October 29, 2008

Republican hypocrisy on "socialism"

Like, Socialism“At least in Europe, the socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives,” McCain said the other day—thereby suggesting that the dystopia he abhors is not some North Korean-style totalitarian ant heap but, rather, the gentle social democracies across the Atlantic, where, in return for higher taxes and without any diminution of civil liberty, people buy themselves excellent public education, anxiety-free health care, and decent public transportation.

The Republican argument of the moment seems to be that the difference between capitalism and socialism corresponds to the difference between a top marginal income-tax rate of 35 per cent and a top marginal income-tax rate of 39.6 per cent. The latter is what it would be under Obama’s proposal, what it was under President Clinton, and, for that matter, what it will be after 2010 if President Bush’s tax cuts expire on schedule. Obama would use some of the added revenue to give a break to pretty much everybody who nets less than a quarter of a million dollars a year. The total tax burden on the private economy would be somewhat lighter than it is now—a bit of elementary Keynesianism that renders doubly untrue the Republican claim that Obama “will raise your taxes.”

On October 12th, in conversation with a voter forever to be known as Joe the Plumber, Obama gave one of his fullest summaries of his tax plan. After explaining how Joe could benefit from it, whether or not he achieves his dream of owning his own plumbing business, Obama added casually, “I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” McCain and Palin have been quoting this remark ever since, offering it as prima-facie evidence of Obama’s unsuitability for office. Of course, all taxes are redistributive, in that they redistribute private resources for public purposes. But the federal income tax is (downwardly) redistributive as a matter of principle: however slightly, it softens the inequalities that are inevitable in a market economy, and it reflects the belief that the wealthy have a proportionately greater stake in the material aspects of the social order and, therefore, should give that order proportionately more material support. McCain himself probably shares this belief, and there was a time when he was willing to say so. During the 2000 campaign, on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” a young woman asked him why her father, a doctor, should be “penalized” by being “in a huge tax bracket.” McCain replied that “wealthy people can afford more” and that “the very wealthy, because they can afford tax lawyers and all kinds of loopholes, really don’t pay nearly as much as you think they do.”

For her part, Sarah Palin, who has lately taken to calling Obama “Barack the Wealth Spreader,” seems to be something of a suspect character herself. She is, at the very least, a fellow-traveller of what might be called socialism with an Alaskan face. The state that she governs has no income or sales tax. Instead, it imposes huge levies on the oil companies that lease its oil fields. The proceeds finance the government’s activities and enable it to issue a four-figure annual check to every man, woman, and child in the state. One of the reasons Palin has been a popular governor is that she added an extra twelve hundred dollars to this year’s check, bringing the per-person total to $3,269. A few weeks before she was nominated for Vice-President, she told a visiting journalist—Philip Gourevitch, of this magazine—that “we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.” Perhaps there is some meaningful distinction between spreading the wealth and sharing it (“collectively,” no less), but finding it would require the analytic skills of Karl the Marxist.
Comment:  This posting is relevant because the Republican attacks on "socialism" are implicitly attacks on Indian reservations and cultures. Traditionally, Indians believed in "spreading the wealth"--in sharing resources, making sure no one went hungry or was left behind, etc. In other words, they favored the community over the individual--the opposite of the American mindset.

Calling Indians "socialists"

Conservatives have attacked the reservation system for this reason before. For instance, here are some quotes from Uncivil Indians:Socialism at work....

The last bastion of socialism in North America....

A failed experiment in socialism....

Descriptions of Indian reservations, James Watt, Secretary of the Interior under Ronald Reagan, 1980s
The reservation is a magnet for mooches because federal time limits on welfare benefits don't apply at Pine Ridge.

Here where cradle-to-grave socialism, the Democrats' fantasy state, is realized, more than half the reservation's adults battle addiction and disease.

Michelle Malkin, The Shambles in South Dakota, 10/23/02
Conservatives have made these arguments before, and I and others have demolished them before. For more on this subject, see Should Indians Cling to Reservations? and Indians as Welfare Recipients. For more on campaign politics, see The 2008 Presidential Campaign.


dmarks said...

" This posting is relevant because the Republican attacks on "socialism" are implicitly attacks on Indian reservations and cultures."

Some really good points are made, until you get to this. This particular claim is a real stretch. Socialism itself is a peculiar European creation, an ideology of supposedly scientifically-based totalitarian rule and control.

Anonymous said...

Re: the "socialism" post

1. Pine Ridge, South Dakota, is on par with Haiti in many respects (per the Malkin article), but as a former resident of that reservation (my family moved to Los Angeles in the early '60s), I know for an absolute fact that the perpetually Republican powers-that-be DO NOT want appreciable numbers of Native people to achieve socio-economic parity with the rest of the state. This fact is very much in evidence as the SD State legislative record bears this out in the sheer numbers of economic development initiatives for the state's nine reservations that have been continuously voted down by the Republican majority over the past several decades.

2. In South Dakota, anyone who is well above-average in terms of intelligence or who is highly motivated to succeed in life beyond wanting to inseminate cattle, simply relocates to much greener pastures elsewhere. The vast majority of college graduates in South Dakota leave the state for good upon graduation, including most Native graduates.

The only college grads to be found in SD's private sector are those with the types of criminal backgrounds that prevent them from obtaining suitable employment elsewhere. White felons who are college-educated (and most of whom are Republicans) seem to flourish via an "old boy network" in South Dakota that essentially guarantees them excellent job placement across the state - including within the reservation system, generally as consultants, program directors and even teachers.

3. 90% of the "good jobs" in South Dakota are reserved for whites (most of whom are Republicans) via the traditional hardcore anti-Indian racism that is still very much in place throughout the state - when one travels through the state's two largest cities, Sioux Falls and Rapid City, there is an extremely noticeable dearth of Native people seen working at jobs in the private sector.

Rob said...

As usual, thanks for the info, Melvin.

Your definition of "socialism" is way off the mark, DMarks. There's nothing about totalitarian rule or control in it. You must be thinking of communism or some other economic theory.

Here, read the actual definition. Note the references to an egalitarian society. Socialism is defined by its goal of making people more or less equal.


Socialism refers to a broad set of economic theories of social organization advocating state or collective ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods, and the creation of an egalitarian society.

Socialists mainly share the belief that capitalism unfairly concentrates power and wealth among a small segment of society that controls capital and creates an unequal society. All socialists advocate the creation of an egalitarian society, in which wealth and power are distributed more evenly, although there is considerable disagreement among socialists over how, and to what extent this could be achieved.

Socialism is not a discrete philosophy of fixed doctrine and program; its branches advocate a degree of social interventionism and economic rationalization, sometimes opposing each other. Another dividing feature of the socialist movement is the split on how a socialist economy should be established between the reformists and the revolutionaries. Some socialists advocate complete nationalization of the means of production, distribution, and exchange; while others advocate state control of capital within the framework of a market economy. Social democrats propose selective nationalization of key national industries in mixed economies combined with tax-funded welfare programs; Libertarian socialism (which includes Socialist Anarchism and Libertarian Marxism) rejects state control and ownership of the economy altogether and advocates direct collective ownership of the means of production via co-operative workers' councils and workplace democracy.

Rob said...

Re "Socialism itself is a peculiar European creation": Indigenous tribes supposedly shared their resources with everyone so no one went without. If true, this would make them socialist in nature. Indeed, conservatives often charge that Indians were and are socialists.

Since some tribes recognized territorial and property rights, I'm not sure how valid this charge is. But the concept of socialism predates 19th century Europe and Karl Marx. Again, it has no necessary connection with "scientifically-based totalitarian rule and control."