It was not a common phrase in our lexicon until recently. Only after a black man was nominated and eventually elected president did the term “socialism” resurface to describe the Democratic Party’s leader. Bill Clinton avoided the accusation, as well as Al Gore and John Kerry. “Liberal” or “far left radical” was sufficient for them. But not for Barack Obama. Not for a president that many in white America fear as an illegitimate leader – one that only won 365 electoral votes and 53 percent of the popular vote – thanks to ACORN and falsified birth certificates. [end sarcasm]
It’s a serious charge, though, that I think we write off too quickly. While I would like to think that most Americans are reasonable enough to admit the simple reality that President Obama won the election in a landslide fashion and is indeed an American citizen, large numbers of Republicans come to different conclusions. Only 42 percent of Republicans polled by Research 2000 were found to believe that President Obama was a citizen of the United States. A majority were either convinced that he was not or were unsure.
So what motivates people to believe these fallacies? I believe that there are several causes, not the least of which is race. No one questioned a white president’s citizenship. The second is simply economics. There is a great deal of unease in our country today, largely derived from the economic anxieties that we live in, and rightfully so. But in these uncertain times people often come to conclusions that are, at best, flawed. They need someone to blame for all of their woes. President Obama is an easy target for them. He confirms their suspicions about a black man in the White House (emphasis on white).
I would rather not spend an entire post digressing about people’s (false) suspicions and conspiracy theories. I was invited to participate in a discussion about socialism in America on fire! Radio, an Internet radio program. You can listen to the full episode at this link or just click play on the player below. If you just want to hear what I have to say, you can skip to around 39:00 minutes, but the entire program is interesting:
What exactly is socialism, anyway? The standard dictionary definition of socialism is “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.” If one wants to have an honest debate about government theory, properly defining terms is an important first step.
President Obama has never advocated for anything remotely close to a “command-and-control” system of government that socialism implies. Indeed, he has said throughout his political career and as president that he is a believer in the free market. At the same time, he has advocated for stronger protections of consumers through reforms of the financial system and health care system. One should not confuse government regulation with government control.
The second point that I would make is that the kinds of programs that have been derided as examples of “socialism”, such as the so-called public option, are already in existence for large portions of the population. Seniors benefit from “socialized medicine” in the form of Medicare. Veterans benefit from Veteran’s Affairs hospitals. The poor benefit from Medicaid. This is not a new concept in American politics. Protecting those that are vulnerable in society has been a priority among Democrats for decades.
Many of the complaints from some that have called President Obama a socialist were actually policies enacted during the Bush administration. TARP, otherwise known as the “bailout” for Wall Street, was a policy pushed by President Bush and Treasury Secretary Paulson in September 2008. It was Secretary Paulson that asked Congress for near limitless control over hundreds of billions of dollars with no oversight to speak of. The “auto bailout” began under President Bush as well. $17.4 billion was given to GM and Chrysler during the last month of the Bush administration (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1208/16740.html).
The bottom line is that the country is not moving towards socialism. We live in a democracy where elections have consequences. Those upset with President Obama’s policies vocally opposed him before he was elected and they lost. We have a long tradition in this country of enacting programs that protect the poor and those in need, as well as regulate industries that abuse their power. Those policies will undoubtedly continue to be advanced by President Obama and Democrats in Congress, as well as future Democratic politicians.