What kind of socialist is Obama?
Being a critic of those who toss around words like "socialism," and "communism" to define Obama and the Democrat's far left agenda, I found this Jonah Goldberg piece a cut above most critiques that offer up the idea that the president is indeed, a socialist.
My beef is with definitions -a reverence for language and communication that is impossible if the definitions of words keep shifting like the desert sands. Taking a word like "socialism" out of context and applying it to the far left Obama agenda (and extra-Constitutional actions like the auto company takeover) is not precise, nor is it necessarily true.
But is it correct, as an objective matter, to call Obama's agenda "socialist"? That depends on what one means by socialism. The term has so many associations and has been used to describe so many divergent political and economic approaches that the only meaning sure to garner consensus is an assertive statism applied in the larger cause of "equality," usually through redistributive economic policies that involve a bias toward taking an intrusive and domineering role in the workings of the private sector. One might also apply another yardstick: an ambivalence, even antipathy, for democracy when democracy proves inconvenient.1 With this understanding as a vague guideline, the answer is certainly, Yes, Obama's agenda is socialist in a broad sense. The Obama administration may not have planned on seizing the means of automobile production or asserting managerial control over Wall Street. But when faced with the choice, it did both. Obama did explicitly plan on imposing a massive restructuring of one-sixth of the U.S. economy through the use of state fiat-and he is beginning to do precisely that.
Obama has, on numerous occasions, placed himself within the progressive intellectual and political tradition going back to Theodore Roosevelt and running through Franklin Roosevelt. With a few exceptions, the progressive political agenda has always been to argue for piecemeal reforms, not instant transformative change-but reforms that always expand the size, scope, and authority of the state. This approach has numerous benefits. For starters, it's more realistic tactically. By concentrating on the notion of reform rather than revolution, progressives can work to attract both ideologues of the Left and moderates at the same time. This allows moderates to be seduced by their own rhetoric about the virtues of a specific reform as an end in itself. Meanwhile, more sophisticated ideologues understand that they are supporting a camel's-nose strategy.
Indeed, there is a conservative case to be made for "incrementalism" in any action taken by government whether it's reforming a health care system or fixing Medicare. This prudent, sober approach respects the power of government to do evil and thus, minimizes unintended consequences.
But do Obama's multi-thousand page "reforms" add up to him trying to impose "socialism" on the US? Goldberg again:
Obama is no Marxist. This is a point lost on some who like to highlight the president's indebtedness to the ideas of the late radical Saul Alinsky, who was no Marxist either. Rather, Alinsky was a radical leftist and a proponent of "social-ism" before Blair named it. He believed that all institutions, indeed the system itself, should be bent to the needs of the underprivileged and the downtrodden in the name of social justice. Bent, not broken. Like the progressives and various Marxists, Alinsky was a proponent of radical pragmatism, using the tools available to change the existing order. This was the core of what the New York Times, in a remarkable 1913 analysis surveying Theodore Roosevelt's ideas in the wake of his third-party campaign for president, dubbed T.R.'s "super-socialism": "It is not the Marxian Socialism. Much that Karl Marx taught is rejected by present-day Socialists. Mr. Roosevelt achieves the redistribution of wealth in a simpler and easier way"-by soaking the rich and yoking big business to the state. "It has all the simplicity of theft and much of its impudence," the Times asserted. "The means employed are admirably adapted to the ends sought, and if the system can be made to work at all, it will go on forever."
President Obama's health-care plan is a pristine example of this approach. He is long on record saying he would prefer a single-payer system if we could design one from scratch. But since he has to work from within the confines of the existing system, he has given us ObamaCare instead-which, again, is now merely a "critical first step." It uses insurance companies as governmental entities, akin to utilities, to provide a now-mandatory government service. The insurance companies will make nominal government-decreed profits on top of government-decreed "fees" and "premiums" (the quotation marks are necessary given that rates will be set by government and enforced by the Internal Revenue Service).
Obama still scoffs at the suggestion that he is a socialist largely to delegitimize his opponents. During his address to House Republicans at their retreat in December 2009, Obama ridiculed Republicans for acting as if his health-care scheme were some "Bolshevik plot." In responding to the "Tea Parties" organized to oppose the expansion of government, Obama has explicitly likened those who describe his policies as socialist to the "birther" conspiracy theorists who foolishly believe he was actually born outside the United States: "There's some folks who just weren't sure whether I was born in the United States, whether I was a socialist, right?"
I have come to think that Obama does not believe himself to be a socialist, nor do many of the far left radical Democrats in the House and Senate (Some certainly do and have bragged about it.). Their economic beliefs are so wrong headed as to make them simpleminded, but power hungry pols, rather than conniving, closet socialists who want to bring down capitalism. In fact, they desperately need capitalism's wealth creating to further their agenda. Their conception is that the economic pie is static - that the rich take more than their "fair share" of a pie that has a finite size. They are incapable of grasping the idea of a growing pie - that wealth is actually created by entrepreneurs to benefit not only themselves, but society as a whole, and that an expanding pie means more for everyone.
But does this make them socialists? Goldberg and many conservatives argue in the affirmative, but I'm not so sure. They want the benefits of capitalism with the control that a quaisi-socialism gives them. As with FDR, they believe they are "saving" capitalism from itself by giving it a "human face."
But frankly, labels at this point are superfluous. What the president and the Democrats in Congress are doing is wrong, should be shouted from the rooftops as being wrong. We might argue the semantics of it, but in the end, we can all agree that they must be stopped dead in their tracks.