"Democracy," "socialism," "capitalism"-all are hot button words; words that elicit an emotional reaction that often blurs their real meaning and stops any rational interactions in their tracks, allowing partisan and knee-jerk responses to take over. All of this makes them easy targets for demagogues and cynical political opportunists to use to manipulate public opinion and demonize political foes.

The way to keep all this heated rhetoric from influencing your opinions is to stop and remember the meanings of these words.

First, there is a difference between the three words. Democracy is a form of governance while both socialism and capitalism are economic systems-systems about how the wealth of a nation should be used.

I might point out that in the theory behind socialism, democracy is the goal and the basis of the theory. With capitalism there is no such direct connection with democracy although capitalism has, at times, been compatible with democracy, but also with more authoritarian forms of governance and can easily lead to an oligarchy.

One other point-we must remember that democracy is based on the ordinary citizens having a voice in the governance and direction of the nation. The result is that keeping the citizenry healthy and cohesive is the very heart of the entire system. There is no way to have a democracy without social concerns, social justice and basic fairness and equality as well as public programs and services. While all of these elements are similar to some of the basic elements of socialism, in no way does it rule out capitalism and free enterprise as long as that capitalism also supports the health of a democratic society.

So, step back from the heated rhetoric, take a deep breath and think about what might provide the best way to sustain democracy in this nation.

Bob Passi

Baxter