Mark Leibovich at the New York Times had a great column over the weekend on the redeployment of the term "socialism" during the presidential election and since.
“Socialism” became a star of subsequent McCain and Palin rallies in the same way that a dead bull is the star of a bullfight ...
Last week’s blizzard of economic developments — the administration’s new budget, its partial takeover of another major bank — was fortuitous timing for CPAC, which ran from Thursday to Saturday, giving conservatives an opportunity to give full-throated voice to this re-fashioned refrain.
“The right would use ‘socialist’ against Franklin Roosevelt all the time in the
1930s,” said Charles Geisst, a financial historian ... “To hear him referred to as Comrade Roosevelt during that period was not unusual.” ... it is a less potent slam than it once was. Vermont’s Bernie Sanders — an actual real-life, self-identified socialist in the United States Senate — agrees ... since there are so few Communist regimes left today, and generations have grown up since the end of the cold war, that stigma has been muted. Mr. Sanders said he was encouraged that even some conservative critics ... seem to be equating Mr. Obama’s economic agenda to “European-style socialism,” ... “I think this country could use a good debate on what goes on in places like Sweden, Norway and Finland,” said Mr. Sanders, saying that notions like universal health care, more funding for education and a greater tax burden on the wealthy have accessible models in those countries.
I haven't done an inventory recently on how much I agree with classical Trotskyism, but I have long agreed with the Socialist Workers Party's assertion that U.S. imperialism lost the cold war. One of the ways they lost is linguistically (though we should be careful not to overdetermine the impact of this). Everyone--and I mean everyone engaged in a serious conversation about capitalism versus socialism since the 1990s--has always recognized distinctions in "socialism" that rendered an absolute defense of free markets virtually impossible.
What has happened in the last six months is unprecedented, but it's also a reflection of how working people, academics, and even non-GOP politicians have already long acknowledged that "socialism" is not totalitarian, that it's somewhat inevitable, and that it was cleanly salvaged, saved, from the ashes of Stalinism.