MINOT, N.D. — For some time now, columns and letters to the editor in our region's newspapers, not to mention numerous talk radio and social media commentators, have attempted to explain to us that socialism isn't all that bad.

As some of the authors of these arguments tell us, we're already socialists because we have schools and fire departments and water/sewage systems.

Heck, North Dakota even has a state-owned bank and grain mill! So wave the red banner and hang up the photos of Trotsky, I guess.

These cranks are also fond of pointing to Scandinavia, and the expansive social welfare state that exists in those countries, as further proof of the efficacy of socialism.

The motivation behind these efforts is transparent. It is an attempt to whitewash the legacy of an extremist ideology, which has grown popular again with a generation of Americans at a historical remove from realities like the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall.

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You'd think the modern examples of the horrors of socialism on display in places like Venezuela and North Korea would be sufficient deterrent from espousing the ideology, but apparently not.

This attempt at revisionism is all the more critical for Democrats right now given that Senator Bernie Sanders - a self-declared socialist and belligerently consistent apologist for socialist dictators - is leading their pack of 2020 candidates.

Partly, though, we conservatives are to blame as well.

In the past, many on the right, including this humble columnist, have had a propensity to dismiss proposals to initiate or enlarge government programs as "socialism."

We've dismissed often dismissed the policies of the Scandinavian states as "socialism."

These accusations, though founded in conservatism's reasonable suspicion of government power, were imprecise.

I suppose it's our just deserts that our glib imprecision has come back to haunt us.

Which is why I found the recent comments of Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, speaking at the Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, so refreshing.

"I know that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy," Rasmussen told his audience.

"The Nordic model is an expanded welfare state which provides a high level of security for its citizens, but it is also a successful market economy with much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life as you wish," he added.

The Nordic model is big government (and something the Nordic states seem to be drifting away from, which is perhaps a topic for a different column).

The point is that the Scandinavian states are not socialist.

If what Bernie Sanders and his supporters want is the Nordic model, they should stop calling themselves socialists.

I suspect what they want is something much more authoritarian, much more expansive and controlling, which is why they cling to the label and attempt to hoodwink the masses as to its meaning.

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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.