We're All Socialists Now

One of the things that quickly tires me is overblown political rhetoric; although it’s easy to give in to the temptation (I sure have a time or ninety), it simply serves no good purpose in advancing a civil and constructive political discourse. I’m all for making arguments for and against candidates (see the post below), but demonization is practically the standard, not the exception these days.

Consider, for instance, the claim that Obama’s policies are socialist; I’ve heard & read all sorts of people make this charge… heck, McCain’s campaign practically says it these days. The question is, does it really stand up? Are Obama’s policies actually socialist in nature? Peter Sutterman succinctly demonstrates that the answer is, well, “no”. As he notes, in socialism, it is the means of production that are collectively owned & administered. And none of Obama’s policies come close to such a position.

While many of Obama’s positions might have the tenor of socialism (as do some of McCain’s, for that matter), they simply don’t fit the definition of socialism, and hence I think it’s a disservice to the truth to throw around terms that simply don’t apply.

21 Responses to We're All Socialists Now

  • Well,

    It does not help the argument that the Democratic Socialists of America endorsed him as did the Communist Party of United States. Plus that idea of Universal Heathcare does not help either.

    Hopefully, we will not get to see how much the government will own the means of production under his administration.

  • Maybe proto-socialists would be more accurate. Though Distributists do come to mind.

  • For an exploration of Obama’s ties to the socialist New Party, Stanley Kurtz has a good overview:

    http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=OTc3NzZkZDYxODZiZjE2OTg5YWRmNDkzM2U0YTIwZGQ=&w=MA==

  • FDR ran as a fiscal conservative in 1932 believe it or not. If you want to see what a candidate will do after he wins, check his past and who he currently has around him in his inner circle of advisors.

  • Maybe it ain’t socialism … but whatever it is, it inserts the government more and more and more into our lives. Maybe, as spelled out by Jonah Goldberg in his book, it smacks more of Liberal Fascism.

  • I think one of the most key ways in which Obama’s agenda is not socialist is that his patchwork of political proposals lacks a coherent theory for the structure of society or the economy. Socialism, communism and even fascism have all had a certain kind of personal ascetic value in which the individual accepts owning less or controlling less for the glorification of the state. I suppose there’s a little bit of this in Obama’s early rhetoric, but it’s virtually disappeared since the convention.

    Instead, Obama seems to focus on a “what can the state do for you” approach for what he sees as the broad center of America. His tax proposals effectively establish government handouts for the middle class. His health care proposal involves a similar promise. And his other proposals ranging from subsidized daycare to subsidized college tuition amount to: “You shouldn’t have to pay for whatever it is that you think you need in order to achieve your lifestyle ambitions.”

    The thing is: previous attempts at collectivization have always been made in the context of lifting up a large working/peasant class while leveling the professional middle class and upper classes. Obama makes fairly little effort to level the upper classes (taxing those making over 250k about 3% more is a dumb idea in a recession, but it won’t ruin anyone’s social standing) and the “working families” he wants to help are clearly bourgeois by any historical standard. So his vision is much more consumerist than a socialist one.

    The best historical parallel I can think of is in the late Roman Republic (before the Roman mob of lower classes became a politically useful enough force to buy off) when leaders tried to buy themselves power by confiscating land and money from the largest land owners and build a political base through a combination of cash distributions to every Roman citizen and granting extra land to small farmers throughout Italy.

    It wasn’t a good idea then, and I’m quite sure it isn’t now either, but it’s something different, I think, from Socialism.

  • So his vision is much more consumerist than a socialist one.

    Precisely. But people don’t get fired up about a candidate who is “consumerist” like they do about an alleged “socialist”.

    Listen, I’m not going to deny that Obama is the most liberal Presidential nominee we’ve ever had in this country… that’s certainly true. But that doesn’t mean he’s a socialist… the word means something, and what it means doesn’t obtain in this instance. As Stanley Kurtz notes, we can just bracket the socialist issue and focus on the fact that he’s to the left of Ted Kennedy (the latter are my words, not Kurtz’s). I think it *hurts* our argument by making the socialist claim, because it reduces our credibility. Better to just emphasize what he actually *is*… it’s bad enough.

  • Chris Burgwald,

    You make an excellent point about hurting our argument.

