Thursday, March 18, 2010

Is President Obama a Socialist?

Business Week (we all know what a liberal rag that is) ran a story last year that I recently stumbled upon and thought was both entertaining and informative. It asked the question: Is President Obama a Socialist?

The simple answer is no. And, judging from the article, no is also the complicated answer, the short answer, and the long answer. It’s the reasonable answer.

Let’s define Socialism. Socialism is an economic and political theory that advocates state ownership of major industries as a tool for distributing wealth more evenly in a society.

While Rush Limbaugh and others like him on the Far Right get political mileage out of implying that President Obama is a Socialist, the real Socialists of the world beg to differ, according to the Business Week article.
They say if the Obama Administration were establishing a true socialist state, we'd have at least a $15-an-hour minimum wage (instead of the current $6.55 federal minimum) and 30-hour workweeks. Every American would be guaranteed employment and health-care coverage. Oh, and homeless people would be occupying vacant office buildings in cities and vacant McMansions in the suburbs.
Business Week talked to Frank Llewellyn, national director of the New York-based Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the largest U.S. Socialist party, and to Frances Fox Piven, a professor of political science at City University of New York (CUNY) and an honorary chair of the DSA. They also talked to a representative of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in Chicago and the Socialist Party USA in New York. In their view, President Obama is not trying to take over private sector industry and turn it into something run by the state to benefit the masses. Instead, he is “scrambling to rescue and preserve capitalism.”

How influential are these Socialist political groups? The Socialist Party USA has 1,500 members. The much larger DSA has a whopping 7,000 members. By comparison, Wikipedia says there are about 55 million registered Republicans and 72 million registered Democrats in the US. The Coffee Party has 172,000 fans on Facebook and the Tea Party Patriots page has 115,000.
On Mar. 6 (2009) a New York Times reporter asked Obama whether his domestic policies indicated the President is a socialist. Obama laughed, replying "the answer would be no." In a later telephone call to the paper, Obama said enormous taxpayer sums had been injected into the financial system before his election. "The fact that we've had to take these extraordinary measures and intervene is not an indication of my ideological preference, but an indication of the degree to which lax regulation and extravagant risk-taking has precipitated a crisis," Obama told the newspaper.
While the bailouts of 2009 may have given the federal government an ownership stake in a few industries, the Obama Administration never tried to take over the decision making process in at any major company. At worst, the administration may have stepped in and voiced an opinion on some management practices (particular those tied to executive compensation).

Of course, bank regulators come in and take over banks that are insolvent. Is that Socialism? We haven’t thought so in the past. And bankruptcy courts usually tell businesses how they can structure a plan to pay off their debts. Is that Socialism? Again, we haven’t thought so in the past.

It’s tempting to say that Rush Limbaugh doesn’t actually know what a Socialist is. But that’s obviously not true. He may be a Far Right ideology, but Rush is smart. He knows what a Socialist is. He knows Obama is not one. And Rush would like to expand the definition of Socialism to change that – at least in the public mind.

In the words that one prominent politician used recently, the idea that President Obama is a Socialist – well, that’s “barkings from the nether reaches of Glennbeckistan…”