The Republican resolution decrying “the horrors of socialism,” which the US House approved by an overwhelming bipartisan majority last week, formally asserted that “Congress denounces socialism in all its forms, and opposes the implementation of socialist policies in the United States of America.”
For all its ominous language, however, the resolution was nothing more than a political ploy. It was a legislative stunt, designed to force Democrats to vote against an ideology that is well-regarded by millions of grassroots Democrats and independent voters—and around 15 percent of Republicans, according to recent polling. A lot of House Democrats fell into the trap. The majority of the Democratic caucus, 109 to be precise, joined the whole of the Republican caucus in backing the measure, which passed with 328 votes. “Yes” votes came from the new House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, his deputies Katherine Clark and Pete Aguilar, and his predecessor, former House speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Just 86 Democrats voted “no,” while 14 more voted “present.”
Republicans celebrated the vote as a political win. But it was a “victory” cloaked in immense irony, as will become evident next year.
The 2024 Republican National Convention is to be held in Milwaukee, the Wisconsin city that for much of the 20th century was governed by three of the most high-profile Socialist Party mayors in American history. When Democrats decided to hold their 2020 national convention in Wisconsin’s largest city, Mark Jefferson, the executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, observed, “It’s only fitting the Democrats would come to Milwaukee. No city in America has stronger ties to socialism than Milwaukee.”
True enough. And Milwaukee was a Socialist Party success story. The city’s Socialist mayors were such able managers that Milwaukee was frequently recognized by scholars of municipal governance as one of the best-run metropolitan centers in the United States—even earning praise from the business journal Fortune. Leaders of both major parties recognized the accomplishments of the Milwaukee Socialists, to such an extent that in the 1930s a Republican governor of Wisconsin made a Milwaukee Socialist his executive secretary, while Socialist Mayor Daniel Webster Hoan was featured on the cover of Time magazine and hailed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Milwaukeeans don’t appear to be troubled by associations with the “S” word, as so many House Democrats clearly are. The city celebrates its Socialist heritage, both physically and politically. An epic span that runs along the Lake Michigan shoreline is named the Daniel Hoan Memorial Bridge, and just last fall the city’s voters sent two democratic socialists to the Wisconsin legislature.
When the House denounced “the horrors of socialism,” those legislators made the case that socialism was—and is—a part of what makes Milwaukee great.
“One need look no further than Milwaukee’s storied socialist history to see the impact of successful and popular socialist policies in action,” declared state Representative Darrin Madison, a Democrat who represents a district that takes in part of the city’s north side as well as the adjacent suburb of Shorewood. “Milwaukee’s ‘sewer socialists’ built pragmatic infrastructure that still defines the city to this day. We should thank socialists for their investments in Milwaukee’s parks, libraries, sewers, museums, and for creating Milwaukee’s first public higher-education institution.”
State Representative Ryan Clancy, a Democrat who represents the heart of the city where Republicans will hold their 2024 party convention, said, “I’m eager to talk about the ‘horrors of socialism’: like investments in infrastructure, parks, labor rights and basic human needs. Or, perhaps, the sort of investment in public education which will allow future leaders to distinguish between the basic political concepts of despotism, capitalism, and socialism.”
Clancy said he was disappointed that so many Democrats sided with Republican leaders who he said were “engaging in legislative name-calling instead of working on solutions to the economic and social crises affecting working-class families across the county.” Wisconsin’s two Democratic House members did not disappoint, however. Representative Gwen Moore, who represents the city (including the convention hall where Republicans will convene next year) voted “no,” as did Representative Mark Pocan, a Madison-area Democrat who told the House,
For 35 years now I’ve owned a small business, giving me significantly more experience as a capitalist than the vast majority of members on the other side of the aisle. So as a capitalist, let me tell you: This resolution is plain ridiculous. It jointly condemns [Cambodian dictator] Pol Pot and [the social democratic country of] Norway. I’m with you on the first one, but, Norway? Please!
Pocan, the former chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, suggested that the real motivation for the resolution wasn’t “the horrors of socialism.”
“Here’s what this is really about,” said the representative.
More and more members on the other side of the aisle are calling for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and many have referred to these programs as “socialism” throughout their existence. The other night in the Rules Committee they showed their cards. Republicans refused an amendment to declare that Social Security and Medicare is not socialism. This resolution is little about intelligent discourse and everything to do about laying the groundwork to cut Social Security and Medicare. I support Social Security, and Medicare, and capitalism, and Norway, and I’m voting “no.”
Voting “yes” was Wisconsin Republican Glenn Grothman, who used his address to the 2020 Republican National Convention to accuse Democrats of aligning with Marxists who were “opposed to the family” and warned, “It shows what danger we are in if we would lose.”
Grothman represents Ripon, Wis., the small college town where, in 1854, the Republican Party was founded by radical abolitionists, land reformers, and a number of members of the Wisconsin Phalanx in neighboring Ceresco. A utopian experiment in communal living that was popularized by Horace Greeley in his nationally circulated newspapers, Ceresco’s residents embraced the teachings of French social theorist Charles Fourier. Fourier, whose writings were highly influential in the early 19th century, is widely considered to have been one of the first great socialist thinkers.
So it would seem that “the horrors of socialism” might even have infused the Grand Old Party. And it is certain that, when Republicans descend on Milwaukee next year, Ryan Clancy, Darrin Madison, and a lot of other Milwaukeeans will be ready to remind them that they are basking in the glory of a city that was shaped by socialism.