Anyone who has watched Morning Joe the past week has been repeatedly regaled by self-proclaimed conservative host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough blast Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for being a “big government socialist.”
Why does Scarborough call DeSantis by this most politically charged and provocative name?
Well, it was really a moment of political opportunism for Scarborough to bash socialism, out of a complete ignorance of what socialism actually is.
Scarborough’s anti-socialist rants, though, in addition to ignorantly characterizing socialism, were oddly timed for this pandemic moment in a way that actually exposed and clarified the dangers and backwardness of conservative ideology, starkly highlighting the small-government and states-rights elements that enable racism, sexism, and other repressive authoritarian politics.
What Scarborough described as “socialism” was DeSantis’s statewide anti-mask mandate, prohibiting businesses, schools, organizations—anyone and any entity—from requiring people wear masks on their premises to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Scarborough went to town on DeSantis, confusing top-down government stupidity with socialism. He ranted:
“Sounds like a socialist to me. When you’re a governor of a state, and you’re telling businesses, small businesses that they can’t run their businesses the way they want to run their businesses, to keep their stores safe, the way they think they can keep their stores safe, and also when you’re telling local school boards, banning them from taking safety measures in their own areas.
Florida is like five different states. So go tell somebody in Broward county, a local school board in Broward county, that they must do the same thing that happens in Walton county, ten hours, twelve hours away, it’s just ridiculous big government, one size fits all socialism. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Let’s first just start with the medical stupidity and small-mindedness of Scarborough’s diatribe from a policy perspective.
To state the obvious, we are dealing with a highly contagious and transmissible virus. The virus does not know local bounds, and it is undeniable that one of the biggest obstacles to managing the virus in the United States has been the refusal of individual states—and individuals—to address the reality of the pandemic and to take measures to enforce, or even encourage, behaviors and policies (testing, vaccination, masking, distancing) that would protect us collectively from the virus and curb, if not prevent, its spread.
Indeed, a huge reason the nation has not contained the pandemic is precisely because we have not had a nationally-coordinated effort and uniform policies across states, such that governors in states like Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, and Texas have license to endanger the rest of us.
Scarborough’s logic is exactly that which also enables the anti-vaccination movement and, frankly, movements to undermine democracy, legitimate racism and sexism, and disenfranchise voters.
Indeed, Scarborough’s logic not only undermines the basis for a nationally-coordinated approach to managing the pandemic, but also for preserving democracy, voting rights, and civil rights.
Scarborough launches into this argument for the rights of local government at the precise moment when desperately-needed legislation is tenuously in the works in Congress that would create federal law to protect the franchise of voters across the nation from Republican state legislatures who are vociferously attempting not only to restrict access to voting but also to allow the state legislatures themselves to determine the outcome of elections regardless of what voters say.
Would such federal action that supports and defends democracy constitute “big government socialism” for Scarborough?
Were the civil rights and voting rights legislation of the 1960s, necessarily passed and enforced on federal level because some states wanted to sustain racial injustice and segregation, also “big government socialism”?
The thrust of conservative ideology to support state rights has historically been an effort to enable states to maintain racist and sexist cultures and societies on the local levels.
As I wrote last week for PoliticusUsa, our founders imagined democracy as requiring that citizens act not out of narrow self-interest but out of a sense of the public good. They didn’t imagine democratic freedom as one that gave license to each small business, school, community, or even state to do as it pleases regardless of its impact on others in the nation.
Yet that’s what Scarborough’s conservatism calls for.
And his rendering of socialism, a political economy in which all share in the collective fruits of social labor and recognize their interdependence, is just absurd.
There’s not enough space here for a full discussion, but I will refer readers to Albert Einstein’s 1949 essay on socialism which offers a key insight to the problems we face today. He could have written these words today, in fact:
I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.
We have seen a run-away individualism in the nation negating any sense or concept of the public good, precisely because we have not been recognizing our dependence on one another, our interdependence with one another. The failed and chaotic response to the pandemic, particularly in red states, highlights this breakdown.
Einstein’s socialist perspective demands we recognize the reality of our interdependence. Scarborough’s conservatism, so ignorant of the socialism Einstein describes, denies it and poses dangers to a healthy democratic society.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.