Stepping out of the Soviet shadow by @DavidOAtkins

Stepping Out of the Soviet Shadow

by David Atkins

I was going to cover billionaire Ken Griffin's repulsive comments today, but it seems digby has already beaten me to the punch, and admirably so. There's just one aspect to Griffin's defense of his Objectivist worldview that bears closer scrutiny, and it's this:

This belief that a larger government is what creates prosperity, that a larger government is what creates good (is wrong). We’ve seen that experiment. The Soviet Union collapsed. China has run away from its state-controlled system over the last 20 years and has pulled more people up from poverty by doing so than we’ve ever seen in the history of humanity. Why the U.S. is drifting toward a direction that has been the failed of experiment of the last century, I don’t understand. I don’t understand.

Russia and China have made a positive move away from suffocating totalitarian states and toward more market-based approaches, true. But they're hardly free democracies at this point; they're kleptocratic plutocracies where the vast majority are deeply impoverished, with a few princes and robber barons at the top. Sort of like late 19th century America, but even worse. It's Griffin's ideal system, one that serves men like him very well. Which is precisely why men like him shouldn't be able to spend unlimited sums of money to buy off politicians.

But more importantly, I suspect this sort of rhetoric--where it works at all--only works for people over the age of 30 who grew up in the shadow of the Cold War and the Soviet Union.

The Cold War did a lot of damage to this country in myriad ways. But one of its most damaging legacies has been a conservative rhetoric of policy dualism. It fostered the idea that there are two ways of doing things: 1) the American Way, and 2) the Commie Way. Socialism was lumped in with Communism, and anyone in America who pointed to the successes of the European or East Asian social democracies was drowned out with red baiting market triumphalism.

The entire infrastructure of the Left got beaten with that rhetorical stick so long and so often that it has become reflexively defensive. Perhaps behind only the power of race resentment and the need to get corporate contributions to match the right wing's spending prowess, fear of being labeled as Communists has been the single biggest reason for the long-standing rhetorical cowardice of most of the institutional American Left.

And I think this is one of the reasons the Millennial generation holds such promise. Millennials have no direct memory of Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin and Kruschev. There is only the faintest memory of the Reagan presidency, if any. Red-baiting appeals of the kind that Griffin is making fall on completely deaf ears to the under-30 crowd. When we think of socialism, we don't think of Soviets and Red China; we think of France, England and Germany. When we hear about "universal healthcare", our minds turn toward Sweden and Japan. They aren't couched in automatically hostile territory, and we don't feel the need to apologize automatically to jingoistic brethren for supporting them.

As a 31-year-old, I read Griffin's remarks and laugh not just at how wrong and self-serving they are, but also at their tone-deafness and appeal to ancient irrelevant bogeymen. But then I realize that it's tone deaf to me, but not necessarily to a 59-year-old swing voter in Missouri. And it occurs to me that while the future is bright, we're going to be working through a lot of the legacy of Cold War rhetoric for at least another generation.