The brightest of the right had convened for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) convention. These are not people visited often by optimism. Their emotions were locked on one setting: alarm.
This year’s foreboding centered not on the great worries of the day, like unaffordable health care or the looming death of the planet. No, the larger fear was “socialism,” which was depicted as something of a parched vampire gnawing on the nation’s throat.
Socialism, of course, is only scary if you want it to be. It’s simply a way of pooling resources for the greater good, producing nice things like snow plows, drinking water, fire departments, and elementary schools. It can also go astray, like when everyday Minnesotans must fork over a billion dollars to build a rich man’s football stadium.
Yet the leading conservatives feared for an entirely different variety, the one you might find in a dystopian thriller starring Lindsay Lohan, where a mysterious “They” roam the country, confiscating everything from beef chow mein to Chevy Silverados.
They might have been overstating the threat just a hair.
Among the general population, socialism’s appeal has been stagnant for the last decade, with a meager 37 percent approval rating. Comparison: It’s just as unpopular as the president.
Yet “socialism” is also notoriously difficult to poll. Since its definition is in the eye of beholder -- ranging from “jeepers, maybe we should share” to “the commies are coming to stab Jesus” – any poll is an apples-to-oranges proposition.
Still, Gallop indicates there’s an upward swing taking place among the left-leaning and the young. We’re guessing they have the Nordic variety in mind, the kind that produces the highest standards of living in the world. Within those two groups, only 47 percent have a favorable view of capitalism – or at least the raptorial edition practiced in America. Fifty-seven percent view socialism positively.
But a conservative convention isn’t where nuance lays its head. Ask Mike Pence, who sees only peril in things like expanded medical coverage and any small step to preserve the planet.
"Under the guise of Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, Democrats are embracing the same tired economic theories that have impoverished nations and stifled the liberties of millions over the last century,” he said in his speech. “That system is socialism."
There is but one choice, the vice president added: The choice "between freedom and socialism, between personal responsibility and government dependence."
We won’t quibble about the other 5,000 or so choices available, since this an argument where logic, reason, and evidence have yet to receive their invites. When 30 percent of the country will believe anything you tell them – remember Sarah Palin’s “death panels”? – anything can be true as long as you repeat it often enough.
So consider this your handy guide to anti-socialism propaganda, coming soon to a grandpa or Facebook friend near you:
Things “They’re” Coming to Take…
Cows: This theory is being pushed by Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University. As he envisions it, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will soon be traveling the country, stuffing entire herds in the trunk of her Prius.
“You just try to have AOC show up at my house and try to take my cows away,” declared Falwell, his chest hairs bristling with exquisite masculinity.
Hamburgers: This plot may or may not be related to the cow kidnapping scheme. “They want to take away your hamburgers…” says Sebastian Gorka, a former aide to Trump. “This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved.”
We’re not exactly sure who will be taking them, but Ocasio-Cortez is likely to take a rain-check. Since America has 94 million cows, it’s doubtful she’ll have extra room in her Prius.
Pickup trucks: “They’re” coming to take these as well, says Gorka. The next time you move to a new apartment, your helpful buddy with the Dodge Ram will be driving a government-issued Nissan Leaf. And he will be too weak to haul anything but your paintings of pheasants in flight.
Capitalists: “They're trying to get rid of all the capitalists,” says North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows, leader of the congressional Freedom Caucus. Under this scenario, it’s presumed that the management staff of every Baker’s Square will be rounded up and sold to the Seward Co-op as indentured labor.
Other Unspeakable Consequences…
Slavery: This warning comes from Diamond and Silk, the famed vloggers and “social media personalities,” who contend that socialism will "drive us back to the days of slavery."
This will inexplicably be paired with a harsh form of Islamic rule, where socialist mullahs cut off your hands for petty theft, then provide lavish welfare if you’re unable to work. “They” need to “understand that we’re not governed by Sharia law,” says Diamond.
Heroin: This is not as good as it sounds, since socialism is "literally like heroin," not actual heroin, says Pawn Stars host and noted conservative Rick Harrison.
"The first shot is great. It’s wonderful. But then the rest of your life is a living hell. And that’s literally what the socialists are doing."
Infanticide: Deposed Gov. Scott Walker used to a big fan of socialism. His crowning achievement was a deal to redistribute $4.5 billion of Wisconsin’s wealth to a Taiwanese video screen manufacturer, with every state taxpayer kicking $1,800 to the cause.
But Walker’s newfound unemployment apparently brought further reflection. He now warns of the coming “infanticide,” where doctors decide life and death for newborns, and women kill their babies when they arrive home from the hospital.
So when your uncle pounds eight Grain Belts before Easter dinner, then pulls out his AR-15 to protect the Hamburger Helper, forgive his alarm.
"People eating dog food to survive --that's the path Democrats want to take us down," says GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. And no one thinks Alpo pairs well with cranberry sauce.