PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Socialism and socialist.
The meaning of the two words seems to depend on who is using them.
Republicans have been tossing out the words during the 2020 Presidential Election cycle to describe various proposals from some some national and state Democratic candidates as socialist ideas, which the GOP says are not good.
There are lawmakers and candidates such as Democrat and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who use socialism to describe some of the ideas they support.
Even South Dakota Republican Governor Kristi Noem has been part of the socialism exchange.
The Governor of South Dakota warned the public of her perceived dangers of socialism and the Democrats who are pushing a socialist agenda in some recent posts on her Kristi Noem Twitter account.
Now that Democrats have gained two seats in the U.S. Senate with the election of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s run-off election and has control of the U.S. House and presidency, will Noem’s posted socialism fears and those shared by other Republicans materialize?
“It seems like there are certainly people that have accepted the idea if the Democratic Party gains power that it’s going to mean some radical transformation of the United States,” South Dakota State University history professor Chuck Vollan said. “As a political independent, let me say, this is not something I expect to see in the next four years. I don’t imagine we’re gonna see the government taking over industries.”
He doesn’t even expect an expansion of any national health care plans because Democrats didn’t rush into a single-payer health care plan with Obamacare. And President-elect Joe Biden has “never been a wild eyed radical,” Vollan said.
The terms socialism and socialist can have different implied meanings depending on the person using the terms, Vollan and Augustana University political science professor Joel Johnson said.
“I think when people are using the term socialist and socialism, they have to be very precise in what they mean by it,” Johnson said.
“It could mean anything from getting a stimulus check from the government to having government completely control industry…even up to the point to not having personal property,” Johnson said.
Both Johnson and Vollan noted that the terms socialist and socialism have a history of use in the political arena.
“(Socialism) has been long been used in America this term as a sort of a buzz word and attack word,” Vollan said.
“It’s often used as a weaponized form rhetoric that if you call someone a socialist in certain circles that’s it’s definitely an insult and one of the worst things you could call them,” Johnson said.
But in other circles, the terms are more viewed more benignly, Johnson said.
KELOLAND News contacted Ian Fury of the Governor’s office about Noem’s Twitter posts but he did not respond as of a 10 a.m. deadline on Friday.
On Jan. 4, Noem wrote “We need to educate our kids on how socialism destroys lives, how it is contrary to American values.”
On Jan. 5, Noem said re-electing Georgia Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler and XX Perdue would allow them to “defend AMERICAN VALUES.”
Noem has also been linked to various conservative opinion pieces and conservative opinion sources as a defender against a socialist agenda such as this piece posted by Times News online on Oct. 13.
Socialism and existing programs in the U.S.
Noem has shared concerns about Democrats and socialism even though South Dakota and Noem herself have benefitted from federal programs and governmental programs, which some have termed, and could still term today, as socialist.
“We’ve already have progressed down the line to (socially) providing many important services” Johnson said.
For example, “It’s not just anyone who has the ability to pay gets fire service,” Johnson said.
“A lot of that ideas that kind of fit under socialism are actually quite popular,” Vollan said. “But when they’re labeled socialism that’s sort of a way putting a black mark on something.”
Noem established a delegation called Her Vote. Her Voice. to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, according to the delegation’s website.
Vollan said the suffrage movement, or the movement to grant women the right to vote, was labeled and attacked as a socialist idea.
“We have again these attacks on things, like something like women’s suffrage. ‘Socialists want women to vote so it can’t be a good thing,'” Vollan said.
Federal USDA subsidies to farming and ranching operations have their roots in President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which was labeled as socialism by some critics in the 1930s.
South Dakota, and Noem herself, have benefitted from federal farm subsidies. Noem and her family members have been a part of Racota Valley Ranch in Hamlin County.
From 1995 through 2020, Racota Valley Ranch has received $4,288,571 in farm subsidy payments, according to the Environmental Working Group. Although she has been a part of Racota Valley, Noem has not been a part of the partnership for all of those 25 years, according to multiple media reports.
Roosevelt’s New Deal also established measures such as Social Security and unemployment compensation and farm subsidies.
The state of South Dakota and its farmers and ranchers have significantly benefitted from farm subsidies, according to data from the Pew Trust and the Environmental Working Group. South Dakota farmers received $18.2 billion in subsidies from 1995 through 2020.
The Cato Institute said that U.S. farmers will receive nearly 40% of their net 2020 income from federal subsidies. That also includes CARES Act money for an unusual year because of pandemic.
But the percentage of net income from federal subsidies has increased over the past three years before COVID-19. Subsidies are developed to assist farmers in bad weather, when markets decline or demand decreases. For example, if tariffs reduce farm exports to another country, farmers may lose money.
South Dakota also receives other federal aid.
“South Dakota’s long relied on federal dollars,” Vollan said.
In general, South Dakota receives more federal aid than it pays to the federal government, but so do many other states.
South Dakota gets $1.15 back for every $1 it pays to the federal government, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government.
The state received $1.25 billion in Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) as part of the Federal
Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in April. This grant to South Dakota is being used to help off-set the costs of the COVID-19 pandemic. The money has been distributed to K-12 schools, small businesses and others to help with the impact of the pandemic, according to state records.
Noem and other state officials have also acknowledged the federal COVID-19 relief stimulus money received by many South Dakota residents was a key factor in improving the economy during the pandemic.
“Thanks to the unprecedented steps taken by Congress to inject stimulus into the economy, and the unique approach taken in South Dakota in response to the pandemic, real personal income increased by 9.8% on a year over year basis in the second quarter of 2020,” said the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for fiscal year 2020. The state’s bureau of finance and management released the report on Jan. 4.
Some lawmakers have shared ideas on what are called socialist ideas
Noem eluded to some Democrats calling themselves socialists.
Ocasio-Cortez has said she is affiliated with the Democrat Socialists of America. Independent U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders has also embraced what some term “socialist” ideas such as universal health care in America.
But Sanders, for example, is far from being a socialist, Vollan said.
Today’s politicians aren’t the first to discuss or propose ideals that have been termed socialist.
President Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 Bull Moose Party platform included a call for socialized medicine, Vollan said.
“Teddy Roosevelt won the state,” Vollan said.
Eugene V. Debs, a presidential candidate of the socialist party in the U.S., won 6% of the vote in 1912 popular vote, Vollan said.
Understanding what the words mean when using them
There are periods in American history where the public and politicians were worried the U.S. would lean too far left or too far right, Johnson said.
“When people are tense and worried, they tend… they will often default to heated rhetoric and there isn’t space for careful debate that we want our leaders to have,” Johnson said.
The discussion needs to happen between individuals who use words such as socialism and to ask each other what is meant by the word, Johnson said.
Politicians can tend to accept forms of socialism that work for them and their state, which is nothing new, Vollan said.
Americans of today tend to know less about “-isms” such as socialism and capitalism, Vollan said.
“Any kind of -ism requires a deep examination of what beliefs are,” Vollan said. “Most people tend to have very soft definitions.”