Accusations of Obama’s Socialism Predictably Fail to Raise Awareness of American Ignorance
The recent accusations of Sen. John McCain,”Joe the Plumber,” and Fayetteville, NC resident Diane Fanning, that Sen. Barack Obama is a socialist provide yet another example of why ignorance, found in both political and popular culture, should be discussed as a major political issue – even the greatest issue – that faces the next president of the United States. Liberals have too easily blamed fundamentalist religion and the Bush administration as the principle contributors of America’s cultural decline. Conservatives too easily blame “anti-American” progressives, the “liberal media,” and “activist judges” for the decline of American culture. What these sides have failed to do is start a national dialogue concerning the “overarching crisis of memory and knowledge” this country faces (Jacoby, 2008).
What needs to be addressed is: why so many people could have been tricked by the Bush administration into supporting a war on Iraq, why so many have fallen for fundamentalist religion, why so many presume that progressives, the “liberal media, and “activist judges” are eroding American life, and why people have fallen for the trope that Obama is a socialist, but McCain is not.
What on Earth would motivate someone like capitalist Warren Buffett and Republican military man Colin L. Powell to endorse a truly serious socialist? No serious argument can be given for this except that these highly-experienced, knowledgeable people are wildly delusional about an Obama presidency. A sociology professor from Northwestern University, Bruce Carruthers, said, “Obama is like a center-liberal Democrat, and he is certainly not looking to overthrow capitalism. My goodness, he wouldn’t have the support of someone like The Wizard of Omaha, Warren Buffet, if he truly was going to overthrow capitalism” (R. Huppke, Chicago Tribune). If Obama is elected, America will not necessarily expressly head toward socialism. “The whole point of his policies don’t really represent the political economy of the working class,” said Robert Roman, editor of the newsletter of the Democratic Socialists of America. He says, “Obama’s …going to be representing the interest of the capitalists as well as the working people. He’s not really talking about transforming society beyond capitalism.” Importantly, should Obama be elected, he would only have the power to recommend his domestic proposals to Congress, not to carry them out single-handedly without oversight. It should also be acknowledged that Sen. Obama’s tax plan and economic proposals, which are aimed at helping out a large section of the population, are not guaranteed passage by Congress.
Furthermore, the lesson of the Great Depression is that American capitalism is not sustainable by itself. It will eventually fail, as it has in these past few weeks, and has shown that it needs government to step in as the economy hits bubble after bubble. Both Senators Obama and McCain have realized this. But, Obama has realized this to a fuller extent, and with more competent judgment than McCain. It is ironic that when Sen. McCain used the “socialist” smear, and then was reminded immediately that he supported: the public bailout of Wall Street, partial nationalization banks, and government taking on bad mortgages, McCain dismissed that not as socialism, but by laughably saying to Chris Wallace, “Oh well, I’m just trying to help.” Obama is a socialist. I’m just trying to help.
On 19 October, in Roswell, New Mexico, Gov. Palin parroted the same talking point about Sen. Obama as McCain did in his Chris Wallace interview:
Senator Obama said he wants to quote spread the wealth. What that means is he wants government to take your money and dole it out however a politician sees fit. Barack Obama calls it spreading the wealth…But Joe the Plumber and Ed the Dairy Man, I believe that they think that it sounds more like socialism. Friends, now is no time to experiment with socialism. To me our opponent’s plan sounds more like big government, which is the problem. Bigger government is not the solution. Whatever you call his tax plan and that redistribution of wealth it will destroy jobs. It will hurt our economy…
…Since he can’t reduce taxes on those who pay zero, he wants the government to send them a check that’s called a tax credit. And where is he gonna get the money for all those checks that he will cut? By raising taxes on America’s hard-working families and our small businesses and a lot of folks just like Joe the Plumber and Ed the Dairyman out there, right there, Ed the Dairyman (FOX).
First, one can clearly see that Gov. Palin has further debased political speech beyond anyone’s wildest dreams: the electorate has gone from being addressed as “citizens,” “ladies and gentlemen,” and “people,” to a few decades ago as “folks,’ and now to the lowest of the low, “Joe the Plumber” and “Ed the Dairyman.” Actually, “folks” in this speech is used in conjunction with those last two nicknames for American citizens. Can the patronizing speech get any worse? Will politicians again start to show that they expect the people to rise up, and lift themselves to the responsibility of becoming better citizens?
Aside from the debasement of political speech, Gov. Palin cleverly (this is probably the only time one will see those two words next to each other) used the widespread historical and political illiteracy and simplistic sound bite rubrics to her advantage. For example, the key rubrics “government take your money,” “dole it out,” “redistribution of wealth,” and “bigger government” were used to plug in on people’s suspicion of government. That is were historical illiteracy comes in. People forgot that “Sarah Palin is the governor of a state that practices collective ownership of oil and other natural resources, and equally distributes the state’s cut of the revenues to every citizen” (Eric Kleefield, TPM). People hopefully did not forget that “conservatism has run up the largest debt this country has ever known, started two wars and destroyed Wall Street under the “Compassionate One,” but [are being told to] be afraid of Obama” (John Amato, Isn’t Sarah Palin a “Socialist” too?). And further, no one should have forgotten the fact that McCain essentially supported big government, except it was only to help out the rich, irresponsible, failing Wall Street corporations. Indeed, who would ever think that was socialism? McCain said in his interview with Chris Wallace, “That’s the reason why we have governments, to help those who need help, who can’t help themselves, and when time of crisis to step in and do what’s necessary to preserve the lives and futures of innocent people.” To those who buy into the spin, socialism is whatever John McCain says it is.
However, to socialists, McCain’s tactic of labeling Obama as one of them is purely repugnant. John Bachtell, organizer of the Illinois Communist Party USA, thinks Sen. McCain’s calling Obama socialist is both offensive to avowed socialists and a desperate fear-mongering gimmick to misinform voters by using “the last refuge of scoundrels,” Red-baiting. This tactic was widely used during the Cold War era, and provoked “Red Scares.”
Examples like this demonstrate the need for a serious attempt to address the widespread scientific, historical, and political illiteracy and a-literacy in America. It has become too easy to use those simple-minded causes (mentioned in the first paragraph) for the headlong flight from reason this country is in, and for the shortcomings of the past few decades. Hopefully, one of the candidates will have the courage to do point this out – and not by calling the electorate and politicians stupid or dimwitted – but by saying something like, “We don’t know as much as we should to make informed policy decisions, and we need to work on this much more in order to fulfill our obligations as citizens. Especially, as citizens of a Republic that wields such tremendous influence on the world.” Everyone needs to able to know more to have better government. Citizens get the government they deserve. As Thomas Jefferson put it, “If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”