Late in the 2008 Presidential campaign, as John McCain tried to recover from his strategic errors in the handling of the economic crisis, the Republicans decided to attack by using the word Socialism. It is a word that is misunderstood but it sounds bad and that served their purposes.
I was actually one of the first guinea pigs of this strategy. I was working an Obama campaign event and engaged in a conversation with a young lady who said she was worried about a couple of things about then Senator Obama and wanted to discuss them.
Her first question concerned that she had heard he was a racist who hated white people and since she was white that concerned her. Having read both of his books I assured her that if that was true he had done a masterful job of concealing it. Also the person he most cherished growing up was his maternal grandmother who was white. Next she said she was concerned with Socialism. I remember being taken aback by the question. I wondered where that was coming from. We discussed it for a bit then we parted in a civil manner.
A minister happened to be within earshot of the entire conversation; he walked up to me and said, “You know you were just set up don’t you?”
Somewhat skeptically I replied, “You really think so?”
“No doubt, she was a plant testing you.”
With the benefit of hindsight I have to admit the Reverend was almost undoubtedly correct.
How did Socialism become a “dirty word”?
It’s basically a word association game. Americans equate Socialism with Communism. The former Soviet Union’s formal name was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, hence the term U.S.S.R.
A country’s names can be confusing. Take North Korea for instance its formal name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Does that make both the American Democratic and Republican parties a bunch of commies?
What about North Viet Nam? Its formal name was the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Remember East Germany? Formal name: The German Democratic Republic.
I think I made my point. Either the Communists have been running this country since the Lincoln administration or names can be misleading.
OK, so what is socialism?
Defining terms that describe government and economic systems is difficult at best. That is because almost no country, certainly including the United States of America, runs a pure system. We are a hybrid of a Democracy, a Republic and a free market capitalist economic system with many socialist elements. I will not attempt to expand on that description of our economic and political systems. I will leave that to college professors who teach entire classes on the topic.
A useful “kitchen table” definition of Socialism is a group of people uniting to do something as a society that they feel they can do more effectively and efficiently than if they acted as individuals. In this country we do that through government agencies or public authorities.
We all understand government agencies. Public authorities are something we don’t think about much but they control a tremendous amount of what we do as a society. Examples are things like water and power authorities. If you are really interested in this area I suggest you read Robert Caro’s book The Power Broker. It is an outstanding work telling how Robert Moses utilized the public authority to become incredibly powerful. However, it will require an investment on your part in that it is well over 1000 pages long.
The anti-government people point to Social Security first when they point to bad, (in their minds), socialist government programs. To most of us Social Security is part of the “social safety net” that we as a society provide for the protection of all.
The first challenge Progressives usually put to Regressives is that if you hate the government “entitlement programs” so much are you willing to give up your Social Security benefits? The reply is generally along the lines of no, since I paid into it I’ll collect, however had I been given a choice I would have opted not to participate and would have privately invested all that money over the years and would be much better off today.
There is plenty of silliness here on both sides. We end up with the equivalent of a schoolyard argument. Nothing is solved and nothing is proven. It is unreasonable to expect someone not to collect Social Security benefits. It is equally unreasonable to expect someone to be so disciplined and diligent from youth on to commence, continue, prudently and successfully monitor this investment program.
Other social safety net programs
The Republicans have an alternative social safety net program. It is called the YOYO program. You’re on your own. They feel they are so superior and self-sufficient that they would prosper and provide for all eventualities if only the big, bad government would get out of their lives and stop taxing them.
Medicare: They don’t need it since they will be so wealthy in their golden years that they will be able to afford any and all medical expenses.
Unemployment benefits: They don’t need them. They will never be out of work. The only people out of work are those who are so lazy they would rather sit home and collect benefits than go out and work.
Food stamps: See the above.
It goes on and on. Maybe we should begin selective breeding and clone this race of supermen that will never get sick, injured or have anything bad happen to them. Then let’s disband the government and get out of their way and watch them turn into money making machines that never break down.
Well confidence and self-sufficiency are wonderful traits and there is something to be said for them. However, you may think you are Superman but life contains Kryptonite.
The Republicans’ best arguments are those against the social safety net programs. Read on, now I’m going to start to have some real fun.
We maintain a strong military to defend ourselves against possible attack. In fact our military budget is larger than all the other military budgets in the world combined. Furthermore, it is approximately ten times the budget of the second largest military budget (China). This is Socialism.
What would the Republicans suggest? Perhaps they would like to sit on their back porch with their shotguns and wait for the invaders to come. How long do you think this country would last without a military?
My personal favorite opening line when confronted by one of these anti-government people is to ask them how they got to the place we are at. The reply is almost always that they drove there. You can tell they are thinking but omitting, “What did you think you stupid a……?” I then reply that you drove here on a road, which is Socialism. It was simply more efficient to band together and build and maintain a network of roads than to do it as individuals. Think of the absurdity of building a road to everyplace you want to go.
Just imagine the negative effect on commerce if we did not have a system of roads. How would all those self-sufficient Republicans make any money?
Most airports are built, managed and maintained by public authorities. Can you imagine where our air transportation system would be if we had private concerns build, manage and maintain our airports? Of course, if we didn’t tax these Republicans so much they would probably build landing strips in their backyards. Hey it saves the trip to the airport and eliminates the need for those Socialist roads.
For most local governments police protection is among the largest if not the largest budget item. This again is another example of socialism. We could disband the police forces and we’ll all just protect our lives and property ourselves. Think of the great reduction you would get on your local taxes. Hey while you’re sitting on your back porch defending against the foreign invaders you can protect against the local thieves. Now would government ever give you that kind of efficiency?
Well who needs it anyway? It is just another example of government waste, shooting all that money up into space. Of course we wouldn’t have all those ancillary benefits like laptop computers, programmable pacemakers, freeze dried technology, wireless communication and flat panel televisions just to name a few. That Socialism has really lowered our standard of living hasn’t it?
Whether your local Fire Department is volunteer or professional, some form of government agency or public authority is involved. Perhaps we could do away with them also. Let’s just put a big pond at the end of the runway in the backyard and we’ll connect a hose to a pump from the pond and we’ll put out the fire ourselves. We should be able to get off the porch for a few minutes without the invaders or the local crooks coming.
Consumable goods inspection
While much of the government inspection system was stymied by the Bush administration, and the Obama administration hasn’t been able to repair all the damage yet, (I wish they would work a little harder it’s been a couple of months already), I’m not willing to live without government inspection. The Republican answer is let the free market police itself.
Let’s take the example of food. The total free market advocates would contend that if you sell a tainted product that kills people that after a while people would stop buying your product and buy your competitor’s non-lethal product. Makes sense to me – the consumer voting with his dollars. The consumers that are still alive that is.
Too much fun
I could go on with examples but I have proved my point. Socialism is part of our political and economic systems. It is not an inherently bad thing. It has in fact provided Americans with a safer country and a better standard of living. The entire “Socialism debate” is just another Republican smoke screen designed to confuse the American electorate and deflect attention from the real issues.
When we explored The Fair Tax we discovered that just because something sounds good does not mean it is good. With Socialism the opposite is true. I guess it goes back to what Mom and Dad taught us – you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover.
This essay is the property of tellthetruthonthem.com and its content may not be used without citing the source. It may not be reproduced without the permission of Larry Marciniak. This essay was originally published in May of 2009.