Imagine an America Where Socialism is No Longer a Dirty Word

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When I was a kid in mega-conservative Orange County, calling somebody a commie was like calling them evil: It was a term nobody understood, and therefore it meant everything amorphously bad. People didn't use words like "socialist" or "unionist" — it was just commie, or maybe (in my town) commie faggot. That's why these days I feel like I'm living in a new America. Barack Obama's political agenda has got media and pundits actually talking about socialism, and not just as a demonized, nasty caricature of itself. Though the McCain camp is trying to call Obama a socialist as a smear, most commentators on the left and right know Obama isn't a socialist. But they worry (or hope) that his policies will lead to an America where "socialist" is no longer an insult. Are their concerns realistic? I think they actually might be. I don't think America will ever be a socialist country, but I do think its citizens might learn to tell the difference between, say, a communist, a unionist, an anarchist, and a socialist. This would be a giant step: The U.S. isn't exactly a nation of political subtleties. We are democrat or republican, not complicated things like "utopian socialists," Keynesians, or that science fictional favorite, "socialist libertarian." So what I'm saying is that while Obama won't make America socialist, he might make it a place where you can call yourself socialist without people thinking that you eat babies or love Stalin. Writes Jo-Ann Mort, a lefty columnist in the UK Guardian:

Obama, with billionaire businessman Warren Buffett and former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker among his top financial advisers, may support a more equitable America, he is no socialist. Which isn't to say that an Obama administration couldn't inspire socialist policies or attitudes . . . Obama's stance is significant, not because he has proclaimed allegiance to socialist ideology - he hasn't - but rather because he is expressing support for notions of social solidarity and interdependency and government intervention akin to European social democracy. Surely the majority of Americans don't link these values to any kind of socialist strain. Unlike Europe, socialism and social democracy are not even part of the American political scene. But Americans are searching for a vision of society different from our present one.

Meanwhile, conservative Donald Bordreaux writes in the Christian Science Monitor that though Obama is clearly not socialist, his economic policies might lead to a "milder" form of socialism:

If reckoned as an attitude rather than a set of guidelines for running an economy, socialism might well describe Senator Obama's economics. Anyone who speaks glibly of "spreading the wealth around" sees wealth not as resulting chiefly from individual effort, initiative, and risk-taking, but from great social forces beyond any private producer's control.


I disagree with how Bordreaux characterizes socialism, but at least he's treating it like an actual system of ideas, rather than a recipe for witchcraft. Socialism is being discussed in a semi-rational way in America, for the first time in two generations. Who knows what the future might bring? Barack Obama's Populist Vision [via UK Guardian] Is Barack Obama Really a Socialist? [via Christian Science Monitor]