Column: If Andrew Gillum is a socialist, so is Ron DeSantis

Published September 3 2018
Updated September 4 2018

The early narrative by U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and his supporters in the governor’s race is that if Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is elected governor, Florida will become another Venezuela. That argument is so preposterous that it is promoted only by demagogues and believed only by dimwits, of which there are, unfortunately, a gracious plenty of both these days.

When unpacked, the argument’s major premise is that if a socialist is elected governor, Florida will become another Venezuela. The minor premise is Gillum is a socialist. And the conclusion is, therefore, if Gillum is elected, Florida will become another Venezuela. The fact that the major premise is false should be obvious to anyone with even a smidgin of knowledge about government in Florida and America, and its absurdity infects the equally ludicrous conclusion. But the minor premise warrants investigation.

Is Andrew Gillum a socialist?

The most often cited evidence of his socialist sins are his support for expanding taxpayer-subsidized health care coverage to everyone, or Medicare for all; raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour; and increasing the state corporate income tax from 5 percent to 7 percent — a 40 percent tax hike is the way it is breathlessly described by the DeSantis propagandists — to fund a $1 billion increase in funding for education.

The dictionary definition of socialism is a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned and regulated by the community as a whole. Let us concede, arguendo, that Medicare, the minimum wage and traditional public education are all socialist in intent, operation, and effect, as are Medicaid, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and funding the delta between Social Security contributions and benefits to name but a few of the numerous "socialist" programs with which public policy in America is riddled.

To continue on the path on which we have set our feet, if supporting these socialist programs makes one a socialist, then Gillum is indeed a socialist, as is certainly almost every elected official in Florida, Democrats or Republicans. A phone booth could not be filled with politicians of any stripe who oppose Medicare, any minimum wage at all, and public schools.

But surely DeSantis is not a socialist. Yet, if he is not, then why is Gillum? It has to be because Gillum wants more, much more, of the things DeSantis also supports. Gillum wants more comprehensive health care coverage, a higher minimum wage and more money for schools. But that cannot be right either; disagreements about the appropriate scope of publicly subsidized health care coverage, what constitutes a living wage and how much is adequate education funding are the rule rather the exception, both between the two major political parties and within them.

Clearly, the differences between DeSantis and Gillum on these issues and other "socialist" programs are differences of degree, however great, not differences in kind. They are the clash of the world views of an aggressive heir of Great Society liberalism who sees a much larger role for government in promoting the welfare of the commonwealth and a right wing populist who feeds on the anger, envy and angst of those who want to make America 1956 again.

It will be unfortunate if hyperbole and hysteria deprive Florida voters of the potential benefit of the DeSantis-Gillum race for governor — a candid dialogue between radically contrasting men with radically contrasting visions of the future. Imagine a contest of ideas, a straight up debate about whether public education needs more funding, how much, for what, and from where. Or a serious discussion about whether adequate, affordable health care for all is a moral imperative amounting to a right or the pipe dream of bleeding hearts who would bankrupt the state and corrupt the morals of the populace with their fuzzy-minded maundering.

But, as H.L. Mencken famously said, nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people, a truism tattooed on the frontal lobes of the brains of politicians and consultants of both parties in this time of virulent tribalism. So we can expect to hear more, a lot more, about DeSantis being a secret Grand Klagon of the Klan and about how feral dogs will eat starving babies abandoned in the streets by desperate mothers if Gillum is elected governor.

What a waste of a perfectly good election.

Mac Stipanovich is a Republican strategist and Tallahassee lobbyist who was chief of staff to former Gov. Bob Martinez.