Though he never used the term socialism in his speech, Roosevelt’s anger at those who accused him of ideological motivations, of applying an economic theory that was anathema to the United States, exploded from the lectern. In line after line, the fiery president defended his actions as pragmatic responses to the real, glaring needs of a changing society. The rich who criticized him, who cloaked their greed in an affinity for capitalism, were dangerously missing his point. He knew the ideological threats of communism and of fascism were real, and were overtaking democracy in European countries. An etched-in-stone commitment to the status quo would be an invitation to extremists everywhere. By fulfilling the government’s obligation to assist its people, he was instilling confidence in the American system. He was vindicating the Founding Fathers.
Now, in a time of far less suffering and little sense of economic crisis, some Democrats are embracing the very title that Roosevelt shunned. It is, in their eyes, truth in packaging. Their proposals sound much like Roosevelt’s: using the power of the federal government to create a fairer society, in which essential services are subsidized by higher taxes on the wealthy. But unlike FDR, they say that, yes, these programs amount to socialism. The Republicans who inveigh against them aren’t misstating their intentions, as Roosevelt claimed. The GOP may be dead wrong to demonize them—to turn a benignly descriptive word like socialism into a scare word—but, yeah, they’re socialists in pursuit of a socialist platform.