I write partly in response to “Why I am a democratic socialist” by Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Saturday-Sunday, June 15-16 Times Argus. To be clear, I don’t disagree with much of what he says, but I think the label democratic socialist serves chiefly as ammunition for his political opponents.
The word socialism has become meaningless. On the right, it’s an evil bogeyman and on the left a Utopian system to solve all of society’s problems. The Soviets had Socialist Republics. The Nazis had National Socialism. Both were plain and simple authoritarian dictatorships, and poles apart in politically.
Are Medicare, defense, education, police, the interstate highway system “socialist?” These and many other things in our daily lives are paid for with tax dollars and administered by governments. Some would say that Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom are socialist, with government health insurance systems covering all citizens, which even conservative politicians dare not dismantle. None are perfect and all face the same challenges of aging demographics and expensive medical technology, but they’re all hugely popular politically and almost no one thinks they’re socialist, or cares.
I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. If anything, I’d call myself communitarian. Notice the small “c.” It’s not a political party but it does exist. It makes the news when, after a disaster like recent tornadoes, people in communities come together to help each other out. And despite the news media’s focus on bad news, there is a whole lot of communitarianism happening, especially at local levels.
There will always be people with more and less material wealth. There will always be people who are more and less well equipped to succeed in society. In the communities that are our families, we normally try to care for our less fortunate members. It’s a matter of kindness and caring, the norm, and almost never makes the headlines.
Neighborhoods are communities. So are towns, cities, states, nations and importantly, the world. A large “silent” majority of ordinary people care about and for their fellow community members. Only the squabbling political classes continue to focus on zero-sum, glass-half-full money and power issues, and fail to notice the rest of us going about our daily lives caring and contributing to our communities to the best of our abilities.
A businesswoman I knew started a business with a $1,000 loan and built it into a successful enterprise, which she sold some years later for $6 million. One day, she heard a well-paid employee in the next office complaining about taxes. She stood in their doorway and said, “Think about everything you have and benefit from. I’m very rich. I pay a lot of taxes. I should pay a lot of taxes. Pay your share and count your blessings.”
Taxes for the most part are a community’s way of providing for the common good. Sure, some of the ways they are used are more or less successful and efficient, and we’re all entitled to discuss and participate in improving them. But the underlying motivation should be providing needed services for our communities in a spirit of kindness and generosity, not selfishness and greed.
The central values of communitarianism are qualities of the heart. I think most of us are communitarians and don’t even know it.
And stop arguing about socialism. It’s a waste of your time and energy (and may actually be helping those who oppose views like Bernie’s).
Andrew Jackson lives in Montpelier.