were many allies and associates of socialist causes, and even of Karl Marx. Among their number was Joseph Weydemeyer, a former Prussian Army officer who would continue to correspond with Marx as he rose through the ranks as a military officer during the Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln spoke often about the superiority of labor to capital and was highly critical of concentrated wealth. Toward the end of the Civil War, the White House accepted the congratulations of Marx and his fellow London communists after Lincoln’s 1864 re-election.

Lincoln was no Marxist. But, like a good many of the initial leaders of the Republican Party, he had been exposed to the ideas of Marx and Friedrich Engels in the pages of Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune (for which the two men wrote for many years as European correspondents). In fact, Lincoln chose as one of his closest White House aides (and eventually as his assistant secretary of war) Charles Dana, Marx’s longtime editor. Famously, Dana once declared, “Everyone now is more or less a socialist.”

In fairness, that’s not the case today.

There are still substantial numbers of Americans who do not view socialism positively, just as there are substantial numbers who do not view capitalism positively. But Americans are less inclined to be troubled by mentions of socialism, or by socialist and social democratic ideas, today than in the past — just as Americans are less inclined (according to a recent CNN poll) to be unsettled by the mention of libertarianism, or by libertarian and libertarian-lite ideas. This is healthy. A republic is best served by differing ideas and ideals with regard to economic and social arrangements.

There will always be reactionaries like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan who try to make ideas scary. But when a quarter of Republicans have a positive reaction to the word “socialism,” it is pretty clear that the reactionaries are not doing any better in framing the economic and intellectual debate than they did on Election Day.

And, yes, that would have made Frank Zeidler, who was at once a great believer in social democracy and a great believer in the resilience of the American experiment, a very happy man.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com

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(28) comments

Patriot
Patriot

By the way Nichols, you couldn't carry Paul Ryan's shoes. He exemplifies what it means to be an American! Nichols, you don't have a clue!

toobad
toobad

jn happy with his foundation supported keyboard

Patriot
Patriot

Nichols is a proponent of socialism. He is a jerk and always advances the idea of progressive govt. I am surprised obummer didn't put him in his cabinet!

hughjazzsoul
hughjazzsoul

It is no suprise that the left adores the idea of socialism. Afterall, their goal is mediocrity and
they value Socialist responsibility over personal responsibility. Leave it to them to do the thinking. You just listen.
Nickles alone would like to think for as many people as he can. If only he could think for Ryan.
Maybe then he could have that operation to finally become Roberta LaFollette and devote
herself to womens issues full time.

MadisonMax
MadisonMax

If a pollster called me and asked for my opinion on "socialism," I would respond, "Define the term." John Nichols celebrates greater acceptance of "socialism." Conservative friends of mine fling "socialism" as an epithet. I'm not sure what the term means. I'm in favor of the government regulations and programs listed here by Richard S. Russell. Are those socialist? I'm in favor of unemployment compensation, workers compensation and social security. Does that make me a socialist? I'm in favor of progressive income taxation, and I see the health care system today as a costly disaster. By now, the right sees me as a socialist. On the other hand (a phrase favored by economists; I have an economics degree), we visited my wife's relatives in East Germany, and I saw first hand the colossal failure of "collective ownership of the means of production and distribution." I vehemently oppose that level of socialism, as do most Americans. Greece is a cautionary tale, telling us that there are limits to what we can afford, an issue at the heart of any attempt to fix health care. One doesn't have to be a "fascist," whatever that is, to recognize that unsustainable budget deficits can't be fixed just by taxing "the rich" - there aren't enough of them - or to be concerned about an explosion of health care costs under federalization. What a muddle of positions, eh? Perhaps I lack the vision to be a great simplifier. But I like to think it's more that I'm unwilling to ignore facts and take illogical positions in service to any ideology.

knittingnancy
knittingnancy

My old friend, Frank Zeidler, presided over the most honest and ethical government possible. Read about him and socialism in Milwaukee and become enlightened. Also read about fascism and see how it easily applies to the present republicons.

graefental
graefental

Republicans used to be mostly alright--hell, I called myself one even if I never formally registered.

