We know the way Republicans win elections these days. They call their opponents offensive names. This is probably a good political tactic. After all, when your party’s agenda is about redistributing as much money as possible to the very richest people in the country, you are not likely to win much support based on your policies. Therefore, we get name-calling.
One of the bad words in the Republicans’ schoolyard taunts is “socialism.” President Donald Trump and his team apparently decided they’d run around calling Democrats “socialists.” The hope seems to be to conjure up images of the stagnation and shortages in the Soviet Union. Or, for those who lack memories of the problems of Soviet bloc economies, they’ll use the economic chaos in Venezuela as a substitute.
Of course, the policies being put forward by Democrats have nothing to do with the socialist bogeyman Trump uses to scare people. They are policies that have deep roots in U.S. history and are, in fact, overwhelmingly popular among voters in both parties.
For example, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has proposed a marginal income tax rate of 70 percent on income in excess of $10 million. This is the same rate that was in effect under that well-known socialist President Richard Nixon. Under President Dwight Eisenhower, another prominent socialist, the top tax rate was 90 percent.
It seems Republicans don’t only dislike the idea of taxing the rich, they don’t even understand it. Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told a group of fifth-graders that Ocasio-Cortez wants to have the government take $7 of the $10 that their grandmother pays them for doing chores.
As Ocasio-Cortez explained, this is not the way our tax system works. Her 70 percent tax rate would apply only to income above $10 million. This means that if these fifth-graders earned $10,000,010, the government would take $7 out of the last $10. If they earn less than $10 million, they don’t have to worry about it.
Many Democrats are also proposing to expand Medicare to cover everyone. Perhaps Medicare now fits in the Republicans’ definition of “socialism,” but it is a hugely popular program with both Democrats and Republicans.
The idea of extending health care coverage has, until recently, been a major goal of both political parties. Nixon had a plan for universal health care coverage that was much more far-reaching than the Affordable Care Act, which the Republicans have spent a decade hating on.
Getting to a universal Medicare-type program will be a big change and we will almost certainly not get there all at once. But, the idea of ensuring that every American has decent health care is not one that most people in the United States consider radical. Only Republican politicians seem to view it that way.
The same applies to Democratic plans to make college free, or at least more affordable. Again, this was once a widely shared goal of both political parties. The GI Bill of Rights, which allowed tens of millions of former troops from poor or middle-class backgrounds to attend college, had wide support across the political spectrum. Now we learn from Trump and other Republican leaders that all of these people were socialists.
The idea of addressing global warming and other environmental hazards also is not exclusively a Democratic one. Nixon started the Environmental Protection Agency and signed the Endangered Species Act. President Theodore Roosevelt famously fought to preserve public lands more than 100 years ago.
In short, there is a long bipartisan heritage for the ideas that Democratic leaders are now pushing. These proposals are intended to help the vast majority of the people in the country who have been left behind in the last four decades.
Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He wrote this originally for InsideSources.com.