Credit: The White House/Flickr

Given that Republicans have no agenda other than fear mongering about “those people,” it comes as no surprise that their only recourse is to lie about the Democratic agenda. The lie we’ll be hearing most often over the next two years is the one about Democrats being socialists. With the chaos going on in Venezuela, it is often tied to that country, where the leader actually has more in common with Trump than any Democrat.

By casting all Democrats with the same broad brush of socialism, Republicans are actually painting over a divide that exists between Bernie Sanders and the rest of the 2020 presidential field. Jonathan Chait explained it a few weeks ago.

Sanders attracts the intense support of a small left-wing intellectual vanguard who see American politics in fundamentally different terms than most Democrats do. The primary struggle in American politics as they see it is not between liberalism and conservatism, but between socialism and capitalism.

Sanders labels himself as a socialist and frames his rhetoric in Marxian class terms, which sets him apart from other Democrats…Socialists — at least those who aren’t willing to settle for the incremental advances traditionally held out by liberal Democrats as their only option — see Sanders’s presidential candidacy as uniquely compelling. The struggle between Sanders and other Democrats strikes them as far more significant than the contest between the non-socialist Democrats and the Republicans.

As Ed Kilgore documents, Sanders stands alone in that distinction. He notes that, “more and more 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including some who aren’t old-school Clintonian centrists, are making it clear that the economic system they favor is not socialism but that ol’ devil capitalism.” That includes strong statements from Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren.

It is true that, when it comes to income inequality, climate change, and health care, the urgency of those issues has caused Democrats to propose more robust government intervention. One person who was extremely prescient about the need for that is David Simon. He created the HBO series The Wire back in 2002, and in 2007 gave a talk at Loyola College to explain the message he intended to send with the show.

Simon noted that, in this post-industrial age, we “are in a transitive period where human beings have lost some of their value.”

I didn’t start out as a cynic, but at every given moment where this country has had a choice – its governments, institutions, corporations, its social framework – to exalt the value of individuals over the value of the shared price, we have chosen raw unencumbered capitalism. Capitalism has become our god. You are not looking at a Marxist up here, but you are looking at somebody who doesn’t believe that capitalism can work absent a social framework that accepts that it is relatively easy to marginalize more and more people in this economy. Capitalism has to be attended to. And that has to be a conscious calculation on the part of society, if that is going to succeed. Everywhere we have created an alternate America of haves and have-nots. At some point, either more of us are going to find our conscience or we’re not…

The Wire is certainly an angry show. It’s about the idea that we are worth less. And that is an unreasonable thing to contemplate for all of us. It is unacceptable. And none of us wants to be part of a world that is going to do that to human beings. If we don’t exert on behalf of human dignity at the expense of profit and capitalism and greed, which are inevitabilities, and if we can’t modulate them in some way that is a framework for an intelligent society, we are doomed. It is going to happen sooner than we think. I don’t know what form it will take. But I know that every year America is going to be a more brutish and cynical and divided place.

Over the last two years—with massive tax cuts for the wealthy, attempts to roll back government regulations, and this administration’s xenophobia—America has become a “more brutish and cynical and divided place.” Simon suggested that his speech was about an end to the American empire. Rather than a reference to colonialism, what he meant by that is an end to the America Barack Obama described during his speech at the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma.

Most of the Democratic candidates are proposing efforts to modulate capitalism on behalf of human dignity, which is what Simon suggested was necessary as “a framework for an intelligent society.” That is exactly what Democrats have done ever since Franklin Roosevelt proposed a “New Deal” to end the Great Depression.

Because Republicans have always fought against attempts to modulate capitalism, they will mobilize once again to attack the efforts of Democrats. It will be no different than Ronald Reagan’s claim in 1961 that Medicare would be the road to a socialist dictatorship. The “great saint” of the Republican Party was completely wrong about that, which is what almost always happens to those who peddle in lies to foment fear.

As reporters ask Democratic candidates to explain their position on socialism, there is no need to become defensive. The party has a rich tradition of exerting on behalf of human dignity to modulate the forces of profit and greed, which are the hallmarks of unencumbered capitalism. But it’s also time to flip the script and point out that the guy who is calling them “socialists” is the same one who once proclaimed that “I like money. I’m very greedy. I’m a greedy person. I shouldn’t tell you that, I’m a greedy— I’ve always been greedy. I love money, right?” In other words, Donald Trump is the poster child for why capitalism needs to be modulated.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.