    Emphasizing Obama’s tax & redistribute strategy can be emphasize through other rhetorical means. ‘Distributist’ or ‘Welfare State’ are words that come to mind.

    We don’t want to be hyperbolic and turn potential converts are those straddeling the fence away from a possible vote for a pro-life candidate or maybe a more socially-conscious capitalist.

  • It is not distributist.

    Welfare spending is welfare spending, period.
    Taxation is taxation, period.

    Socialism is a scheme for the collective ownership of the means of production.
    Corporatism is a scheme for the control of the means of production by an elite. This is what we have in the States. Fascism is the authoritarian version of Corporatism.
    Distributism is a scheme whereby ownership is predominantly noted by use. There are variations, but the controlling idea is that capital cannot be independent from use.
    Capitalism is a scheme that seperates capital from use. It’s most common form is corporatism.
    Democratic Socialism is a scheme for placing the mutual aid provisions of society in control of government. This would invite a fairly long discussion, but the primary reason for the strength of democratic socialism is that democracy destablizes other institutions. For example, very few democratic countries give the Church the right to tax. Without the right to tax, providing mutual aid becomes impossible in the long run.

  • M.Z.,

    You are correct it’s not distributist. I did a little research on Chesterton and Belloc and it doesn’t cut the mustard.

    Distributism looks like a good idea on paper, I just need to learn more about it. I’m reading Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum a second time around to get a handle on it.

  • for what its worth: I live in Ireland, and I saw a sign this morning advertising a meeting of the socialists, and the topic was ‘Will Obama bring real social change?’ Evidently some socialists think its a possibility worth discussing–with the audacity of hope that he will, I suspect.

  • I would have to disagree.

    In the United States we have moved from a production economy, one where we take the raw materials from the land that is availiable to us and make things with it and sell it for a profit, to a service economy, where our skills and labor are the primary means of income. so when you talk of “means of production” what you are talking about is my labor, and since labor has no profit, what you put in is what you get out, then when you take my income ( in the forms of taxes for whatever reason) you take my labor… my only “means of production.”

    sounds like socialism to me.

  • I’d love it if someone feels they’ve got a strong enough grasp of what Chesterton and Belloc were going for with Distributism to present it cogently in a modern context on the site here — but I’ve got to admit that from what I’ve read of it (which is not nearly as much as some, I’m sure) Distributism does not strike me as something which can be taken seriously as an economic system, especially in a modern economy.

    I do think it draws from some very real ideals (localism, subsidiarity) which can and should be applied in the modern context, but I’ve yet to see anything that leads me to take Distributism seriously. Though as I say, if someone feels up to presenting it, I’d love to find that I’m wrong.

  • “I’d love it if someone feels they’ve got a strong enough grasp of what Chesterton and Belloc were going for with Distributism to present it cogently in a modern context on the site here”

    Perhaps a guest post from our former classmate, Mr. Powell? http://pennyjustice.com/about

    He is an entertaining and inventive writer, even when unpersuasive. And, as a practical proposal for economic reform, distributism is very unpersuasive.

  • Just because the specific proposals being advocated aren’t textbook socialism, it doesn’t mean that Obama and his friends aren’t socialist. It just means that those policies are merely a step on the way to socialism. Marx never advocated a one-step transition to socialism.

    Marx did, however, declare three obstacles to socialist utopia:

    1. Private property. Again, while Obama’s proposals aren’t strictly socialist, they would cause incalculable damange to an ownership society.
    2. Religion. Obama has done a great deal to bastardize Christ’s teachings. The second chapter of B16’s Jesus of Nazereth speaks of exactly what Obama is doing: using Christianity to advance a political agenda until Christianity consists of a political or social movement completely devoid of Christ.
    3. Family. We’re slowly seeing schools replace families as the foremost institution for socializing children. It’s nothing short of an effort to eliminate any pre-political societies until all you have left is the state.

    I understand what you’re saying here. But just as militaries have a tendency to “fight the last war,” it seems you’re trying to fight the last Cold War.

    And I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, but this post sounds a lot like the elitist attacks on Sarah Palin. What sort of civil constructive discourse can there be when one candidate has pledged his support for killing the unborn, the born, the disabled, and even his own grandchildren. What, might I ask, is overblown about calling that demonic?!

