Communism killed some 94 million people in the 20th century. It ranks alongside any other evil of that period, which is saying something. Consequently, no less than Nazism, it is not a word to be casually used or a charge to be lightly made. Both happened in response to Richard Reinsch’s eminently sensible observation in this space that Barack Obama is “not a socialist”—a clause followed hard on by another stating that Obama’s policies were incompatible with the genius of the American regime. Despite the latter clause, this set off a range of posted comments that placed “progressive,” “socialist” and “communist” on the same slippery continuum, with one commentator remarking that they were separated only by meaningless degrees, another claiming that Obama was not a socialist, he was a “radical socialist,” and still another clarifiyng that, no, he was a “fascist” instead.
It is difficult to see what purpose is served by these excesses other than to trivialize charges conservatives ought to take seriously while deflecting punches that might actually land. Certainly no converts are going to be made by forcing choices to falsely stark extremes—either a state scaled back beyond what anyone in the mainstream of politics, Republican or Democrat, today supports on the one hand or the specter of socialism on the other—that, not incidentally, crowd 62 million Americans who voted for Obama into the same pejorative category. A charge of communism is a charge of totalitarianism that conjures the Gulag, the collectivization of farms and the deaths by starvation or slaughter of tens of millions. It is not the same thing as socialism, and socialism is not the same thing as progressivism.