In the race for Florida governor, Republican Ron DeSantis is trying to paint Democrat Andrew Gillum as so far out of the mainstream that Gillum "wants to turn Florida into Venezuela," a reference to the failing socialist country.
"The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state," DeSantis said on Fox News.
DeSantis’ comments were more controversial because of his use of the phrase "monkey this up" (Gillum is African-American). DeSantis said his comments had nothing to do with race.
"It had to do with his far-left socialist platform," DeSantis said in a subsequent interview on Laura Ingraham’s radio show.
So, is Gillum’s platform far-left socialist? While there is a level of subjectivity in describing a politician’s political views, we can measure just how far left or out of the mainstream Gillum is.
The DeSantis campaign said "Gillum’s socialism" includes his support for Medicare for All, which would provide health care to everyone. (A governor can’t change federal health care policy, but Gillum says he will champion it.)
DeSantis also points to Gillum’s endorsement by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has called himself a socialist or a democratic socialist. (Gillum endorsed Hillary Clinton over Sanders in the 2016 presidential primary.)
Gillum was asked during a 2018 primary forum if he is a socialist or a capitalist.
"I am a Democrat and an individual in this state who believes that we've had a rough ride these last several years," Gillum said. "People are working, many of them harder than ever, and still can't bring down a wage where they can make ends meet."
For Floridians who are struggling, he said, "these labels mean nothing."
After he won the primary, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd asked Gillum if he is a socialist. This time, he rejected the socialist label outright.
"No, I’m a Democrat. I ran as a Democrat, I am a Democrat. And, frankly, the values that I hold, I think, are consistent with the values of the Democratic Party. In fact, I think they are the values shared by the majority of Floridians."
The narrowest definition of socialism involves a state owning all businesses, with a ban on private economic activity above some level, said Daniel Shaviro, a tax law professor at New York University law school.
But when Sanders uses the term, he is referring to the generous social insurance programs available not only in the Scandinavian countries but also France and Germany, along with high tax rates if needed.
"But note that U.S. tax rates in the early 1960s exceeded 90 percent," Shaviro said. "Were we a ‘socialist’ country then? At the time, only the John Birch Society — not even Barry Goldwater — was saying so."
We sent experts on political philosophy a list of Gillum’s policy positions. Experts generally told us that it’s misleading to state that Gillum has a "socialist platform" — he hasn’t advocated that the government control all forms of enterprise.
If we examine socialism on a continuum, experts said some of Gillum’s policies are further from socialism and some are closer to it.
Peter Dreier, a political science professor at Occidental College, said that for decades Republicans have used the "socialist" label to attack Democrats over policies including the New Deal in the 1930s and the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s.
Many of the ideas that were once considered "socialist" — such as the minimum wage, women’s right to vote, and Social Security — are now mainstream.
Back in the 1960s, when President Lyndon Johnson proposed Medicare, some Republican opponents called it "socialist." But now Americans overwhelmingly support Medicare. In Florida, about one in five people are on Medicare, among the highest rates in the country.
"Gillum is definitely not a socialist," Dreier said. "He is a mainstream liberal Democrat."
Mac Stipanovich, a Florida Republican strategist and critic of President Donald Trump, said in an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times that what Gillum wants is an expansion of Medicare, minimum wage and public education. But the programs themselves are broadly supported.
"If supporting these socialist programs makes one a socialist, then Gillum is indeed a socialist, as is certainly almost every elected official in Florida, Democrats or Republicans," Stipanovich wrote. "A phone booth could not be filled with politicians of any stripe who oppose Medicare, any minimum wage at all, and public schools."
Antony Davies, an economics professor at Duquesne University, said that Medicare fits the common definition of socialism because it is a program by which the government forces one group of people (wage earners) to pay for health insurance, and forces another group (retirees) to consume health insurance.
"Thus, Medicare for All will have the government exerting even more control over people than it does under Medicare," he said.
So, broadly speaking, Gillum’s position of expanding health care access is rooted in the mainstream rather than the far left. So where might his positions shift toward something approximating socialism?
Raising the corporate rate is closer to socialism, in the sense that you could say a 0 percent rate is the most "capitalistic" and a 100 percent rate the most "socialistic," Shaviro said.
One could make a similar argument about the minimum wage too, but the minimum wage was far higher, relative to inflation, for most of the post-World War II period than it is now. And a majority of Americans have supported increasing the minimum wage.
"The real point is that almost no one favors an absolutely pure market system with no government taxation or regulation, and no one in U.S. politics supports going 100 percent the other way, so we’re all just debating mixed systems and it’s not a matter of ‘socialists’ vs. ‘pro-capitalists.’"
Eduardo A. Gamarra, a political science professor at Florida International University, said the comment by DeSantis that Gillum wants to turn Florida into Venezuela is "ludicrous."
Venezuela has devolved because it mismanaged its oil resources. Florida has a more diversified economy that doesn’t rely on one product.
"I don’t think Gillum is talking about nationalizing industries and taking over hotels," Gamarra said. "That’s just not going to happen."
DeSantis said Gillum has a "far left socialist platform."
The reality is Gillum’s platform resembles the policies being promoted by many Democrats. And his positions of expanding access to Medicare and raising the minimum wage have significant public support.
Gillum isn’t on the fringes of the political spectrum and certainly proposes nothing approaching turning "Florida into Venezuela," which would mean the state taking over privately held businesses and large portions of the economy.
We rate this statement False.