THE RED SCARE…. The notion of conservative Republicans throwing around accusations of “socialism” as a shorthand for “government programs the right doesn’t like” isn’t exactly new. Conservatives said the same thing about the New Deal (“Comrade Roosevelt” was a familiar retort). And Medicare. And every labor-friendly measure of the 20th century.

In recent years, it’s become a lazy right-wing talking point to describe anyone and anything that’s even vaguely liberal. Glenn Beck went on a tirade about a year ago, arguing that Hillary Clinton’s policy agenda “sounds like the Soviet Union” — he labeled her “Comrade Clinton” — and said of John Edwards, “Now, put a red star on his furry head. He’s a communist.” In 2005, when some raised questions about the propriety of lawmakers attending retreats sponsored by corporate lobbyists, then-Rep. James Gibbons (R-Nev.) said, “Anybody who is against that obviously must be a communist.”

Now, however, we’ve reached the point at which conservatives can say almost nothing else.

Conservatives might be seeking a spiritual leader, organizing principle and fresh identity, but they at least seem to have settled on a favorite rhetorical ogre: socialism.

As in, Democrats are intent on forcing socialism on the “U.S.S.A” (as the bumper sticker says, under the words “Comrade Obama”).

It seems that “socialist” has supplanted “liberal” as the go-to slur among much of a conservative world confronting a one-two-three punch of bank bailouts, budget blowouts and stimulus bills. Right-leaning bloggers and talk radio hosts are wearing out the brickbat. Senate and House Republicans have been tripping over their podiums to invoke it. The S-bomb has become as surefire a red-meat line at conservative gatherings as “Clinton” was in the 1990s and “Pelosi” is today.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) referred to the president as “the world’s best salesman of socialism.” Mike Huckabee, before casually throwing around references to Lenin and Stalin endorsing the Democratic agenda, decried “socialist republics” in the United States.

A few angles to consider here:

First, red scares had more salience during the Cold War. There’s a whole generation of Americans which has no memory of the USSR, giving the constant whining about “socialism” far less salience.

Second, I have no idea why conservatives get to accuse Democrats of “socialism,” but accusations of “fascism” are considered beyond the pale of reasonable discourse.

And third, would it kill these right-wing clowns to learn what “socialism” actually is? Until Democrats start calling for state control over the means of production, the conservatives sound like idiots. The right may not like the idea of a top individual tax rate going from 35% to 39%, but to bash the idea with a red scare is even more intellectually lazy than most of the right’s other absurd talking points.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.