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Is the Washington Policy Center Promoting Democratic Socialism?

The faux “think tank” Washington Policy Center (WPC) has launched a new, head-scratching campaign to combat the “evils” of democratic socialism. They are enthralled with a simplistic fantasy where the government is always bad, and laissez-faire (unfettered) capitalism is always great. It is not a surprising hallucination, considering much of their funding comes from the billionaire class who would love nothing more than to abolish taxes and gut programs that help working families. “Free market” equals freedom for the uber-rich, at the expense of just about everyone else.

And while they claim to be non-partisan, WPC’s actual “policy” recommendations don’t hide their billionaire funders’ priorities very convincingly. Their healthcare “policy” idea is to eliminate tax-exempt employer-based health insurance. Their education “policy” is to privatize and defund public education. Their environmental “policy” is to cut trees faster. But they don’t ever, ever want to see a tax on Washington’s ultra-rich.

Back in April, WPC could barely hide their excitement about a new project they would launch that would turn the tide on American youth increasingly becoming socialism-curious. (Something needed to be done!) These self-anointed Defenders of the Dollar hired a hip marketing agency that gave them “the firepower to fight back against socialism” and “target the youngest generations in Washington.” Reading this, you probably get the same awkward, funny feeling when we first heard: hmm, this can’t possibly go well. And guess what, you’re right.

Much like their last decade of stale, obviously corporate-sponsored policy recommendations, their new “campaign” is hilariously myopic and shot through with falsehoods plus generous copyright infringement.

Here are the top 7 fails from the first week of their ill-fated “Free Markets Destroy” campaign. A huge thank you to WPC for some badly needed laughter during this extraordinarily difficult year.

#1. Free Markets Destroy is the most baffling name for an “anti-socialism” campaign possible, and their Facebook followers agree.

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Okay, you want to get young people to love free markets. So what positive word can you associate with it? Create… Energize…Win! Nope. They decided DESTROY had the upbeat tone they were looking for. It was an epically confusing launch for WPC, where even their most ardent fans on Facebook were putting their palms to face. Or worse yet, accusing WPC of being “socialist dimwits” themselves.

#2. “Borrowing” trademarked Wal-Mart, Pfizer, and Tesla logos for the campaign.

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One of two things is going on here. Either the titans of corporate America are co-sponsoring this campaign, or the Washington Policy Center has blindly co-opted these logos to sell t-shirts and promote a suspiciously anti-capitalism message on billboards. As one of their confused fans on Facebook said, “what moron is paying to put that up.” In conclusion, WPC is either a corporate shill or infringing on intellectual property – perhaps they will clarify this.

#3. Using billowing, carbon-emitting smokestacks to illustrate how the free market is destroying climate change.

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To us, and most people, it sure looks like that factory is destroying the environment, with very colorful acid rain falling all around. Continuing their theme of “let’s always pick the wrong thing in this campaign,” they used a dystopic factory spewing smoke to symbolize improving Earth’s health. Thank you for fixing our climate crisis, carbon-emitting factories?

#4. Hey children, we have the perfect solution for your boredom – get working.

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Really, how do you explain the photo choice here? These Industrial Age youths are thanking the mill boss for keeping their minds occupied? In fact, “free market” factory owners often preferred child labor because kids were viewed as more manageable, cheaper, and less likely to strike. In conjunction with labor unions, it was anti-sweatshop groups that finally helped the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, regulating minimum ages of employment and hours of work for children. It took federal legislation to let kids go back to being kids.

#5. Mischaracterizing the Rev Martin Luther King, Jr. as a free-market champion.

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In their campaign launch video, WPC shows a woeful ignorance of history by using King’s image to support their flawed narrative. Many modern-day conservatives like to gloss over Dr. King’s radical economical views and admiration for labor unions. He would likely despise the WPC’s work, especially being deployed as a prop in their marketing. King wrote in 1967:  “Cap­i­tal­ism has often left a gap of super­flu­ous wealth and abject pover­ty [and] has cre­at­ed con­di­tions per­mit­ting neces­si­ties to be tak­en from the many to give lux­u­ries to the few.”

#6. Using other historical figures to push an “either/or” fallacy about innovation.

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In the same video, the WPC held up other innovators as proof that free markets rule and big, lousy government better stay out of the way. The only problem is that each of the innovators they show worked with the government on their path to success. An undergraduate of public Montana State University, scientist Maurice Hilleman went on to be a federal employee at the Walter Reed Army Hospital for almost a decade. There he began his extraordinary career in vaccine development. Even later, when he worked for Merck, he coordinated with the FDA and local public health offices to test and distribute the vaccines. Agriculturist Norman Borlaug, also a graduate from a public university, got his start at a Mexican government grain institute called CMMYT. With funding from the Mexican Secretariat of Agriculture, Borlaug developed high-yield, disease-resistant wheat that provided food security. WPC’s promo film even features Elon Musk, whose company Space X has received billions in NASA funding for their work. Public higher education and/or federal funding was vital for all of these innovators’ success.

#7. Thinking that groovy graphics are going to get you the youth vote.

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Listen, WPC: while we appreciate all the energy that went into your “radical” graphic design, you are on a fool’s errand. You’re worried that young Americans are enthusiastic about socialism, but let’s help spell it out a bit. Young people are buried under academic debt and overwhelmingly earn wages that won’t pay the rent or their healthcare bills. They want respect, safety, and fair pay on the job. They may have lost health insurance when they got laid off during the pandemic. They can’t conceive of how they’re going to afford to buy a home. They are in an economic crisis, yet all you keep pushing are ideas to strip the government of tools to help them while ensuring the rich become even wealthier. Tired of waiting for wealth to “trickle down,” the youth who you so desperately want to “target” with your messaging, are never going to buy what you’re selling.

#BONUS. To be fair, WPC’s campaign IS getting some traction in political circles…

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The lowly 6th place finisher in the 2016 Republican primary, Jeb Bush knows plenty about a campaign falling flat. During his campaign at a convention event, he memorably asked the audience to “please clap” when they met his speech with silence. Resurfacing earlier this month from the “where are they now?” file, he showed up on Twitter to applaud the Washington Policy Center. Such high-level celebrity endorsement must feel nice after the utter confusion and general lack of clapping from the rest of WPC’s followers. Please retweet?

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