You could almost hear "How dare he!" being uttered by the left-wing establishment when Politico reported April 9 that a Republican congressman identified a specific number of "socialists" in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In a speech he gave at his home district, Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., the ranking Republican, Rep. Barney Frank's (D-Mass.) counterpart, on the House Banking Committee, said there were 17 socialists among him and his colleagues in the House.
Some in the media were also disturbed by Bachus' remarks and expressed dismay on MSNBC April 10. Emily Heil, a frequent guest on MSNBC and "Heard on the Hill" columnist for Roll Call, expressed her shock that Bachus would use "socialist" for a description of some members of Congress. MSNBC's Peter Alexander asked Heil what sort of backlash Bachus might face.
"Sure, well I think people are going to be pressing him on this and I think it was really a surprising thing to say - to say something that sort of inflammatory with that level of specificity, with providing an actual number," Heil said.
"It implies that he is keeping a list," she continued. "And, I mean it is kind of strange. Um. One can only assume that perhaps he pulled that number out of the air and didn't really mean it. Um. I think that this is going to require some follow-up and people are going to be talking about this."
According to Heil, this is par for the course for the GOP, but that Bachus' use was different since he assigned a number to it. She then compared his remarks to McCarthyism.
"Now the word socialist has been used by Republicans to attack Democrats for awhile now," Heil said. "We specifically saw that more in the presidential campaign. But definitely congressional Republicans are using that too. But, they sort of use it in association or in a sort of vaguer way. This is the first time we've heard this sort of McCarthy-istic, you know, list of 17. It's a little bizarre."
But, as Ed Driscoll pointed out on his Pajamas Media blog on April 10, Bachus' claim pales in comparison to Newsweek's assertion we're all socialist now.
"17? That's nothing. According to Newsweek, there are exactly 435," Driscoll wrote.
The Newsweek cover story referenced by Driscoll was a brief editorial by Newsweek editor Jon Meacham and former Washington bureau chief Evan Thomas. It attacked Fox News host Sean Hannity and Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., for being in denial about "Socialist America."
Nonetheless, Heil and Alexander suggested Republicans are now using "socialism" maliciously.
"I mean socialism has a very specific meaning," Heil said. "But I don't think that's what people are going for when they use it. They're using, they're going for the connotation of this word and that's sort of a little more vague. So, in the context of a political attack, it's supposed to connote other things like un-American-ness or, you know secretiveness, or something that's frightening - something that's not of us."
Alexander accused the Alabama congressman of "Playing on a xenophobia of sorts," to wrap up the segment.