William B. Turner
The closest we have ever come to a successful third party in the United States was the Socialist Party in the early 20th century. They were not hugely successful at the federal level, but Socialists did win quite a few local elections. After World War I, during the first red scare, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer killed the Socialist Party by deporting a lot of its major leaders and prosecuting Eugene V. Debs, its presidential candidate, for speaking out against U.S. involvement in the War. President Harding would pardon him after taking office.
People in the United States have long had a very weird, knee jerk opposition to socialism. The example of the Soviet Union did not help. But the Soviet Union was not really socialist. It was Stalinist. The Russians have a long history of accepting tyrants, and Stalin was no different.
There is no good reason to think that socialism in the United States would look anything like the Soviet Union.
Actually, all government is socialism in some sense. “Socialism” just means allowing the society as a whole to make certain decisions that individuals might otherwise make for themselves. As a society, we decide that we do not want people to kill each other unless we, as a society, have declared war on another society, so we provide criminal penalties, potentially including death, depending on the jurisdiction, and we impose those penalties on persons who kill other persons. We restrict everyone’s freedom to kill other people.
No one thinks this is at all unreasonable.
Well, Wayne LaPierre, Vice President of the National Rifle Association (NRA), does. He is busy playing on the irrational fear of socialism, especially among U.S. “conservatives,” to persuade them to redouble their mindless opposition to any form of gun control legislation in the wake of the school shooting in Florida.
The NRA has long taken the position that the Second Amendment to the Constitution necessarily means that any person in the United States should be able to own any gun s/he wants. This is an obviously ridiculous reading of the amendment, but they have managed to get away with it because it is an issue that usually is hugely important to their members, but that most people don’t much care about.
After each school shooting, there is an upsurge in discussion of the issue, but doing nothing is always easier than doing something, so the NRA and its partisans obfuscate and filibuster and soon the impulse dies again. We hear much wailing and moaning about how gun control is socialism and un American and evil and the work of satan, etc. They’re very good at playing on all of the standard neuroses of U.S. politics, especially the deep residuum of Christian belief, in order to forestall any legislation on the issue.
Having everyone take a deep breath and realize that there are lots of ways in which our society would be a vastly better place, more humane, more just, if we would accept certain policies opponents routinely denounce as “socialist.” Socialism is not a bad thing and can take many different forms. We can easily fashion a form of socialism that works well in the United States. We could provide everyone with healthcare and ample educational opportunities and high quality day care and plenty of food to eat. We have the resources to do all of those things with ease. Instead, we waste huge sums paying for an obscenely over sized military and ridiculous tax cuts for people who are already rich beyond all imagining. Anyone who is a billionaire has all the money s/he could ever need for a lifetime and more and does not need any more tax cuts. That’s ridiculous.
So let’s all get over our silly paranoia about socialism and decide on some real, effective gun control laws.
Before the next child gets killed.