In his ongoing push to get a big infrastructure bill through Congress, President Joe Biden sat down for some cordial, bipartisan chats this week with Republican leaders. About two minutes after he emerged from his own meeting with the president, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy sent out a tweet calling Biden’s proposal “radical socialism.”

So much for comity.

Yes, the Biden plan goes well beyond fixing roads and bridges, and he wants to tax the super wealthy to pay for it, but branding it as radical socialism is a response so silly and utterly predictable that you’ve got to believe even McCarthy does not take it seriously.

Since the early 20th century, when progressives were working for a minimum wage, a 40-hour work week and the elimination of child labor, conservatives have been branding any measure that helps working people and the poor as radical socialism. They said it about Social Security and Medicare, too. Now, of course, with their political lives dependent on older white voters who depend on those social-safety nets, GOP leaders dare not call them socialism.

Unfortunately for them, most of Biden’s big ideas are very popular, even with Republican voters, so one has to wonder to whom McCarthy and his colleagues are trying to appeal with their knee-jerk reversion to stale, scary language that seems embarrassingly out of date. Are there still that many folks out there looking for communists under their beds? Or are Republicans reflexively defending their most coddled constituency, the multi-millionaires and billionaires who might have to pay a little more in taxes?

When McCarthy screams about socialism, maybe it is just an old habit he cannot break.

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