  • Just because the specific proposals being advocated aren’t textbook socialism, it doesn’t mean that Obama and his friends aren’t socialist.

    So how else do we judge that he’s a socialist then by his policies & statements, Steve?

    But just as militaries have a tendency to “fight the last war,” it seems you’re trying to fight the last Cold War.

    Can you elaborate?

    And I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, but this post sounds a lot like the elitist attacks on Sarah Palin.

    Another request for elaboration. :-)

    What sort of civil constructive discourse can there be when one candidate has pledged his support for killing the unborn, the born, the disabled, and even his own grandchildren.

    Plenty of people have been convinced of the error of their ways with regard to abortion (cf. Nathanson, Bernard), and it’s often because someone persuaded them. I’ll always go back to the bees & honey vs. vinegar thing in terms of approach to those who are wrong.

    BTW, Steve, what about McCain’s position on ESCR? It certainly isn’t *as* bad as Obama’s, but I think it could be likewise considered demonic, agreed?

  • Fus01 & Brendan/Darwin,

    Yes, if someone is able to present distributism applicable to a modern economy I would also welcome a guest post.

  • Just because the specific proposals being advocated aren’t textbook socialism, it doesn’t mean that Obama and his friends aren’t socialist.

    So how else do we judge that he’s a socialist then by his policies & statements, Steve?

    I would say by the following:
    1. His proposals do seek to eliminate or at least make inroads to eliminating the three obstacles to socialism: Private property, family, religion (Bitterly clinging to religion sounds a lot to me like “opiate of the masses”).
    2. Unabashed support for hallmark causes of the socialist movement: socialized medicine, abortion, same-sex marriage
    3. His commitment to philosophical materialism
    4. Commitment to class warfare
    5. The company he kept before hitting the campaign trail

    Just a start

    But just as militaries have a tendency to “fight the last war,” it seems you’re trying to fight the last Cold War.

    Can you elaborate?

    I can concede this point, but it seemed to me as though you were indicating that because Obama policies weren’t identical to a Soviet 5-year plan, that he was automatically vindicated.

    And I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, but this post sounds a lot like the elitist attacks on Sarah Palin.

    Another request for elaboration.

    There are a lot of valid reasons for harsh critiques on the Obama-Biden ticket. Valid reasons for “demonizing” the candidates. I wonder how one can overblow infanticide?

    What sort of civil constructive discourse can there be when one candidate has pledged his support for killing the unborn, the born, the disabled, and even his own grandchildren.

    Plenty of people have been convinced of the error of their ways with regard to abortion (cf. Nathanson, Bernard), and it’s often because someone persuaded them. I’ll always go back to the bees & honey vs. vinegar thing in terms of approach to those who are wrong.

    Point taken. I don’t dispute that at all. But too many of us are willing to administer honey without defending the truth. It’s trendy to take the middle ground or be a moderate or renounce ideology in favor of “pragmatism.” And that leaves us with the bunch of unprincipled Republicans we have in the Senate. I’m not saying you fit into this category, but whenever I hear pro-lifers criticized for not being nuanced enough or demonizing opponents, my red flags go up.

    BTW, Steve, what about McCain’s position on ESCR? It certainly isn’t *as* bad as Obama’s, but I think it could be likewise considered demonic, agreed?

    What about it? I am not here to defend McCain. I don’t even like McCain. That said, I’m voting for him because I believe that ESCR is less evil than ESCR, unrestricted abortion, execution of abortion survivors, same-sex “marriage,” execution of the disabled, etc.

    Would I characterize McCain’s stance on ESCR as demonic? Sure. But there’s a reason that I’m, perhaps, willing to give ESCR proponents the benefit of the doubt. We live in a materialistic culture. Without a decent working knowledge of philosophy and theology, it is difficult for people to see a petri dish of undifferentiated cells as human life. As such, I think it’s possible for pro-lifers like McCain to mistakenly, but in good faith, support ESCR. It is in no way possible to make a good faith endorsement of cutting off a baby’s head and sucking out her brains as Obama does.

    I’m not equivocating on ESCR–I simply think it’s less obvious to the lay man that it’s an evil act.

  • Evidently I used the wrong HTML tags here…sorry for the confusion.

    [NP… I fixed them for you.]

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