I learned again last week that conservatives who adamantly oppose Democratic control of our national government instinctively use the threat of socialism as their rallying flag, their philosophical fear and loathing of a potential change in leadership in our nation’s Capital.
The anti-socialist sentiment emanates from intelligent, worldly folks who suffer from a distinct lack of knowledge and historical context. They use socialism perhaps as a euphemism for communism. Their thinking is thoughtless, if not foolishly dangerous.
Socialism is a rhetorical tool that bears no resemblance to reality. It’s misused and misunderstood.
The conservative commentator, George Will, writing in 2016, opined that socialism—if defined by redistribution of wealth— would apply not only to the poor but also the wealthy who benefit from farm subsidies and land preservation, corporate bailouts, Social Security, Medicare and favorable tax programs.
Wills wrote, “Time was, socialism meant thorough collectivism: state ownership of the means of production (including arable land), distribution and exchange.” This concept morphed under Lenin into government ownership of the economy’s “big entities,” according to Will. It then transformed into “having government distribute, according to its conception of equity, the wealth produced by capitalism. This conception is shaped by muscular factions: the elderly, government employee unions, the steel industry, the sugar growers, and so on and on and on.”
Will explained that “two-thirds of the federal budget (and 14 percent of GDP) goes to transfer payments, mostly to the non-poor. The U.S. economy’s health care sector (about 18 percent of the economy) is larger than the economies of all but three nations, and permeated by government money.”
And I don’t begrudge economic stimulus programs that might aid corporate America. What rankles me is a mean-spiritedness disguised as a discussion about small versus large government.
I believe we as a country have an obligation to the unprivileged; that’s who we are as a caring country, as I view our national soul.
Socialist governments such as Russia and China, where state control of media and utilities is suffocatingly pervasive, compare unfavorably to our free-market economy and democratic elections.
Even with the availability of Obamacare, private medical care is alive and well in our country. Choices are many.
Am I’m then a Socialist? Hell no. Democracy and capitalism are a potent combination for “doing good while doing well,” as Ben Franklin stated so adroitly in the late 18th century.
While I think that free community college or free four-year college is a good idea in terms of economic development, I seriously question how it can be funded. Tax the rich? Why should the rich, however defined, be responsible for this enormous expenditure?
If free education is considered a nationwide priority, why shouldn’t all Americans support it through a special tax or tax credit?
When I think about the use of socialist ideas, I think about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal during the Depression in the 1930s and its effectiveness in thwarting entrenched economic distress. FDR faced anger and accusations for his employment of programs viewed as socialistic.
Unemployed Americans earned wages and self-respect.
When conservative Republicans attack big government programs as wreaking of socialism (and its ugly overtones), I suggest they look honestly at corporate buyouts and stimulus programs and farm subsidies and ask if these too are onerous.
Fairness is the common denominator. Is government catering to the public and our view of ourselves or simply enacting wasteful and expensive initiatives? That’s the question, unburdened by provocative, useless labels.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.