Conservatives are growing nervous about the rise of the socialist left because they know its message is powerful.
Virginia Kruta, an editor at the right-wing news site Daily Caller, visited an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rally in Missouri over the weekend and found it to be “terrifying” because she saw “just how easy it would be, were I less involved and less certain of our nation’s founding and its history, to fall for the populist lines they were shouting from that stage.”
She goes on:
• I saw how easy it would be, as a parent, to accept the idea that my children deserve healthcare and education.”
• I saw how easy it would be, as someone who has struggled to make ends meet, to accept the idea that a ‘living wage’ was a human right.
• “Above all, I saw how easy it would be to accept the notion that it was the government’s job to make sure that those things were provided.
First of all, yes, some of that reads like self-parody. But it’s worth thinking through this too. It’s difficult to imagine conservatives as worried about the siren call of, say, Hillary Clinton’s promise in 2016 to expand Pell Grants for students from below a certain income threshold, or improve Obamacare as it suffered from skyrocketing premiums and left people under-insured.
Social rights like a universal right to quality health care or education resonate with people instinctively and have a tremendous capacity to mobilize citizens. They have a clear moral mandate and they’re immediately intelligible to non-wonks. The right recognizes that.
And conservatives like Kruta also see how hard it is to object to it without sounding barbaric. It can be easier for conservatives to take down Dems working to reform a flawed system than it is to slam Dems who are acknowledging how flawed the system is in the first place. Yes the right will fear-monger about how this is all a slippery slope to Soviet-style totalitarianism, but they recognize how language about social rights has a special ability to engage many ordinary people where they are right now: beleaguered, bereft of faith in the system.
Some centrist liberals are going to say the left is over-promising. But policy-wise, there’s evidence across the affluent world that government-backed health care, child care, tuition-free higher ed etc. are entirely feasible projects. As for political capital to push through these kinds of reforms— you generate it by persuading people that it’s necessary and good. With pride, and without apology. That seems to be happening right now.