This is as it always has been. In 1964, George H.W. Bush called Medicare “socialized medicine”; Barry Goldwater said it was like giving away free beer and vacations to pensioners. A generation before, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the New Deal and Social Security, congressional Republicans railed about “socialism.”

Democrats did not cower in the face of these attacks. They won great legislative — and political — gains by brushing them aside and fighting for health security and greater economic fairness.

This, of course, does not mean that the most sweeping proposals are the best proposals, either substantively or politically. The right path forward on health care, taxes and climate change should be the subject of robust (but constructive) discussion over the next two years. But Democrats should not back down for fear of the “socialism” label, or out of some illusion that more modest approaches will be spared that attack.

There’s a proverb that applies here. When the English authorities long ago imposed capital punishment for any theft of farm animals, no matter how small, the pilfering of the fattest, most valuable livestock went up. If taking any animal was going to get you hanged, “might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb,” the folk wisdom said.