Patt Morrison for June 26, 2012

Is ‘socialist’ really a bad word?

Demonstrators hold signs near the Washin


Demonstrators hold signs near the Washington Monument during a march by supporters of the conservative Tea Party movement in Washington on September 12, 2010. Several thousand people gathered for the march from the Washington Monument to the US Capitol.

Socialist! Communist! Marxist! These are just a few of the accusations hurled at political candidates during hotly contested election cycles.

Since the 2008 presidential election, many of Barack Obama’s critics and challengers have used the term ‘socialist’ as a derogatory term to describe his policies, but what does the word really mean?

Obama’s critics were far from the first to use such tactics - Joseph McCarthy threw fuel on the hot fire of the cold war with anti-communist rhetoric that carried right on through Ronald Reagan and beyond.

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines ‘socialism’ as “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”


Do people who accuse others of being socialists comprehend exactly what they’re saying? How is doing so an effective tactic in campaigns?


Geoffrey Nunberg, linguist, professor, School of Information at UC Berkeley; his latest book is "Ascent of the A-word," coming out this summer

Paul D'amato, managing editor, "International Socialist Review;" author, "The Meaning of Marxism" (Haymarket Books 2006)

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