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Is Paul Ryan Making Americans More Favorably Inclined Toward Socialism?

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Cross-posted from The Nation


Frank Zeidler would be delighted.

The last Socialist Party leader of a major American city, Zeider died in 2006 at the age of 93. But, to the end, the man who served three terms as the "red mayor" of Milwaukee always believed that it was only a matter of time before America began to renew its interest in socialism.

It seems that Zeidler was right.

A new Gallup Poll finds that socialism is now viewed positively by 39 percent of Americans, up from 36 percent in 2010. Among self-described liberals, socialism enjoyed a 62 percent positive rating, while 53 percent of Democrats and independent voters who lean Democratic gave socialism a thumb's up.

Needless to say, this provoked the predictable fine whine of right-wing media. The conservative Washington Times newspaper declared: "Yes, Democrats, liberals favor socialism." The Business Insider website announced: "Everything Republicans Fear About Democrats Is True." William F. Buckley's old magazine, National Review, allowed as how there is "much that is peculiar, and much that is worrying" about the new polling data.

That reactionary Republicans get a little hysterical at the mention of the word "socialism" is not news. But the reaction to their reaction is. No two groups of Americans talk so much about socialism in so many public settings these days as Republican candidates and conservative commentators. And this appears to be influencing the discourse.

Indeed, it is fair to say that nothing has done more to promote the cause of socialism than the ranting and raving of Sarah PalinPaul Ryan, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. It's not just that the right has spread the word about socialism, raising the ideology's profile to levels rarely experienced in recent decades -- if ever -- and associating the ideology with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, President Obama and a lot of other programs and people that Americans actually like. The fact that so many agitated, angry and -- at least in some cases -- politically toxic characters go apoplectic at the mere mention of the ideology has undoubtedly caused millions of Americans who don't know much about socialism to say to themselves, "Anything that Paul Ryan does not like must have some merit."

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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