The worst moment of the entire 2016 presidential campaign was when Bernie Sanders first uttered the phrase "democratic socialist."
Why? Because since last summer, it seems like every online discussion regarding the election has involved slapping a label on an issue or policy and then spiralling into a fruitless debate about its precise application or meaning. And I blame the word "socialist."
Ignoring a cardinal rule of the internet, I read the comments section of one of my recent political posts to bring you the following captivating examples:
"Four more years of a socialist in the White House would be the final nail in our coffin."
"Give it up folks, there's no way this country elects a Senior Citizen that's a lunatic socialist."
"There is to much IF"S [sic] with Sanders! All those social programs for instance, are you ready for a Socialist society---------I'm not!"
He has a point: there most certainly "is to much IF"S." [sic]
My problem with these comments, and with current political discourse in general, is not with the obvious fact that there is a definitive difference between socialism and democratic socialism. That's another conversation that has been discussed enough.
My problem is that while these labels may make it easy to conveniently categorize something, they also deliberately distract from the actual thinking or reasoning behind an idea.
For example: I do not care whether our police and fire departments are socialist, communist, Marxist, Klingon, whatever--I just know that fire departments are a good thing for me to have in my life. Here's how fire departments work: I pay taxes, and if my house is engulfed in flames, then I can dial 9-1-1 and someone will drive to my house and try to extinguish the fire. It's a system that I am fine with. I literally do not care what label you put on that system, because that system is beneficial to me. You could tell me that the concept of the municipal fire department is Satanic, and I'd still support it as long as it would decrease the probability of all my physical possessions being incinerated in a raging inferno.
So, are some ideas socialist? Maybe. But might one of those ideas also be a good idea? Yes. And that should always be the question.
Is Bernie Sanders a Democratic Socialist? Or is he a Socialist Democrat? How far to the left does he lean? Is he a Republican Bull Moose? Is he a populist? Is he a Jewish Nazi? Are Nazis Democratic Socialists? Is Bernie Sanders more like Lenin or Stalin? Is there such thing as a Communist Nazi? What are we even talking about at this point?
None. Of. This. Matters. At the end of the day, issues are more important than labels.
Bernie Sanders wants to change a lot of things. He supports universal healthcare, free college tuition for public colleges and universities, and a $15 minimum wage, and wants to change the fact that ninety-nine percent of all new income generated today goes to the top 1 percent of people in this country.
When Americans--both Democrat and Republican--hear Bernie Sanders discuss these issues, perhaps they shouldn't react simply by screaming "socialist!" or saying "to much IF"S, because LABELS" before immediately dismissing his ideas. Maybe Americans should look at each of the issues being discussed by Bernie Sanders and other candidates on both sides of the aisle and ask themselves "is that a thing that should be changed?" And then they should figure out whether they agree with the means by which a candidate wants to bring about that change.
Many voters have expressed concerns about the difficulty of finding funding for Bernie Sanders' proposed programs, and those are perfectly legitimate concerns. But simply decrying the ideas "because LABELS" is asinine.
"But Cody," you might be saying right now, as your anticipation at writing me a scathing comment pointing out my astonishing stupidity makes your loins tingle, "socialism / communism / Marxism has destroyed every country that has ever had anything to do with it and policies that fit under one label are all evil and a gateway drug to fascism and dictators and we'll turn into Cuba and everyone will be poor and the water of the Mississippi will turn into red blood and swarms of locusts will consume us all!" While you have an excellent point, that is still not quite as valid of an argument as asking "how do we pay for all this?"
(And by the way: I have had enough of the insistence that socialism--or any other "ism," for that matter--has wrought destruction and misery on every nation in the world that adopted any socialist policies ever. Policies do not exist within a vacuum. Some socialist countries are also democratic and some are totalitarian, and there is a massive difference. There are a lot of moving parts within nations and within politics. Even if all of Bernie Sanders' proposals magically passed within the next year--which even I realize won't happen--it still would not make the United States a socialist country in which every single policy and ideology perfectly matched any other socialist country that has ever existed. Hitler is credited with the first public anti-smoking campaign. Americans run anti-smoking campaigns. Does that mean we're all Nazis?)
Ideologies do matter. But they are not the only thing. We just need to understand them, and know when they're being used to manipulate or deceive or avoid independent thinking.
My purpose in writing this post is that I hope voters and political commentators alike will stop this never-ending mutual masturbation of a debate about semantics. There is nothing to be gained. Look at a policy proposal, and if you think it could benefit you or your fellow Americans, then support it. Period.
This post originally appeared on CodyGough.com.