Columns » John Brummett

Socialist? Moi?



Let's muse a little on this tired old charge by idea-bankrupt John McCain that Barack Obama is a Luciferan socialist who is going to take your money and give it to those scruffy Acorn people.

First, keep in mind that socialism is not nearly as dirty a word as communism. In fact, ever since FDR led us out of the Great Depression, we have operated as a free-market capitalist society with a socialist safety net.

That is to say that we value individualism and capitalism until the individual capitalists turn out to be greedy or idiots or thieves or insufficient for the magnitude of the challenge, in which case we save ourselves with a kind of a collectivist socialist solution, be it temporary or permanent.

We are a capitalist society in which you are encouraged to work hard for your money, take reasonable risks to better yourself and generate capital and save for your golden years. But, just in case, we have this Social(ist) Security thing.

Ditto on health care. Heal thyself, or at least insure thyself, we say. But when you get old and don't work anymore and start having things go wrong with the old human engine, then we socialize medicine for you, though you'll need a private supplement.

And when our captains of high finance steal us blind with bogus investments based on fantasy housing prices, our government buys out these money-changers so that we don't all wind up rooting for eight-year old Chinese girls in the Olympic gymnastics competition — which, alas, we may, anyway.

None of this is Marxist, for heaven's sake. Karl Marx advocated a wide array of political, social, economic and human behavioral theories. We in America don't buy much of it. But we're not above pulling in an adapted increment of one of his economic ideas.

Look at it this way: Capitalism is what we do on the baseball diamond. Socialism is that screen behind home plate, called a backstop. It comes into play when somebody gets real wild or way foul.

That doesn't make us red. It means, as the Chinese are finding while the Soviets didn't quite, that the best way to operate economically is to mix it up a bit.

The best idea is a stew pot of ideas, as with Medicare and Part B. The argument is not about the ingredients so much as the portions. Obama might throw in a tad more pepper than McCain, but we're arguing about sixteenths of teaspoons. McCain probably doesn't know how to cook in the first place. I doubt he can even make a roux.

So, anyway, you have McCain saying that Obama is an outright socialist who wants to redistribute wealth. And McCain says this is un-American, because it devalues hard individual work and celebrates an entitlement society. But our very income tax system is already an incremental redistribution of wealth. And much of the wealth that gets redistributed is obscenely excessive, such as these executive salaries and golden parachutes for people who've run their companies into the ground. Can you say Enron?

The latest nonsensical and perhaps even mildly racist salvo is McCain's citing an old Obama radio interview in which Obama said the courts gave us civil rights advances but not any spreading of the wealth. He said courts weren't any good at economic solutions.

That was mere intelligent observation, simple truth.

Obama wasn't saying he'd hold Justices Scalia and Alito and Roberts and Thomas hostage until they issued court orders moving wealth around from upstanding people to low-life no-accounts. Our Constitution wouldn't permit that even if he were so inclined, which he isn't.

But McCain wants you to fear that, because he doesn't have anything else.

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