In a truly bizarre moment of television, CNN defended Democrats by insisting that President Trump and Fox News are wrong: 2020 Democratic candidates are not socialists.
On Monday, CNN’s John Avlon chided former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) for refusing to identify themselves as capitalists. He acknowledged that a rising segment of the far Left has openly embraced socialism, but insisted that the socialist label is an unfair weapon for Republicans to use, even today.
“Now, Democrats have often been accused of being socialist. It happened baselessly with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and it’s happening again today,” Avlon insisted. “Fox News has mentioned ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ nearly 1800 times since October, according to transcripts. There’s a strategic feedback loop at the White House as well. Trump has used the term ‘socialism’ or ‘socialist’ more than 100 times during his presidency and he wants to label Democrats socialists in this election.”
Avlon attacked Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) for seeming “determined to help him with this rebranding.” Even so, the CNN analyst insisted that most 2020 Democrats are capitalists, and that’s a good thing.
“You know what shouldn’t be a tough question for someone running for president? It’s this. Are you a capitalist?” Avlon said. ” It’s a lay-up, basic stuff rooted in American history and culture. And yet, Democratic candidates seem to get spun around the axel on this one — in the process, only helping Donald Trump’s re-election.”
CNN played video of Hickenlooper — “who bounced back from a layoff to launch a pioneer brewpub, going on to be two-time governor of Colorado” — and who hedged when asked if he is a capitalist.
When asked if he is a “proud capitalist,” Hickenlooper said, “Oh, I don’t know. Again, the labels — I’m not sure any of them fit.”
He refused to identify himself as a capitalist three times over, showing his clear intention to pander to the openly socialist far Left of the Democratic Party.
Avlon rightly noted, “Hickenlooper seemed afraid of angering Bernie bros. But he was a centrist Democratic governor who helped flip a red state blue. It’s the basis of his campaign and it’s nothing to apologize for.”
The CNN analyst also chided Tulsi Gabbard, who complained about “labels” when asked if she is a capitalist. The congresswoman insisted that “many of these labels are misused, misunderstood.” Avlon agreed with her, up to a point — many Americans have no idea what socialism actually is.
“But Americans know what capitalism is,” the CNN analyst insisted. “After all, America’s basically been a liberal capitalist country since our founding. We’ve had presidents who’ve expanded the social safety net and others who expanded free markets. But it all exists within the framework of capitalism and for all its flaws it’s been far more successful at expanding freedom and prosperity than any of the alternatives.”
Ironically, Avlon ended the segment by praising Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for her answer to the question. This big government liberal unabashedly declared, “I’m a capitalist. Come on. I believe in markets. What I don’t believe in is … cheating. That’s where the difference is.”
“That’s not so hard, right?” the CNN analyst asked. “Democrats who are afraid of alienating some folks on the far, far Left end up winding up playing into Donald Trump’s re-election playbook.”
Yet the issues are not as clear cut as Avlon suggested. More and more Democrats are indeed identifying as socialist, thanks in part to Bernie Sanders — a 2020 candidate and the runner-up in 2016 — and to Ocasio-Cortez, whose Green New Deal has won the support of many 2020 Democrats.
While Avlon’s defense of capitalism is welcome and spot-on, he went a bit farther than he should have. America has had socialist experiments in the past — Woodrow Wilson’s “war socialism” replete with government control of business and propaganda and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal particularly stand out — and Democrats do indeed want to expand the size and scope of government, consciously emulating FDR in many cases.
Indeed, the idea that Barack Obama is and was socialist is not beyond dispute. Obama often defended capitalism in his speeches, but his policies sought an expansion in the size and scope of government and even used the government to force social change on America.
Elizabeth Warren, whom Avlon praised for identifying as a capitalist, has endorsed the Green New Deal — the shoddy and absurd plan to end climate change by updating every single building in America and blasting the U.S. back into the stone age. If she’s the Democrats’ champion of capitalism, Trump won’t have any problem “branding” his opponents as socialist.
In any event, CNN should not be media-splaining Democrats who are themselves unwilling to identify as capitalist. This goes far beyond giving Democrats free campaign advice. Even though Democrats like John Hickenlooper and Tulsi Gabbard are more moderate among the 2020 field and may indeed be more capitalist than socialist, CNN is overstepping its bounds here.
But why would CNN do this? Most likely, Jon Avlon saw the recent Fox News poll showing that Americans are two times more likely to support capitalism (57 percent) than socialism (25 percent). A full 59 percent say they have an unfavorable view of socialism, while only 28 percent say they have an unfavorable view of capitalism.
Identifying as a socialist may be the best path to victory in the 2020 Democratic primary, but it’s likely still suicidal in the general election. Hickenlooper and Gabbard may be biding their time, refusing to identify as capitalists until they win the primary, and then fully embracing the term. Expect this kind of dishonest political maneuvering in the months to come, and expect CNN to provide cover for it.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.