Socialist as a "Slur"

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

This morning, The Drudge Report linked to an article with an interesting title: "Is Obama a Socialist?" The focus of the article -- on the term "socialist" as an epithet -- is perhaps even more interesting.

A slew of books have been written by conservative authors trying to out Obama as socialist. Among the more ambitious, in terms of research, was Radical in Chief by Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative Washington think tank. Delving into Obama's years as a student and a community organizer, Kurtz contended that Obama is part of a coterie of stealth socialists.

"Over the long term, Obama's plans are designed to ensnare the country in a new socialism, a stealth socialism that masquerades as a traditional sense of fair play, a soft but pernicious socialism similar to that currently strangling the economies of Europe," Kurtz wrote.

In much of today's world, socialism lacks the contentious overtones that it has in America. [format edits]
The article then  goes on to discuss the fact that open socialists who are also recognized as such do not regard Obama as a socialist.

Much like media reports claiming that opponents were wrong to call our nation's de facto ban on incandescent light bulbs a ban, so is much of the thrust of this article in a similar vein: That thrust is wrong because reason that President Obama is being called a socialist is that the substance of his policies does, in fact, lead in that direction. To that extent, Obama has what is coming to him. (And thank goodness the term remains somewhat "contentious" in America.)

However, the article does accidentally raise an important point. In some respects, conservatives getting away with calling Obama a socialist is a bad thing, but not for the reasons many on the left hope we'll believe. As Ayn Rand once pointed out -- and any socialist dissatisfied with Obama's pragmatic continuation or doubling down on many of his predecessor's policies knows -- socialism and fascism are different:
The main characteristic of socialism (and of communism) is public ownership of the means of production, and, therefore, the abolition of private property. The right to property is the right of use and disposal. Under fascism, men retain the semblance or pretense of private property, but the government holds total power over its use and disposal . . .
What the left won't admit is that what we have now is not capitalism, but a mixed economy tending towards fascism. Leftists also want to pretend that fascism is fundamentally different from socialism, which it is not. Rand continues the above quote and notes elsewhere that (1) fascism and socialism are both immoral and impractical forms of statism and (2) that our fundamental choice isn't between what we have now (or full-fledged fascism) and socialism, but between statism and actual capitalism.

But the right -- so long as it remains guilty of such follies as trying to "save" the entitlement state by growing it more slowly (a la Paul Ryan), calling mere transfers of title "privatization", or attempting to coopt illegitimate state institutions rather than abolishing them -- isn't helping matters by pretending it offers a real alternative to socialism. We need government restricted to its proper scope: protecting individual rights. So, I guess I find myself agreeing, at least with the words uttered by Bernie Sanders and quoted in the article I linked above: "... I think this country could use a good debate about what goes on here compared to places with a long social-democratic tradition like Sweden, Norway and Finland..." I have to add, though, that we should not allow ourselves to turn a blind eye towards what "went on" in other statist paradises, like the USSR, China, or Nazi Germany.

Yes. A good debate, starting with what the actual choices are. If we had one, we would see that "socialist" as used to describe Obama, is inaccurate, but not so much as to be completely dismissed as a slur. It would also become apparent that the Republicans are not all that different from Obama, and that they need to work much harder to provide a real alternative.

-- CAV

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