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Monday, October 20, 2008

Redefining Socialism

"____ is socialism."

Ever since Roosevelt's New Deal, it's been common for Republicans to attack economic ideas they don't like as "socialist." In fact, this line of BS has become so deeply ingrained in the Republican mindset that many of them believe it themselves. The problem, of course, is that when you start operating as if your propaganda is true, you wind up operating in a different reality. In the end, you ignore the present reality and all of your reasoning is based on "facts" which aren't facts at all. You wind up doing stuff like invading Iraq for no real reason. It doesn't really work out all that well.

To give you an idea of just how deeply this redefinition of socialism is set in the Republican psyche, I give you the man who -- with any luck -- will probably become the archetypical Republican dope for years to come.


[George W.] Bush once sneered at [his college professor Yoshi] Tsurumi for showing the film "The Grapes of Wrath," based on John Steinbeck's novel of the Depression. "We were in a discussion of the New Deal, and he called Franklin Roosevelt's policies 'socialism.' He denounced labor unions, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Medicare, Social Security, you name it. He denounced the civil rights movement as socialism. To him, socialism and communism were the same thing. And when challenged to explain his prejudice, he could not defend his argument, either ideologically, polemically or academically."

That's from Mary Jacoby's great 2004 piece "The dunce," about just what an idiot Dubya was in school. She interviewed Yoshi Tsurumi, who taught a macroeconomic policies and international business class at Harvard, on his former student and found young GWB to be a simpleminded moron who recited right wing talking points and seemed not only unwilling, but unable to learn anything that disagreed with those talking points. When asked what sort of students he tended to remember, Tsurumi was less than complimentary. "...I always remember two types of students," he told her. "One is the very excellent student, the type as a professor you feel honored to be working with. Someone with strong social values, compassion and intellect -- the very rare person you never forget. And then you remember students like George Bush, those who are totally the opposite."

All of which brings us to another Republican brain, imprinted with this misdefinition of the word "socialism" -- John McCain.

In his weekly radio address (yes, every week he pretends he's the president and records an address to the nation that pretty much everyone ignores), McCain warned us of the creeping socialism in our midst. Talking about his new friend, Joe the Freakin' Plumber, McCain pulled out the right's misunderstanding of the word "socialism."

...He wanted to know why Barack Obama plans to raise taxes on folks who are trying to start or grow a business and create jobs for others. And fairness aside, at a time of serious economic crisis, punishing job creators didn't seem like a real good way to kick-start a recovery.

My opponent's answer showed that economic recovery isn't even his top priority. His goal, as Senator Obama put it, is to "spread the wealth around."

You see, he believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that help us all make more of it. Joe, in his plainspoken way, said this sounded a lot like socialism. And a lot of Americans are thinking along those same lines. In the best case, "spreading the wealth around" is a familiar idea from the American left. And that kind of class warfare sure doesn't sound like a "new kind of politics."

Let's get this out of the way before we go any further:

so·cial·ism [soh-shuh-liz-uhm]

1. a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.

2. procedure or practice in accordance with this theory.

3. (in Marxist theory) the stage following capitalism in the transition of a society to communism, characterized by the imperfect implementation of collectivist principles.

Guess what? Giving the middle class a tax break while raising taxes on the top 5% isn't socialism. McCain has dived on Obama's "spread the wealth around" statement and completely misrepresents it. Look at anyone's plan for the economy from any presidential campaign and show me the one that doesn't argue that everyone's going to be better off. By McCain's argument, Ronald Reagan was a socialist. Anyone who argues that their plan helps the middle class is a "socialist" engaging in "class warfare."

You want class warfare? Class warfare is encouraging deregulation of banking. Class warfare is using this deregulation to engage in predatory lending. And class warfare is taking $700+ billion from the taxpayers and giving it to the ultra-wealthy when this whole house of cards collapses. That's class warfare. It's also socialism in reverse, as demonstrated by the nationalization of banks. If that's not redistribution of wealth, I don't know what is.

Like most Republican ideas, we have to assume that this represents McCain either lying or being stupid. Either he knows what socialism is and he's just lying to you about what it means or he's like young George W. Bush -- an ignorant, talking-point-brainwashed Republican moron. Pick whichever one you like; I can't see how either is better than the other. He's a BS artist or he's ignorant. Either way, he's just as wrong.

But one fact shines out of this big steaming pile -- that John McCain says that giving 95% of Americans a tax break is socialism. Slapping that label on it is supposed to end the argument. You're not supposed to argue in favor of socialism, because there's some sort of shadowy and unexplained immorality to it, so it's the trump card.

Which is why Republicans fall back on it so often. When George W. Bush said the civil rights movement was socialist, it's because he'd been trained to respond to an argument. There is no legit argument against universal civil rights, so you slap the "socialist" label on it and that ends the debate. It's wrong because it's wrong. Now turn off your freakin' brain and shut up.

This is where Republican politics always go -- straight to fear. McCain failed to get everyone freaked out and believing that Barack Obama's a terrorist, so now he's a socialist. If that's not a strong enough word, he'll become a Marxist. Then a communist. Secretly Muslim didn't fly, so let's try secretly Soviet. There has to be some Republican boogeyman out there that people are still totally freaked out over.

The zombies will fall for it, because they fall for anything. But I don't see anyone else going for it. It's not creeping socialism we have to watch out for, it's creeping ignorance. As time goes on, Republican arguments require you to be dumber and dumber.