As a political hatchet, “socialism” had better days when it was wielded by smarter men than Rush Limbaugh and Mike Huckabee — Herbert Hoover, Joe McCarthy and Robert Welch, to name three — but who knows when a stray blow might find its mark with lots of voters?
Republicans just may not have any other ideas, but they grabbed hold of the socialism slur last week as if it were a fresh revelation after President Obama's first address to Congress and delivery of his budget outline. Huckabee ignited the Conservative Political Action Conference by saying that the president was establishing “socialist republics” in the United States and that “Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff.”
Huckabee's ignorance of history, political theory and even his own record is a setup for the perfect squelch, but every Republican leader in Congress offered a variation of the theme that the president was pushing the country toward “European-style democratic socialism.” It did not work for John McCain and Sarah Palin during the 2008 campaign after Obama told Joe the Plumber that the tax system should be designed to “share the wealth” so why should it work now?
In Huckabee's case, it is not enough to remind people of his record as governor of Arkansas, when he raised more taxes, piled up more debt and created more government than any governor in the state's history, which in the current inexact lexicon qualifies as socialism. When he was running for president last year, Limbaugh suggested that Huckabee was a true socialist because the former governor, repeating lines from the Bible and the Declaration of Independence, had said everyone who is sick was entitled to the same treatment regardless of whether they had money to pay for it. Obama's promise of health insurance for everyone along with higher taxes on the rich, federal aid for education and sterner regulation of financial institutions were the common premises of the socialism charges.
Huckabee never denied that he was talking about government-guaranteed health coverage for all and, as a matter of fact, in June 2000 he announced that before he left the governor's office — in another 6 ½ years, an aide explained — he expected to guarantee medical services to every last Arkansan. His state health director, Fay Boozman, said the Huckabee universal health plan would follow the structure of Huckabee's ArKids First program, where the government pays physician, hospital and drug costs and families make a small co-pay for each service if they can. Of course, Huckabee never followed through. He never mentioned it again, though at the end of his tenure he did get a federal waiver to have U.S. taxpayers pay the family medical expenses of people with modest incomes working for small businesses.
But it was Obama's explanation that he would pay for universal health coverage by controlling health costs and restoring the tax rates on corporations and people of high incomes that were collected before George W. Bush that brought charges by Republican congressional leaders, Limbaugh and others that he was the advance agent for European socialism.
Since when were fair taxes socialism? Were all the Founding Fathers socialists? Thomas Jefferson and James Madison said the wealthy should pay higher taxes. Both wrote that taxes should be levied in “geometrical progression” (Jefferson's words) according to a person's wealth and, in fact, the first U. S. taxes were borne almost entirely by the affluent, those who acquired imported luxury goods and paid customs duties and excise taxes.
The first income tax, imposed by President Lincoln at the outset of the Civil War and collected until 1872, exempted people of low incomes and graduated it to 10 percent on the wealthiest Americans. The first permanent income tax, in 1913, was sharply graduated so that only the richest 5 percent of Americans paid any taxes. By the end of World War I five years later the tax rate on the highest bracket was 73 percent.
That great Republican, Dwight Eisenhower, fended off efforts to reduce the tax rates on the wealthiest Americans, which then reached 91 percent. If Obama achieves his tax goal, personal taxes on the richest Americans will still be lower than any time from 1932, when Herbert Hoover pushed tax rates on the wealthy to 63 percent, doubled the estate tax and jacked up corporate tax rates, until the last year of Ronald Reagan, when Congress flattened the tax schedule modestly and eliminated many deductions and credits for the well to do.
Wilson, Harding, Hoover, Roosevelt (both of them), Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter and early Reagan — European-style socialists all of them? All wanted to tax the rich at higher levels than Obama proposes to do.
Oh, and all those European socialist democracies? They levy a high embedded sales tax, sort of like the astronomical sales tax that Mike Huckabee proposed in his campaign as the antidote to the income tax.
Who are the real socialists?