Friday, January 27, 2012

Obama is not a socialist

We're going to have a little departure today kids. I noticed again on Google+ that someone in my circles referred to Obama as a socialist. My response:
Over here in Europe, whenever people hear Americans say that Obama is a socialist, they start cracking up. Nothing could be further from the truth. It seems to take people living in the bubble of America, with a right-wing party and a far-right-wing party to think that Obama's attempt to correct for a few market failures is somehow "socialism" (in the sense that between socialism and capitalism you have a spectrum on which NO country hits either extreme, but the Obama is far, far away from the socialist end of that spectrum).
I get so frustrated by this old canard that I'm going to break a personal rule and repost a journal entry of mine from a long time ago. Mind you, I'm not saying that I like Obama or approve of the job he's done (I'm not saying I dislike him either). I'm just saying he's not a socialist. So here's that old blog entry from 2008. Fair warning, the language is strong and this is a bit closer to my actual writing style — one I've deliberately toned down to avoid offending people on this blog.

Tell Me What the Hell Socialism is Again?

With all of this outcry that Obama is socialist, I confess to being a little confused. I hear so many journalists and "pundits" throw around that term, but none of them really explaining it. Perhaps more importantly, I want to hear them explain two things: how "socialist" applies to Obama's policies and how "socialist" doesn't apply to the US.

But first, we interrupt this rant with an excerpt from "Pulp Media Fiction".


  SARAH PALIN sits back in a chair, staring in horror at JULES 
  WINNFIELD.  He has a microphone held tightly in front of him.


                      Can you name me a single 
                  mother-fuckin' Republican who 
                  attacked Obama's "protect domestic
                  jobs" position?




                      I *said* 'Can you name me a 
                  single mother-fuckin' Republican 
                  who attacked Obama's "protect 
                  domestic jobs" position?'



  Jules presses the microphone hard against Sarah's mouth.

                      C'mon, pretend this is a 
                  Katie Couric interview again!  
                  I dare ya, I double dare ya
                  motherfucker, say "What" one 
                  more goddamn time!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled rant.

The problem I'm having with this whole sorry mess is that few in the media are willing to do anything more than engage in "am not/are too" type idiocies, particularly on this topic. Why is that? Why would our profit driven, corporate-owned media fail to have a serious discussion about what socialism is? I suspect it's a combination of many factors, but the two which immediately spring to mind are the twin issues of "sound bite news coverage" and the "socialism is satanism" mentality of many Americans.

Unfortunately, there are many definitions of socialism, but it all boils down to government control¹ and/or ownership of the means of production and/or distribution of goods and/or services. Confused? You should be. Socialism can be tough to pin down, but it's basically "government control over some section of the economy". Which brings us to US socialism:

There are, of course, plenty of other examples of socialism in US society; the US has never had a laissez-faire tradition² So, are we a socialist country? Is Obama's tax plan any more of a redistribution of wealth than the Republican goals of lowering taxes for wealthy people and corporations? If we are not a socialist country but some of Obama's policies will make us one, would someone please tell me what the hell the difference is? Where's the tipping point?

Every mature economy on this planet has elements of both capitalism and socialism. Every one. Every. Single. One. That includes the USA. Deal with it.

1. When it shifts to "control by the people" is when "socialism" becomes "communism" as Marx defined it. And for the record, I'm definitely not communist and generally wouldn't label myself a socialist, except, perhaps, in the context of what you read here.

2. No, we didn't in the 19th century, either. There was rampant land-redistribution and protectionism, but this myth is so widely embedded in US culture, that people just assume it's true.


  1. I find it ironic that the people who argue most against socialism, and oppose providing medical care/insurance with the argument "but that's socialism", are usually the ones that support the US military the strongest. The same US military that provides free medical health care to its employees.

  2. Yep, this is an old "canard" that I hear every time I go to the U.S.

    Always has me howling with laughter. Not too long ago I had a great encounter with some real (and very entertaining) Communists near the Place de la République. If you are ever in the part of the world, stop by and talk to them - they set up a stand at least once a month near the metro and they are quite happy to sit and chat about the state of the world.

    If you're interested I wrote about them here - The Class War Experts:

    And yes I did purchase their literature and gave them a donation. I do wonder what the U.S. gov would think about that. :-)