This "Obama is a socialist" debate might have fallen to the back burner for a little bit, as Election Day Monday morning quarterbacking goes into full throttle and President-Elect Obama begins preparations for becoming our country's next President. But I imagine that accusations of socialism will resurface when Obama proposes his first budget next spring.
Those accusations are wrong. Obama is no socialist.
As I commented on my Facebook page repeatedly over the past week, socialism involves state control over the means of production. State ownership of major industries and the finical sector, for example, would be trademarks of socialism. Obama's higher tax rates for the wealthiest in our society may or may not be good policy, but it is not socialism. Private enterprise will remain private under an Obama administration.
Ironically, it has been under a Republican administration that our country has moved closer to socialism than ever. The federal government now owns or controls some of America's largest banks and insurance companies. Wall Street now has an inside-the-beltway mailing address. And another trademark of socialism – the abrogation of civil rights – has increased under the Bush presidency. Warrantless wiretaps, torture, indefinite confinement, wide-ranging claims of "executive privilege" . . .
But the accusations that Obama and the democrats are socialists will remain, a legacy of this nasty campaign whose negative tone was brought to you by John McCain. Factually that claim is incredibly erroneous, but it is also terribly disturbing. A few thoughts.
"Socialism" is synonymous with "unAmerican," or "unPatriotic." Not long ago in our nation's memory we fought a Cold War against the Soviet Union and the communist world. It was an us-vs-them, you're-either-for-us-or-against-us world. Democracy, free markets, and freedoms vs. dictatorship, state-controlled socialist economies, and repression. John McCain, a product of the Cold War (which was one of his great vulnerabilities in facing a post-boom opponent), knew quite well what he was doing when he applied the "socialist" tag to Obama – he was calling Obama an enemy of America (an easy thing to do when talking about an African-American whose middle name is Hussein).
I was also struck how any recognition of socio-economic inequality in our society, any criticism of capitalism, was deemed "socialist." On Facebook, on blogs, and in the soundbites of supporters at McCain rallies, I have read and heard claims that "taking from the rich to give to the poor" is socialism, and that even talking about rich and poor is fomenting class warfare. If recognizing and lamenting class distinctions in society is socialist and unAmerican, then should we say that the Bible is a socialist text book? Take a look:
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
– Luke 1:51-52
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.
– Matthew 19:24
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing.
– Deuteronomy 10:17-18
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.
– Zechariah 7:9-10
5Recognizing class distinctions and seeking to address the plight of the poor does not make one a socialist. (Yes, there's a What's the Role of Government? question here, which I'm not entertaining in this blogpost, but is a terribly important yet often overlooked issue.)
I hope that I'm wrong, and that these hateful claims of Obama's supposed socialism will not return to the mainstream political debate. Such claims are factually wrong and tinged wth the slash-and-burn, you're-either-for-us-or-against-us struggle that defined the United State's global struggle during the Cold War, and which became a domestic plan d'guerre over the past 8 years.