Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Obama is a socialist: discuss, debate, or ridicule?

Conservatives keep trying to call Obama a socialist. This is, of course, ludicrous. I don't know the precise definition of "socialism." And I'm not going to try to find out what it is, because I seriously doubt that there is one definition of "socialism." For now, let's just say that "socialism" means the government controls at least some of the means of production in a country, and heavily regulates the rest. Right now there is a raging debate about whether or not banks should be nationalized. I don't know.

What I do know is that Obama is not a socialist. He is not interested in the government controlling or owning large companies. Not his cup of tea. Harold Meyerson of the WaPo, and once upon a time of the LA Weekly, has a great and wonderful column about this topic, with some of the history of socialism in this country, and some of the history of socialism used by Republicans as a slander against Democrats. Meyerson argues, quite convincingly, that the villains in this drama are capitalists. Then again, it's easy to be quite convincing when the arguments in your favor consist of most of what's happening in the world.

So, for conservatives searching for the culprits behind this transformation of capitalism: Despite our best efforts, it wasn't Bernie [Sanders] and it wasn't me. It was your own damn system.
But don't worry, he reminds us, Obama, like FDR before him, will save capitalism from itself. After which salvation, of course, conservatives will be just as ungrateful as ever.

One aspect of this attempt to pummel Obama with this vaguely ominous criticism is that they seem to be using it because their standard bogeyman for years - "liberal" - apparently is no longer working. Maybe the fact that Obama is not in the least bit afraid of being called a liberal has something to do with it.

Conservatives have their own definition of "socialist." It is roughly this: a socialist is someone who is going to take things from me - my money, my freedom, my guns, my superior socioeconomic position bestowed upon me by the accident of birth - and give it to someone less deserving. That "less deserving person" is someone who they think don't works as hard as they do, and who whines a lot.

The irony of their own status as whiners is utterly lost on conservatives. As are many instances of irony.

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