From Walter Duranty denying the horrors of Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union to another New York Times reporter, Herbert Matthews, assuring the public that Cuba's Fidel Castro was "decidedly anti-communist," leftists have historically relied on gullible American journalists to spread misinformation on their behalf. As it tends to do, history repeats itself this year.
With the strong possibility of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) becoming the nominee of the Democratic Party, liberal media personalities are already working overtime to normalize the self-described democratic socialist and his movement. The effort was kicked off by economist Paul Krugman who opined in a risible New York Times column, "Bernie Sanders Is Not a Socialist," that the septuagenarian presidential candidate's use of the label is the result of bad "personal branding" and not a reflection of his ideology — his pledge to nationalize nearly a third of the American economy and record of endorsing militant Trotskyites be damned, I guess.
Not to be outdone, on Friday MSNBC reporter Stephenie Ruhle released a video that attempted to normalize Sanders' and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's ideology with a definition of democratic socialism that is demonstrably false.
According to Ruhle, "while democratic socialists do borrow some ideas from socialism, they are not what you think of when you think traditional socialists." She then defines democratic socialism as the enactment of some socialist ideas through the democratic process.
"They are not calling for communal ownership of property," she insisted, adding "the goal of democratic socialists is to control prices of certain essential services..." Ruhle then claimed the U.S. already has democratic socialism and cites Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare as examples.
These claims are illogical and untrue. Democratic socialists are explicitly calling for collective ownership and control of property and while Ruhle is right that they seek to establish socialism through the legislative process, her baseline definition of "socialism," as harmless government programs, has no basis in the actual, and very ambitious, agenda of democratic socialists. Don't take my word for it, democratic socialist leaders say so themselves.
In fact, the very first sentence of a 2018 Vox article written by Jacobin's Meagan Day, titled "Democratic socialism, explained by a democratic socialist," is a direct quote from Ruhle claiming that democratic socialism does not mean "communal ownership of production," which the author then proceeds to debunk. "In the long run, democratic socialists want to end capitalism," Day wrote — point blank, without any equivocations.
Day goes even further and admits that while some political observers — like MSNBC's Ruhle — seem to equate democratic socialism with FDR's programs, the democratic socialist agenda is far more radical than that of New Deal liberals: abolishing the free enterprise system. "Our goal is not to rein in the excesses of capitalism for a few decades at a time — we want to end our society's subservience to the market."
Other democratic socialist leaders have been equally explicit. The national director of the Democratic Socialists of America said in an August 2018 radio interview that their movement seeks "a society where workers control things," including converting private businesses into employee-owned co-ops.
Democratic socialists have also rejected claims that they only want the United States to be more like Scandinavia. As Marquette University professor Michael A. McCarthy explained in a Jacobin article titled "Democratic Socialism Isn't Social Democracy," their goal is far more "public ownership of the economy than currently exists" in countries like Denmark and Sweden.
These are not just the musings of activists and intellectuals. Bernie Sanders' own "Corporate Accountability and Democracy" plan calls for collective control and ownership of corporations by forcing owners to give up 20% of their stock and 45% control of their enterprises. As British economist Ryan Bourne argued in a February 2020 article, these policies are even more radical than those proposed by the UK's Jeremy Corbyn, who no one disputes is a socialist.
Plainly stated, for Stephanie Ruhle's definition of "democratic socialism" to be true, one would also have to believe that the way prominent democratic socialists define their own ideology — both what it is and what it is not — is false. Of course, this defies common sense, but MSNBC insists on insulting the intelligence of its viewers to normalize left-wing extremism. At one point in her video, Ruhle even suggests that Karl Marx's assertion that socialism is interchangeable with communism was wrong, which is so absurd that it is laughable.
The fact is that despite the best efforts by MSNBC, the New York Times, and others to gaslight American voters, we know exactly what democratic socialism is and what it is not because, to their credit, democratic socialists are more honest than they are. To paraphrase Groucho (the better) Marx: Who are you going to believe, MSNBC or your lying eyes?