While it is inconceivable for a socialist to win in the American elections, that is exactly what happened in France earlier this week, when Socialist candidate Francois Hollande defeated incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy, to be the country's next leader.
The reason the word 'socialism' has such a negative connotation in the U.S. is because it's misunderstood.
In its most basic, dictionary form, socialism is all about a revolutionary social class transformation of human society. However, modern socialism, mainly present in Northern Europe, have moved away from that basic concept; socialism in the European sense is better described as a rising welfare state.
There are many benefits of socialism, such as removal of insecurity, emancipation of women, revolution in cultural life, and supposed "golden future." Yet it is difficult to imagine that socialism will be accepted as a mainstream idea in the U.S. in the foreseeable future.
Socialism is a system of social organization in which the means of production and distribution of goods are owned and controlled collectively or by the government. However, in its European form, socialism is more a matter of equal redistribution of wealth and creation of a welfare state. In order for a welfare state to be created, taxes must be higher so the government can cover its expenses. European governments are bigger than in the U.S., but as long as they are effective, Europeans are comfortable with this.
Health care is one issue in which charges of socialism are present in the U.S. Some argue that health care should be made universal, while others claim this is would move the U.S. one step closer towards a welfare or even "nanny" state, with higher taxes and more government. Critics say universal health care is a form of 'socialism,' but this is not very well understood by the average American.
However, even the preamble of the Constitution reads, "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." Welfare was clearly recognized by the founding fathers as an important element of the future of the U.S.
It is ridiculous to say that universal health care cannot be provided because of its cost; all of the states of Europe have universal health care, and all of those countries are poorer than the U.S. The difference between Europeans and Americans, then, is the political culture; Europe is more oriented towards welfare state building than foreign intervention. Europe would never spend as much on defense as the U.S. For Europeans, it is more important to be able to enter a hospital and get served, for children to attend college at the reasonable rate (maximum tuition at one of the most prestigious universities in France, Sciences Po is 9500 euros), receive pensions, and enjoy the opportunities that more organized welfare state provides.
Building roads, hospitals, infrastructure, and providing public education is part of the European "socialist" program. That is why French voters selected Hollande as their next president and are looking for more social equality to protect those in need.
In the U.S., Americans must learn to differentiate between Communism and European-style socialism, and learn from Europe's model to influence their economic system. Privatization of the services provided by the state is not a desirable solution, as it fosters inequality.
U.S. citizens should not be afraid of something that is designed to benefit all. Just because France's president is socialist, does not mean the country is no longer a capitalist country. Trains will still work, there will still be gas and electricity, and water will tastes the same as it did before the elections. However, the new president will help redistribute wealth and afford greater opportunities for the poor.