by Jon N. Hall 1/12/16
MSNBC host Chris Matthews recently asked Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton: “What’s the difference between a socialist and a Democrat?” Clinton hemmed and hawed and groped for a response. Finally, Matthews restated his question, and Clinton then answered with this: “I can tell you what I am. I am a progressive Democrat.”
If Matthews were nimbler and more of a journalist, he would have had a follow-up question: OK, what’s the difference between a socialist and a progressive?
And the answer, of course, is … not much. After noting that Matthews had posed the same question to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey opined: “I’d be surprised if Matthews ever asks this question again in public, or at least if he asks it before the general election in November.” (You can watch this exchange and find commentary at Hot Air, RealClearPolitics, and El Rushbo.)
What the Matthews-Clinton exchange illustrates is the inability, or refusal, to engage in “systematic thinking.” Rigorous thought might take one where one doesn’t want to go. This failing is particularly evident when TV’s talking heads talk about the political “left” and the political “right.” They don’t appreciate that when one uses a one-dimensional model (left-right), that one needs to be calibrating a single variable, a single characteristic. What Clinton might try thinking about is what is being calibrated by the political spectrum.
For ages, we’ve heard charges from the Left of “rightwing fascism.” That is an incoherent, unsystematic charge. But it’s made with no fear of contradiction; who wants to get into a tedious debate about what’s right and what’s left? If, however, your mental hygiene on matters political is important to you, then check out the graphic of the political spectrum at American Federalist Journal. You’ll see that it calibrates just one thing: Degree of Government Control.
Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, once took exception to being called a “liberal,” and said he was a progressive. The term “socialist” has been applied to many different government arrangements: communist, fascist, Ba’athist, Third Way, Clement Attlee’s U.K., etc. What all such arrangements have in common is central control by the geniuses in the central government.
In The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism (2011), Kevin D. Williamson maintains that the central feature of socialism is “central planning” by the central government. That seems fairly consistent with our little spectrum. (This terrific short video from Reason.tv features Nick Gillespie interviewing Williamson on the nature of socialism; Mrs. Clinton needs to watch it.)
In his Jan. 6 New York Times column “Up With Extremism,” Thomas Friedman seems to exhibit a certain difficulty with systematic thinking: “The agenda that could actually make America great again would combine the best ideas of the extreme left and the extreme right.”
Would that be the “best ideas” of communism/fascism on the left and anarchy on the right? (See our spectrum.) Friedman “calls for a nonpartisan extremist for president who’s ready to go far left and far right — simultaneously.”
Yeah, right. Why didn’t I think of that?
In the wider spectrum of all political systems and isms, American conservatism is not rightwing and not extremist, it is centrist. Progressives like Hillary Clinton cannot truthfully claim to be centrists. The question that she should be required to answer is: What’s the difference between a progressive and a totalitarian?
Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City.