There has been much ado over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the socialist who won the Democratic Party primary for a New York congressional seat last week. She appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” “Meet the Press” and “The View.” Yet this isn’t the first time a major party has nominated a candidate who believes in Medicare and higher education for all.
In 2010, I was a senior advisor to Alvin Greene, who won the Democratic Party primary for the U.S. Senate race in South Carolina. His victory was so stunning, late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel suggested having him on his show (Mr. Greene declined), and The Wall Street Journal called Mr. Greene the “most covered candidate of the 2010 election cycle.” A writer of the Rob Schneider comedy movie “Deuce Bigalo 2: European Gigolo” made a documentary about Mr. Greene’s run, and the South Carolina Press Association’s 2012 “Journalist of the Year” even co-authored a graphic novel about him that MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said was on her nightstand. You can see me passing out copies of Alvin Greene’s own graphic novel on CNN.
Like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, Mr. Greene espoused universal health insurance and free public education through college or vocational school. He ultimately lost the contest, likely because America wasn’t quite ready for such thinking. We appear to be moving in that direction today, however.
But can we afford it?
The average cost of state college tuition for residents is about $10,000, and there are about 15 million students in public colleges. That means it would cost $150 billion a year to pay for everyone. (Of course, there are other costs a college student incurs, and some students will want to attend private universities.)
A Brown University study claims that the Iraq War alone cost $1.7 trillion from 2003 to 2013, an average of $170 billion a year. Hence, not invading countries that didn’t attack us could send everyone to college for free who wants to go.
What about health care? In Austria, virtually everyone is covered, and their health-care costs per person are about half ours ($5,000 versus $10,000). In Britain, coverage is also universal (only 10 percent opt to have private insurance), with similar statistics. We don’t have to reinvent the health-insurance wheel: we just need to take the best of the Old World.
Indeed, we already have socialism and love it, which is why Social Security is called the “third rail of American politics.” Pundits who claim that the founders despised socialism are being anachronistic. Karl Marx was born in 1818, long after the American Revolution.
And what about the claim that socialism has killed 100 million? It’s unclear how conservatives made that tabulation, but probably that figure includes famine in China and civil wars, which tend to have two or more sides, and the figure doesn’t include deaths that the U.S. caused either by waging war (e.g., in Southeast Asia) or by trying to overthrow governments (in Africa and Central and Latin America). Socialists in turn could mention deaths due to capitalism — slavery (which was a business) and the extermination of Native Americans.
Despite the scare-mongering tactics of conservative TV hosts, the “socialist” goals of universal health care and free public education are attainable and affordable. And the candidate I advised was one of the first Democratic Party nominees for major office to say so. Just sayin’.
Jonathan David Farley (www.latticetheory.net) was a senior advisor to the Democratic Party’s 2010 nominee for U.S. Senate in South Carolina.