I’m a Democrat in the House of Representatives who recently became a minor cause célèbre in conservative media circles after I publicly pronounced myself a “proud capitalist” distressed by the increasing use of the term “socialism” in our national discourse.
While this term has come to mean different things to different people, it signals disenchantment with — and a desire to discard — the capitalist model that the U.S. has embraced since its founding.
I didn’t expect my comments to be newsworthy, because I think they reflect sentiments shared by most Americans, including my congressional colleagues. I wasn’t trying to feed the right-wing media beast that ravenously awaits any scent of Democratic infighting. I spoke up because I felt compelled based on my life experience. This country has done so much for me, and I care deeply about the direction it’s headed.
When I was a baby, my family fled the communist-led Socialist Republic of Vietnam to escape persecution and seek a better future. We were rescued by the U.S. Navy, which helped us reach a Malaysian refugee camp. From there, a church sponsored our passage to the U.S., where we became proud citizens.
Like other immigrants who found sanctuary in the U.S., I possess a deep well of gratitude for this country. My patriotism is rooted in the fact that, were it not for the combination of U.S. power and generosity, my family’s story likely would have ended in tragedy. It’s little wonder that some of the most faithful citizens in the U.S. were born outside its shores.
Once in the U.S., my parents worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. But I remember them shipping basic supplies to relatives back in Vietnam, where the pursuit of socialist economic policies had resulted in shortages and suffering. In this country, I was able to receive a good education, have fulfilling jobs in the private sector and work at the Defense Department after 9/11. In 2016, I became the first Vietnamese American woman elected to Congress.
Given my background, I genuinely worry that some may take for granted the unique opportunities afforded citizens of this country, leading them to favor, or flirt with, socialist policies.
This term carries historical baggage that can evoke painful feelings in Americans whose families experienced communism or socialism in its darkest form. It’s not easy for me to explain to my Florida constituents who escaped Fidel Castro’s Cuba or Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuela that the socialism proposed by several of my colleagues is different from the socialism they endured. I can argue it’s like comparing apples and oranges. For them, understandably, it’s all poisonous fruit.
While Democrats who accept the “socialist” label are few and far between, the Republican Party as an institution has conducted itself irresponsibly in this capitalism-vs.-socialism debate. When congressional Republicans and the president don’t like a government program, they flippantly condemn it as sign of creeping socialism. For partisan reasons, they seek to paint the entire Democratic Party as drifting toward socialism, when the philosophy is espoused by a small minority of members. Arguably, these Republican tactics have done as much, if not more, to normalize the conversation about socialism than anything Democrats are doing.
I will continue to support the United States’ system of democratic capitalism, consisting of a market economy driven by the innovation of the private sector and constrained by guardrails constructed by a duly-elected government. This model has helped build the greatest nation and economy in the world. It would be folly to abandon it.
However, we must work to reduce the very real inequities in our country. All Americans deserve a fair shot at success. For every story like mine, where an American dream becomes reality, there are countless tales of talented, hardworking people who face insurmountable obstacles because of the circumstances they were born into.
Government has a vital role in breaking down these barriers to advancement. The best way to blunt the appeal of socialism in the U.S. is to improve capitalism so it works better for everyone.
The U.S. is a continuous work in progress. Let’s seek a more perfect union, but let’s not forsake what makes this country special.
Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat, represents Florida’s Seventh Congressional District in the House of Representatives. She wrote this article for the Washington Post.