But when they put on the jackboots (applying pressure to the throat of the middle class) and started goose-stepping, I figured it was time to bail.

196ski
196ski

The main problem with socialism being we can't afford it. We can't even afford what we have in terms of government.

What we want and what we are willing to pay for are two separate concepts. Forget the rich, if universal health care and other social services meant taxing the middle class at significantly higher rates would anyone accept it? 68K in Germany =40+%. We want it all, but it seems we don't want to pay for it.

Obama gets his tax hikes on the wealthy and capital gains and then what? Continue to borrow a Trillion dollars per year? For how long? It's nonsense to build an economy based on the lie that somehow we can afford it. This isn't even politics, its math. The debt grows unchecked, interest on the debt must be paid, each year there is less and less to spend on government programs.

We're headed off the cliff either way, might as well get it over with.

bookman21
bookman21

If the rich start paying their FAIR SHARE ans stop looting the middle class we'll all be able to afford more.

196ski
196ski

No we won't. Do you understand math? 80 Billion, the additional revenue that will go to the treasury, is less than 10% of our annual deficit. The middle class will get LESS when 80 billion is taken out of the economy. If you think this is going to help the middle class you are dreaming. There aren't enough "rich people" to make any difference in our deficit let alone boost the middle class. So yea, lets make those making over 200K/250K, Obama's "millionaires and billionaires" (guess he doesn't understand math either), pay more and watch the economy tank.

graefental
graefental

Here's some math for ya:

The top 1% of this country now hold the vast majority of the wealth (something approaching 90%).

The rest of us divvy up the remaining ten or twelve percent.

Take, say, 30% of the wealth held by the top 1% and force them to do their part as Americans, whether they like it or not. They'l still have millions of dollars (each!) to play with.

Problem solved.

toobad
toobad

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324705104578151601554982808.html

RichardSRussell
RichardSRussell

As Abraham Lincoln once remarked, "The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot do so well, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities."

Thus, it seems to me, we should use socialism for the basics and capitalism for the frills and luxuries.

Among the basics? Health care! The right has attempted to demonize this as "socialized medicine", but that would imply that the government builds the hospitals, buys the drugs, and pays for the doctors and nurses (you know, like the VA does), when it suffices to leave most of that in the hands of the private sector and just have the government pay the bills, the way every other industrialized democracy does.

But even if we went all the way to the full VA model, what would be the problem? Well, according to the right, it would be the 1st step down a slippery slope that might lead to socializing addiction-treatment programs, air-traffic control, anti-discrimination laws, anti-trust enforcement, bank deposit insurance, busses, canals, community clinics, consumer protection, contract enforcement, criminal justice, diplomacy, elections, employment relations, epidemiology, fair labor standards, farm price supports, fire fighting, fish hatcheries, flood insurance, food and drug safety standards, game management, garbage pickup, GI Bill, handicapped transportation, historic preservation, housing standards, immigration controls, insurance regulation, lake districts, levees, libraries, mail delivery, medical research, Medicare, mental-health services, mentally disabled care, money (coinage and currency), national defense, occupational safety and health inspections, outdoor recreation (playgrounds, tennis courts, golf courses, etc.), parking ramps, parks, police protection, pollution controls, prisons, public broadcasting, public housing, roadways (streets and highways), rural electrification, scholarships, school lunch, schools, scientific research, sewerage, snow removal, Social Security, space and oceanic exploration, state universities, stock-market oversight, swimming pools, traffic engineering, unemployment compensation, urban planning, utility regulation, veterans' health care, water, weather prediction, weight and measure certification, wetland protection, and workers' compensation.

toobad
toobad

1. You're making the blind assumption that if gov't did not provide these services for us then we would not provide them ourselves at the local community level (like we used to).

