In toney, left-wing circles it’s considered rude, as well as prima-facie evidence of yahooism or worse, to suggest that Obama, Pelosi, Reid, and the rest of the merry majority in Washington today are socialists. Conversations with liberals either end or get testy when this word comes up. The charge of socialism, they huff, is too outrageous to even consider.
A primo example of this came on one of the yak-yak shows Sunday morning where uber-liberal Bob Woodward of the “Washington Pest” pronounced that calling Obama a socialist is “not even in the ballpark” (Bob apparently being unaware that Obama’s ball park only has a left field).
Closer to home I have a dear friend who’s a trial lawyer in Tampa where I live and who voted for our rookie president (in accordance with a strict work rule of the trial lawyers’ union). He tells me he quits reading commentary on the current scene when he encounters the world socialism. My guess is he would put his fingers in his ears if I brought the word up in conversation, though he is, taken all around, a most gracious fellow.
Some of the more acute on the left realize the socialist label is apt enough and only ham it up in this wise because they know most Americans — saving a large fraction of those in academe, most of the media, Hollywood, the mainline clergy, most foundations, the education industry, environmentalists, and the literati — don’t fancy socialism, or politicians who promote it.
Of course most of this lefty behavior is based on attitude rather than analysis. It’s more a matter of etiquette than polemics. The folks tuning out references to socialism are treating the word as a mere insult and don’t bother to parse whether this is or isn’t an accurate designation for what the current post-everything administration is all about.
So, is it? In trying to sort out this thorny problem of political definition I look for guidance to — as I often do in dealing with life’s more perplexing questions — one of John Wayne’s movies. The Duke doesn’t let me down.
In 1959’s Rio Bravo, the Duke is the sheriff and Dean Martin plays his deputy, a guy who’s quick and slick with a gun when he’s sober. In one scene, Martin’s character asks the sheriff if he thought he, the Martin character, was as good and as fast as another gunman. The Duke takes a thoughtful beat, as he was so good at doing, and replies, “Well, I’d hate to have to make a living on the difference.”
Well now there you are. Thanks again, Duke. What Obama and his legions are doing may not exactly be socialism, which is usually defined as government ownership of the means of production. But when you try to contrast socialism with what Obama and his crowd have put through and what they’re whooping up, if you seek to isolate real differences between socialism and Obamaism, it would be awfully hard, as the Duke phrased it, to make a living on the difference.
Consider. The Obama administration and its congressional courtiers have put the federal government into the domestic car business in a big way. They’ve gotten “health care” legislation through both federal houses that goes a long way toward nationalizing the one-sixth of the economy, they put the national debt on steroids, and they’re going for the homerun in cap and trade legislation, which would take decisions on how much and what kind of energy can be used in the economy from the private sector where they belong and turn them over to politicians and bureaucrats.
Cap and trade, if enacted, would effectively Sovietize the United States. America under cap and trade would have a command and control economy run (into the ground) out of Washington. As for America’s long run of affluence and liberty, it would be time for Dandy Don to sing, “Turn out the light, the party’s over.” Cap and trade America would be grotesquely different than what America is and ever has been.
Likely what’s happened is that modern socialists have gotten smarter, or at least cagier. Contemporary socialists, in contrast to those boring old Mustache Pete socialists of decades ago who wanted to run factories and mines and mills and stuff, have figured out that actually owning the means of production is a lot of trouble, and takes away valuable time that could be more (excuse the expression) profitably spent dominating the culture. Far easier to allow some poor sod to have his name on a title somewhere and think he owns the factory (or restaurant, or car dealership, or contracting business, or, or, or…) and just make all the important decisions for him. Call this soft-socialism, smart-socialism, or perhaps just lazy-socialism.
Plus there’s the matter that people who own businesses often face losses. Better to take the profits in taxes and let the “owner” absorb the losses.
As we’ve seen, this goes well beyond economics. Government making all the decisions — economic, political, cultural, sexual, religious, personal — is what socialism is all about. Under socialism everything is political.
The depressing tendency toward over-regulation, a fact of life at least since the New Deal, has gone into warp-speed with the new Washington crowd. This bunch recognizes no limits in telling business “owners” what they can produce, how much of it and when, with what kind of and how much energy, who they must hire, what they must pay employees and what conditions of employment they must provide.
As we watch Obama and his merry band annex more and more of our personal and economic freedoms by putting more and more under the federal thumb, how much comfort can be taken by saying, “Well, at least it’s not exactly socialism?” Socialism vs. Obamaism may not be a distinction without a difference. But it’s certainly a distinction with such a trifling difference that there’s not nearly enough there to make a living on.
Could any of this be why Obama’s approval rating is now well below 50 percent and his disapproval rating is higher than any Gallup has ever measured at the beginning of a president’s second year? Could it also be why Republican Scott Brown is looking like a possible winner tomorrow in Massachusetts (where you could get all the state’s Republicans on a single school bus and have room left over to seat the New England Patriots, in uniform)?
Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa. This column first appeared in “The American Spectator” (Spectator.org).