The "democratic socialist" label is like nails on a chalkboard to me, no matter if it's Bernie proclaiming it proudly or FOX news dropping it with disdain. Democratic Socialists support policy reform in areas I care deeply about, such as healthcare, affordable housing and childcare, and campaign finance. They believe that democracy should work equally, for everyone. So why do I have such a visceral reaction to the label?
I have spent more time than I care to admit trying to figure out why "democratic socialist" bothers me so much. I have questioned whether the time I spent post-communist Eastern Europe has made me overly sensitive. I looked up the word" socialist" because it has been a long time since college poly sci and wanted to confirm it still means the collective ownership of the means of production (it does). I tried to understand how Bernie and AOC describe democratic socialism but direct quotes, in context, are hard to find. The secondary sources I found, are a bit biased, both to the left and to the right. That said, I found one direct quote by AOC that stuck in my head.
But when we talk about ideas like democratic socialism, it means putting democracy and society first, instead of capital first; it doesn't mean that the actual concept of capitalistic society should be abolished [emphasis added].
She is contradicting the definition of socialism. Is it just AOC? I go to the Democratic Socialists of America site. The cacophonic phrase is there too.
Democratic socialists have long rejected the belief that the whole economy should be centrally planned.
Suddenly, I am transported to fifth grade English class and diagramming sentences. The dust from the chalkboard is tickling my nose and I can feel the scratchy polyester fabric of my brown-plaid Catholic school uniform. My head is filled with subjects and verbs and straight lines and squiggly lines and conjunctions and adjectives and get out a pen and paper.
I know I am a bit of a grammar geek and that most people don't harken back to grade-school grammar exercises, but by relegating "democratic" to the adjective, the democratic socialists make "democratic" the less important of the two words. This subordination is what causes me to cringe at the label. And whether democratic socialists like it or not, it's not just me.
The word socialism is still viewed negatively by independent voters, in more than one poll. Although this has begun to shift, DJT and his cohort have already started using this fact in his messaging for 2020. Multiple op-eds have been written about how the democratic socialists need to do more to explain how the policies of democratic socialism are misunderstood, but wouldn't it be easier to stop using the word? Or at a minimum, adopt "social democrats"?
I know hard-core socialists don't believe the two phrases are interchangeable, but what is more important? Using the word "socialist"? Gambling that a full explanation of the platform will erase the historical baggage that comes with the word "socialism" for voters over 30?
Or can we stop using "socialism" and focus on making healthcare, education, housing, and childcare more affordable? And reforming campaign finance laws? Because isn't that the point? Ensuring our democracy works for everyone, equally?