Today's National lead: Long-shot socialist in Maine! Liam Stack’s lead National story in Tuesday’s New York Times served as a flattering profile of the Democratic Socialists of America: “In Maine, Freewheeling Capitalism Hits a Bump -- Democrat in Senate Race Is a Long Shot, but His Socialist Solutions Seem to Be Resonating.”
When was this “freewheeling” nonregulated capitalism that the headline speaks of? And how does an admitted long-shot candidate nab the lead story slot in the Times? Political affinity, most likely.
Stack's story was almost as promotional as the headline. He avoided the anti-conservative snark that mars much of his reporting, in favor of tempered enthusiasm for Zak Ringelstein, the Democratic nominee in Maine, who is endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America but trails Independent incumbent Sen. Angus King:
Like a growing number of people his age and younger, Mr. Ringelstein, 32, thinks American capitalism does not work. For him, it is a system that has fostered inequality, robbed young people of opportunity and perverted the values of a just society.
His message is also -- to put it lightly -- something of a hard sell in Washington; even Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the only democratic socialist in the Senate, dwells less on critiques of capitalism than on policy ideas like a $15 minimum wage, which he has been unable to get passed.
But Mr. Ringelstein is playing a long game.
The first two years of the Trump administration have seen a surge of energy on the left, with socialist-oriented ideas like Medicare for All and free public college gaining more support among both Democrats and the public at large, according to opinion polls. That trend has been powered, in part, by a general disillusionment toward capitalism among people who came of age after the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession.
It’s hard to deny that socialism, or at least the word itself, has grown in popularity among the younger population. Stack advanced no facts or history to dissuade such feelings, such as bringing up the less-than-dynamic (and often starving) societies that socialist ideology has wrought over the years.
Stack pressed the Democratic Party from the left, complaining that “Democratic leaders have shown little appetite for a debate about capitalism,” while also locating “some deeply conservative Republican candidates” but merely a “progressive dynamic” (as opposed to a "deeply liberal” one). He hailed the growth of the DSA movement:
The growth of the D.S.A. is one barometer of that trend. It has grown from 4,300 members in 2016 to roughly 50,000 today, with 166 chapters nationwide, not including 57 campus chapters at colleges and high schools, according to a spokesman, Lawrence Dreyfuss. It had 43 chapters and roughly two dozen campus groups in 2016.
DSA also like to harass Republican politicians like Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen in restaurants, but Stack skipped over that:
Mr. Ringelstein and many who share his feelings toward capitalism are often circumspect in their argument that the economic system is incompatible with living wages, dignified working conditions and the pursuit of happiness. They compare their ideas for a “moral economy” -- Medicare for All, free college, a federally mandated minimum salary for teachers -- to the New Deal or the economies of modern-day Scandinavia.
Stack let Ringelstein conclude with a self-serving anecdote about being the only person at a White House event on education reform that had worked as a public school teacher.
“Everyone else stood to profit from the policy that they were creating,” he told the mostly gray-haired crowd, which applauded when he announced his intention to more heavily tax the rich.
“If you want to call that socialist, fine,” he said. “But I stand with the people, not with any party or any corporation.”
In September, reporter Maggie Astor penned a bizarre, "Choose Your Own Adventure”-style promotional quiz on the Democratic Socialists of America. The first question was “In an ideal world, who would control the means of production?”
Astor’s response, if you answered, “Private Owners,” was:
You disagree with democratic socialists. They believe that an economy based on private profit -- in other words, capitalism -- is inherently exploitative....They don’t want Soviet-style state control of the economy. While they believe a small number of industries would be best administered by the government, they oppose authoritarianism and support a mostly decentralized economy controlled by workers and consumers, such as through cooperatives.
Perhaps a multi-billion dollar media conglomerate like the New York Times Co. should be careful what it wishes for.