Socialism is defined as an economic system characterized by social ownership or control of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy, and a political philosophy advocating such a system. The Republicans and the Tea Party base this accusation on four basic things, if we exclude the “what he might do” hysteria: the bailout of the auto industry, the passage of health care reform, tax policy and a contrived connection to Saul Alinsky.
The bailout of the auto industry was not a nationalization of the industry, which is required for it to be considered socialism. The bailout consisted of a re-structuring of Chrysler and GM and what basically amounts to bridge loans to get them through a rough period. According to a Fox News report,
Both the Bush and Obama administrations found themselves in uncharted territory in the fall of 2008 and early 2009. GM and Chrysler were on the verge of collapse when Congress failed to approve emergency loans in late 2008. Bush stepped in and signed off on $17.4 billion in loans, requiring the companies to develop restructuring plans under Obama’s watch.
The following spring, Obama pumped billions more into GM and Chrysler but forced concessions from industry stakeholders, enabling the companies to go through swift bankruptcies. Obama aides said billions in aid — about $85 billion for the industry in total — was necessary because capital markets were essentially frozen at the time, meaning there was no way for GM and Chrysler to fund their bankruptcies privately.
Without any private financing or government support, they argued, the companies would have been forced to liquidate.
If they had gone under, thousands of people would have been left unemployed. While it is true that the Treasury still holds stock in the companies, it has never attempted to exert any control over it’s operations outside of the conditions it set for the loans to be made. The stock was basically collateral for the loan. The Treasury continues to hold the stock in order to sell it at a time that the Treasury can get back the money invested. This sale must also take place over time, because suddenly flooding the market with stock would adversely affect the price of the stock and be counter-productive. It seems that what the Republicans and the Tea Party are telling us is that when George W. Bush gives millions in loans for the auto industry without condition or security, that’s capitalism. But when Barack Obama gives them millions in loans but demands security and sacrifice from the stakeholders so that they can return to profitability, that’s socialism. It also strikes me as odd that when the government bails out companies that actually make something it is socialism, but bailing out banks that are too big to fail is free market capitalism. Without a doubt, the auto bailout saved jobs and kept the recession from being even deeper than it was.
On health care, if Obama had supported a single-payer system (basically opening up medicare to anyone who wanted to participate) you might be able make a weak argument that it was socialism…but he did not. The legislation reinforced the employer based system and shored up the private insurance industry. Ezra Klein spells out the basic provisions of the bill:
The most genuinely useful of them will be the ability to keep kids on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26 (that begins six months after the bill passes), the $250 rebate for Medicare enrollees who fall into the prescription drug benefit’s “doughnut hole” (the bill eventually closes the hole altogether), and an end to rescission of coverage or annual limits. At the beginning of 2011, employers in the individual and small-group markets have to spend 80 percent of each premium dollar on actual medical care, or they have to rebate the difference. Oh, and the tanning-salon tax triggers in July. Sorry, Mr. Boehner.
As the bill prepares for full implementation, there are some other policies worth pointing out. Many have been concerned that there will be a shortage of primary care doctors to deal with the influx of new patients. Starting in 2010, a variety of new loan repayment and scholarship programs kick into effect. But more importantly, in 2011, the government directly expands primary-care training programs and sends a 10 percent increase in payments to primary care doctors in the Medicare program (which makes being a primary care doctor relatively more lucrative).
We still remain the only industrialized nation in the world that does not provide basic health care to it’s citizens. This legislation not only reinforces the “free market” system we have, but the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Hospital Association all approve of it primarily because it will be good for their business. They all expect jobs to be created.
The Republicans and the Tea Party like to portray the Democrat’s objective to make the tax structure more fair as a “re-distribution” of income. The fact is, ALL taxes are a re-distribution of income. The Republicans and the Tea Party just prefer the failed policies of “trickle-down” economics, in which money is re-distributed to the upper income brackets where they claim it will trickle down through the economy…do you feel trickled on yet? The Democrats want to return to a tax structure that was effective during the Clinton years. An equitable tax structure that has existed through much of the 20th century. When the Bush tax cuts were originally passed in 2001, it had a 10 year limit because even the Republicans knew that to maintain such a tax structure was impossible. Then we went into two wars that were never included in the national budget and gave big pharma billions in the so-called medicare prescription benefit that was never included in the national budget. That’s how the deficit got so out of control during the Bush years. During the period of these tax cuts, income for the top 10% has increased by over 20%, while wages for the rest of Americans have remained stagnant. If returning to an equitable tax structure is socialist, then the first Bush, Reagan, Nixon and Eisenhower were all socialists too. Under the latter three presidents, the marginal tax rate on the upper income brackets was 50% or more. The rich paying a higher percentage in taxes is not socialism, it’s the American way.
The last bit of socialist fantasy I will address is the idea that Obama is a “Saul Alinsky radical.” Newt Gingrich has most recently resurrected this accusation on the campaign trail in Florida. It just sounds scary doesn’t it? Alinsky…that name sounds kind of foreign and communist, and we all know nothing radical can be good. The charge that Obama “studied at Alinsky’s knee” is easy enough to refute as Obama was only ten years old at the time of Alinsky’s death. Next comes the charge that Obama used the principles Alinsky outlined in his famous book Rules for Radicals when he was a community organizer. That may be…but it doesn’t mean anything. First of all, although Alinsky was a self-described liberal progressive, he bluntly and clearly denied ever being a communist. Second of all, LOTS of organizations organize around the principles Alinsky outlined in his book for one simple reason: they work. Dick Army, the leader of the Tea Party organization FreedomWorks has been quoted as saying so. As a matter of fact, FreedomWorks hands out copies of Rules for Radicals to it’s new members as a how-to book for organizing Tea Party groups in their community. An argument can even be made that Gingrich himself is following Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. “The job of the organizer is to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a ‘dangerous enemy,'” Alinsky wrote in Rules for Radicals. “Today, my notoriety and the hysterical instant reaction of the establishment not only validate my credentials of competency but also ensure automatic popular invitation.” If that doesn’t sound like the Gingrich campaign, I don’t know what does.
Why are the Republicans and the Tea Party doing this? Well, the fact is that Obama has, for all intents and purposes, continued the economic and foreign policies of Bush. The real differences between the Republicans and the Democrats have become so negligible that we are being subjected to this gross display of political theatre. The only reason they don’t like it is because they are not in charge. In lieu of any real criticism, and in an effort to camouflage the incredibly weak candidates they have offered for the presidency, they have pushed this secret-muslim Kenyan socialist argument. Please notice that when they make this accusation they rarely give details about which policies indicate he is a socialist…because there aren’t any. They count on that code word creating enough fear, and the average American being too ignorant to ask why. Anyone who tries to convince you Obama is a socialist has already decided you are an idiot. Either they have decided that you will believe anything they say just because they said it, or they figure if you are naive enough to believe this socialist argument you will believe anything. The truth is that both major parties have become so corrupted by big money, they are creating all these scary scenarios to keep us fighting about ethereal fantasy issues instead of the real problems that are placing our country in peril. It should piss you off. Don’t fall for it.
Write if you hear something good.