2. Money is not provided by gov't as constitutionally mandated. It is provided by a For Profit privately owned Federal Reserve Bank and it is currency, Not money. The FRB is owned by the international bankster cartel. It is a fact that real wages have gone down for the middle class and gone up for the oligarchs ever since Nixon removed gold backing from our money. Thus, it is not Money anymore. Money is a unit of account (aka pound, quart, liter, etc.), a medium of exchange and a store of value. What we have is currency, which is merely a medium of exchange by the force of government. We will discover in this next decade why what we have in our wallets is not money and this will cause great disruption in our society.

patricko
patricko

As Margaret Thatcher said, "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money." And I would add, that in the type of creeping socialism that Obama offers, you run out of their cooperation. As Obama insists on having his purely symbolic rate hike on the top 2%, he fails to appreciate the degree of cooperation they currently provide.

johnnybragatti
johnnybragatti

Any socialist,pure in form,would tell you "Obama ain"t no socialist' and he is not.FDR was called a socialist and he was not. As America leans toward some socialistic tinged programs,it doesn"t mean the country will automatically become socialist.Lots of fear,lots of paranoia, pretty digusting economy,sore losers(in every direction) causes rampant exaggerations,half truths,and just the other day I even heard somebody LIE.(boldfaced,at that)Truly a nation divided,more than the Vietnam war or the OJ Simpson verdict and yet no one has mentioned that there is 16 days till the end of the world! So why sweat the Muslim Brotherhood???

gdp
gdp

As gullible as the Weimar 'democrats!

toobad
toobad

0bama has learned thru his marxist upbringing that one does not need for the gov't to own the means of production when he can Control the means of production via the regulatory apparatus.

gdp
gdp

As in all polls it's methodology and choice of participant. Pew has a problem - probably Gallup as well. The reliance on polls is part of the art of political manipulation. Goebbels would have loved it. Socialism, govt ownership of the means of production, isn't bad if we are all billionaires and there is no need for improvement. Particularly odious given some of its lesser known but fundamental traits, like total intolerance of opposition. For years, America has been ailing under Fascism, govt control of the means of production, with commensurate devaluation of governing principles like property, though there is emerging greater sanity respecting that basic fundamental. Polls mean nothing to modernists who refuse to answer to the past and mobs whose only interest is in the handout. Polls are merely the tool to sway the vote their way. Real people decide for themselves without depending on polls to tell them the right way. Nichols knows this, that is why he pushes the polls. A better statistic is that Obama received barely 30% of the eligible vote, his organization capitalizing on the split in the opposition. That ayn't no plurality much less mandate! Keep trashing our fundamentals with your "politics of despair" John!

TheJudoon
TheJudoon

Too bad nobody here seems to understand the basics of socialism -- Collective ownership of the means of production and distribution.
That the term "socialism" is being considered more favorable is only because Ryan is offering the complete opposite - fascism.

Norby
Norby

I think you are confusing socialism with Marxist communism. Huge difference!

wiprof
wiprof

John Nichols makes Ryan sound better.

Nav
Nav

Socialism is not bad in itself. And yes, more and more Americans are gravitating towards the "concept" of socialism, and that is driving the right crazy!

We know President Obama has often been called a socialist. To that more and more people are saying "so"?

In socialism the emphasis is on what is good for the society as a whole, not what is good for the elite rich. This is the reason why the "rich" have such a problem with socialism as their wealth would not translate into power.

If Hillary Clinton runs for President in 2016, she has a very good chance of winning. My guess is that she will push the country towards universal health care, a socialistic leaning program that would be very popular with Americans.


bosco
bosco

Nav, you just showed you do not understand socialism and its consequences. The problem with socialism is not that it is not good for the elite, it is that it is not good for the individual. So if you want your property and rights taken away by socialism then you are on the right track. Our individual rights are what make the US the greatest nation ever. Lose them, we get a revelotion and probably a dictator, take a history class.

stcroixcarp
stcroixcarp

Individualism has been overrated to the point of being destructive to our communities. No one is talking about taking away individual property rights. Just exactly do you mean by individual rights and which ones of these rights are endangered by your notion of socialism?

tomtom33
tomtom33

Have you ever visited Cuba? The USSR did quite well.

bosco
bosco

Let's staart with the right to bear arms. Look at tax rates in socialized countries, do you think they do not too confiscate the bulk of a businesses sweat and equity? Also tell them how to run their business?

toobad
toobad

You're sadly lacking in understanding. Under socialism the ruling elites (aka "Rich") control all economic activities.

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