Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a democratic socialist, but most Democrats aren't. Wanting higher taxes on the really rich and a more generous safety net is one thing. Heck, even some Republicans and conservatives favor those ideas. There's little evidence, though, that the folks who voted for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to weaken the capitalist system and work toward eliminating the private sector. Such are the explicit goals of democratic socialists, or at least, the Democratic Socialists of America, a group of which Ocasio-Cortez is a member.
It should be no surprise, then, that Democratic presidential contenders are rejecting AOC's "democratic socialist" label, even as they vaguely support her fantastical "Green New Deal" idea. In recent days, Kamala Harris flatly declared, "I am not a democratic socialist," while Beto O'Rourke said meeting the nation's "fundamental challenges" will require "harnessing the power of the market." Joe Biden said he was for a "moral capitalism." And Amy Klobuchar dismissed "Medicare for all," as a only a "possibility in the future." That universal health-care plan, of course, is the big policy idea of the one 2020 candidate who currently self-describes as a democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders.
Conveniently, rejecting socialism is a handy way for Sanders' rivals to remind Democratic voters that the Vermont independent really isn't one of them. It's also a sign that despite some polls suggesting "socialism" is rising in popularity vs. "capitalism," Democrats have no interest in letting Trump define their candidate and party as socialist, even with the "democratic" qualifier. Elizabeth Warren has repeatedly referred to herself as a capitalist, although typically with some addendum about markets needing rules, maybe like Germany's. Other candidates might favor aspects of Scandinavian-style capitalism, with its higher income tax rates and larger welfare state.
It would be awesome, however, if there was at least one Democrat running for president who full-throatedly and wholeheartedly favored American capitalism. It's been pretty successful, after all. Recall the Democratic presidential debate in 2015 when Sanders declared America "should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people." Hard pass from Hillary Clinton, who said, "We are not Denmark. ... We would be making a grave mistake to turn our backs on what built the greatest middle class in the history of the world."
Not that we shouldn't see how other countries do things and swipe good ideas where we can. We should. But we also have to be careful. America is kind of its own thing, a continent-spanning nation with a large and diverse population. What works over there, might not work so well over here.
In the 2014 paper, "How can Scandinavians tax so much?" Henrik Jacobsen Kleven, an economist at the London School of Economics, cautions American policymakers from mechanically mimicking the Nordic nations: "They are small and homogenous, racial and religious diversity is limited, human capital is high, and they have been largely unaffected by violent conflict. It is not clear to what degree lessons learned from Scandinavia carry policy implications for large, diverse, and unequal countries such as the United States ... replicating the Scandinavian policies and institutions in societies that are fundamentally different is unlikely to be achievable or perhaps even desirable."
Indeed, we are not Denmark. Or Sweden or Germany. Focusing so much on what other countries appear to be doing right and what America appears to be doing wrong can leave us blind to our many successes. Or even to view successes as failures. Sure, America has lots of billionaires, just like other advanced economies. Some even have more of the superrich per capita than the U.S., including Sweden and Norway. (Though no large economy produces superrich people who get that way through entrepreneurship like America does.) So, too, Big Tech might be getting too big, but Europe would prefer to be regulating its own currently non-existent tech titans than America's. And the idea that U.S. real worker wages have been stagnant for decades is a sketchy economic conclusion that requires questionable assumptions about inflation to be true. The most competitive economy in the world? There's a good case to be made that it's America's.
We already have a major political party whose leader thinks American capitalism has been failing for decades. Does the country really need a second one?