Accusations of socialism have lost their bite

Recently, Joe Biden declared that any future stimulus would need to be a “hell of a lot bigger” than the $2 trillion Cares Act. He isn’t alone. On Tuesday, House Democrats proposed a coronavirus rescue bill that would appropriate more than $3 trillion for health agencies, state and local governments, an extension of unemployment benefits and a second round of stimulus checks to Americans, among other components. Other prominent Democrats are pushing for even more, like monthly $2,000 payments.

Proponents of these and other measures do not seem afraid of being called “socialist,” and many of them have historically leaned toward the center, not the left. That’s obviously because of the moment. But it may also be among the legacies of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ historic run in the Democratic Party primary. In unapologetically embracing the “democratic socialist” moniker, Sanders, I-Vt., dulled the socialist label’s stigmatizing power and may have even normalized the term. In turn, it’s expanded the universe of policy solutions to support Americans during the pandemic – and beyond it.

That’s striking, given McCarthyism’s effect on American politics over the past 60 years. Most know McCarthyism as driving loyalty oaths and investigative boards throughout the 1950s that scrutinized people for associations with communism or broader left-wing sympathies. But its residual effects endured long after the House Un-American Activities Committee closed up shop. They’re on display any time an ambitious domestic policy proposal is denounced as “socialist.”