“What Is Socialism?”
The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” Glenn Kessler on Tuesday evaluated claims that socialism is bad.
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Kessler singled out for criticism a few lines that Trump and his senior advisers delivered over the weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference. The gist of their remarks was that the Democrats are pushing the same system that has proved ruinous for other nations.
Trump: “Socialism is not about the environment, it’s not about justice, it is not about virtue. Socialism is about only one thing: It’s called power for the ruling class.”
Vice President Mike Pence: “Under the guise of Medicare-for-all and a Green New Deal, Democrats are embracing the same, tired economic theories that have impoverished nations and have stifled the liberties of millions over the past century. That system is socialism.”
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow: “I want you to put socialism on trial.”
Based on these comments, Kessler accused the Trump administration of equating left-wing Democrats with a variety of dictatorships, including the Third Reich (which, for the record, none of the officials mentioned on stage).
“President Trump and his allies apparently want Americans to believe there’s virtually little difference between the Nazis, the Soviet communists, the dictatorship of a crumbling Venezuela and the political organization linked to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.),” he said. “But these are facile comparisons, ignorant of history.”
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In real life, Kessler said, socialism can be a good thing. The system “has worked relatively well in other countries, such as Peru and Bolivia,” he said, and capitalist states, including in northern Europe, have incorporated socialist ideas “without turning into dictatorships.”
Even the United States has Medicare, he pointed out.
According to Kessler, socialism is really just about collective control of the means of production. If the term is scary to some, he said, it’s only because it has been “distorted by advocates and detractors” – by which he clearly meant Trump.
Kessler stopped short of giving the president yet another falsehood rating, acknowledging, “To some extent, assertions about socialism fall in the realm of opinion.” However, he cautioned that he would “keep an eye on this rhetoric as the 2020 campaign unfolds,” suggesting that those who step out of line could be slapped with dreaded “Pinocchios.”
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Ultimately, then, Kessler did not actually use his influential column to fact-check Trump, but rather to accuse the president of fear-mongering and to threaten conservatives.
His miscue underlines why a number of commentators have lately criticized fact-checking and explainer journalism in general. While various arguments have been made – on both the right and left – the basic logic is simple: Political facts can’t readily be separated from ideology, and many journalists don’t seem to be trying anyway. So let’s stop pretending.
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