This started out as a reply to Chris’s “We’re All Socialists Now” post, and just kept going, so I decided to make a whole post out of it instead of clogging the comments.
There is a huge intellectual dishonesty in all of politics, in which it is never so important to simply call a spade a spade, but to distort it for political benefit. A spade to one party is the earth-tearing, vegetation-mutilating instrument of doom, while to the other party it is the vehicle of agricultural and personal independence.
The party of pro-earth rights deplores the violence of the instrument of doom, and castigates anyone caught with the instrument of doom as ground-raping, plant-hating bigot. The party of tillage and freedom, aghast at the monstrous stupidity of the anti-agricultural freaks, denounces anyone who dares question the instrument of independence as unpatriotic and uncaring about the poor and destitute who would benefit from the efforts of those willing to apply the vehicle of agriculture to the ground and reap–perhaps not as nature intended, but certainly in the triumph of human endeavor–a bountiful harvest.
Perhaps Obama isn’t a socialist, but then, socialism is a term which has become the catch-all for any entitlement program or redistribution of wealth. Socialism is now a term like fascism, or communism–a dirty word applied to anyone who doesn’t agree with the free market. But then, it is easier to catch attention and wrap up a whole slew of misgivings with the word, which is why people will use it. Which is why the McCain campaign used it.
McCain’s campaign has the been the campaign “in search of a clear message”. Perhaps more accurately, it is the campaign “in search of a soundbite”. Through all the debates, the commentators have spoken about the lack of “knockdown arguments”, those witty or biting statements that could be repeated ad nauseum on commercials, in talk shows, and written on bumper stickers so that 4 years later, everyone behind you in traffic can still recall–with fondness or bitterness–why the public was duped into electing this particular yokel into office. I can think of a few good ones already: “Obama–Got Socialism?” or “Obama–Your Hard-Earned Cash in the Hands of Slackers” or “Obama–Because You Didn’t Really Need That Money Anyway” or “Obama–Helping the Rich Become Poor Since 1992”. The real concern is that the message, which can be spelled out in infomercials or debates, seemingly cannot be transmitted in long form. The candid campaign manager realizes that the 90 minute debate outlasts the attention-span of the average American by a good 89 minutes 48 seconds, and the only way to attract the undecided voters is to fling slogans like scatter-shot pellets.
The difficulty, of course, is trying to compress into eight words or so an entire essay. To the politician struggling to make clear why his policies are so much better than his opponents, this has to be frustrating beyond belief. It has to be similar to the frustration of the photographer who takes a beautiful, finely detailed, ten megapixel shot, and then has to compress it down to 320 x 240 thumbnail. All the details are lost, and trying to expand the thumbnail back into the full-size photograph leaves it grainy and ugly.
Obama’s campaign has it easy. With the unpopularity of the current president, all Obama has to do is repeat endlessly “Just like Bush! Just like Bush! Awk! Just like Bush!” He can get away with this because he already beat McCain to the punchline. From day one, Obama has been the candidate of change, and when McCain tried to say, “Hey, I’m about change, too. I’m a maverick reformer!” Obama had the advantage of saying, “I was here first. Find your own message.”
I would really like to sit down and explain exactly what Obama’s policies are, where they touch on socialism, where they differ, and how his economic plans compare with McCain’s. But then, I’m at 638 words already, and anyone with the tenacity to be reading this far into my post probably knows the differences better than I do. If I’m lucky, the average reader made it through my bumper stickers before quickly scanning down the post for any other blatant witticisms, and, not finding any, left a comment about how he/she liked/hated my slogans and how clever/bigoted I was for writing them.
Of course, that is an entirely unfair statement about the thoughtful, dedicated readers who are thirsting for intelligent discourse. But let’s be honest. How many people really have the time to sit down and slog through pages upon pages of detailed critiques? If I do all the reading of news sites, personal blogs, and online magazines that I want, I easily kill three hours. As a graduate student, I have the luxury (to find out more about the life of a graduate student, please see www.phdcomics.com) of taking three hours in the morning before trying to focus my attention on research, making progress in 12-second bursts of insight scattered through the day.
But, for those precious few who have waded the muck of seven hastily crafted paragraphs already, here’s my insight into the matter. Obama wishes to aid the poor and lower middle class. Anyone who denies this needs to set aside his tin hat for a moment. In all that I have seen and read of Obama’s viewpoints, philosophies, and insights, everything points to a man who is genuinely concerned with the wellbeing of the less fortunate. What we can argue is whether his solutions actually fix the problems he perceives.
Obama looks at the wealthy and makes the following conclusions. A man with millions of dollars in savings and investments has more money than he needs to survive comfortably. A man working for $40K a year while supporting a wife and 1.5 children has a much harder time making ends meet (especially in paying for the medical bills on that .5 of a child). And a single mother scraping by at $6.75 an hour had better hope that unexpected expenditures never crop up, because she simply can’t pay for it. It makes sense, therefore, for the man with millions of dollars to contribute directly to the wellbeing of that single mother, and to offer a helping hand to the man making $40K a year.
In light of all the corporate scandal that keeps coming to light year after year after year, it is no wonder that Obama then concludes that the rich really aren’t doing anything to help the poor. Now some of us free-market capitalists splutter about how the rich are the backbone of a thriving economy, and how rich people make more jobs that benefit everyone (eventually), but it really makes senses that others would not see things in the same light. It is hardly satisfying to look at millionaires in gratitude when you’re stocking shelves overnight at Wal Mart (which I have done, so this isn’t a disparaging comment).
Obama also recognizes the truth, “to whom much is given, much is expected”, or to quote Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility.” When it does not seem that the rich are fulfilling that obligation, something must be done to rectify the situation. If his plans expand government, so be it. The expansion of government is the natural consequence of the lack of personal responsibility. (And of course, the lack of personal responsibility could be attributed to a government that assumes those responsibilities itself, but that’s a different matter.)
In general, Obama is a truly compassionate man. His Candid Camera moment with Joe the Plumber is testimony to that, even if his redistributionist inclinations are less than appealing to those of us who see hidden costs in his plans. But he understands that no matter which policy you make, some people are going to be hurt by it. After all, “to make an omelet, you have to crack a few eggs.” The belief Obama has is that it is less painful to the rich to face enormous taxes than for the poor and unfortunate to suffer in their squalor.
Of course, Obama’s plans face some harsh realities. Taxing the rich really does slow job creation, and by the Laffer curve, increasing taxes could actually decrease federal revenues. Universal health insurance, especially plans that are forced to take on preexisting conditions, inflates the cost of health care and makes huge waiting lines. Entitlement plans require more expenditure of taxes, do little to stimulate the economy, and promote personal irresponsibility. Excessive governmental spending, as we have seen under President George W. Bush, causes inflation and devalues the dollar, which means higher prices all around. This a real danger in ignoring these consequences. But then, there is a real danger in treating the economy as the premise of every argument, rather than the human person, and both sides make this mistake.
I could continue in this vein for pages upon pages, if I so wished. But the point is this. Calling Obama a socialist, accurate or not, is an attempt to wrap up a whole discussion in a single word, and like the thumbnail I discussed before, that word just doesn’t maintain the detail. Saying that Obama is a socialist is not calling a spade a spade; it is calling a back-hoe loader a spade, and that does a great injustice not only to Obama himself, but those who are trying to make an accurate portrayal of why an Obama administration is not healthy for the nation.