Campaign check: Perdue accuses opponent of ‘socialist’ agenda

Credit: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The statement:

“He will do and say anything that supports his radical socialist agenda.” - Sen. David Perdue on Jon Ossoff in Savannah debate on Oct. 28, 2020

What we found:

All political parties have their playbooks, and a well-worn page in the Republican one suggests hammering Democrats and their policies with the “socialist” label.

This is Democrat Jon Ossoff’s second run for Congress and the second time he is being tagged as a socialist while visions of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders dance in ad-watchers heads. (The claim was made previously in 2017, when Ossoff ran for Tom Price’s 6th District U.S. House seat and lost to Karen Handel. President Donald Trump also made a similar claim this year against former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris.)

Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

But in Georgia’s under-the-microscope U.S. Senate race that’s now headed to a January runoff, was Republican incumbent David Perdue correct last month in Savannah — and multiple times before and since — when he said his opponent “will do and say anything that supports his radical socialist agenda?”

Socialism is “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

The label can be applied to Social Security and Medicare, programs popular with both major political parties and many Americans. It also can be used to describe the Clean Air and Water acts, even farm subsidies and small business loans, said Chris Grant, chairman of the political science department at Mercer University in Macon.

“Essentially, any time the ‘public sector’ is at work, it would fit under some definition of socialism,” he said.­­­­

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In campaign appearances and political ads, Perdue often cites positions on issues, such as immigration and and government-run health care, that he says reveal socialist leanings. His campaign points to endorsements of Ossoff by Sanders and the progressive group Democracy for America.

Sanders, a self-described “democratic progressive,” and Democracy for America endorsed Ossoff in 2017. But neither endorsement referenced Ossoff’s views on the issues.

Democracy for America cited Ossoff’s background as an investigative filmmaker and congressional aide, while Sanders praised his “energy and grassroots activism” and said his election would help Democrats regain the House. Sanders saw some blowback from Democrats on his endorsement after saying he didn’t really know much about Ossoff or his political leanings.

“Some Democrats are progressives, some are not,” Sanders said in 2017. He has endorsed Ossoff.

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So do Ossoff’s stances reflect a radical socialist agenda?

Experts consulted say, “No.”

Carl Cavalli, professor of political science at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, said, that while the term radical is “an eye-of-the-beholder kind of thing,” the policy changes that Ossoff appears to support are not as extensive as many in his party would like.”

For example, on health care reform, Ossoff appears to favor universal health insurance coverage and makes the distinction between that and a single-payer system or a government-run system, Cavalli said.

“This puts him in a more moderate position than some progressive Democrats or true socialists,” he said.

Mercer’s Grant concurred, saying: “None of [Ossoff’s] agenda items seem radical to me.”

They are “definitely not as conservative as the current Republican pursuits but far from anything resembling radical socialism in any comparative political system,” he said.

The Perdue camp has made other misrepresentations about Ossoff, including claiming he was endorsed in 2017 by the Communist Party USA, something the party leadership says never happened.

Sen. Kelly Loeffer is also claiming her Democrat opponent, The Rev. Raphael Warnock, is a “champion of the far-left’s socialist agenda.” Warnock’s campaign says his views are within the political mainstream, the Associated Press reported.

Socialism has a negative connotation in many circles. It’s believed to have cost Joe Biden the win this month in Miami-Dade, and thus Florida, where Trump and the GOP are said to have played to deep-rooted fears in the Cuban and Latin American communities that Democrats lean socialist or communist.

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