A Socialist Like Me

During the course of my writing career, I’ve been called a socialist a handful of times. Those who read my fizzy screeds are probably convinced it’s an everyday occurrence, but I’d say it happens with roughly the same frequency that Mitt Romney buys a Caddy, Mark Neumann runs for public office, or Dick Cheney swaps out a major organ.

As taunts go, I find that it’s a pretty feckless one, and more or less akin to being called a homicidal prairie chicken or Michael Flatley, Lord of the Dance. It’s a bit jarring, perhaps, but not really hurtful.

I say that because, with the degree of precision that any human being can know himself, I know what I am. I’m a progressive, I’m a bleeding heart, I’m a Madison eco-freak who rides his bike miles to the co-op to pick up vegan bakery. But I’m not a socialist.

You see, a socialist is someone who believes that the state or the community, and not private individuals, should own the means of production. It’s a pretty stupid theory, really, and had more chances to succeed than it deserved. And in the U.S. today, very few serious people actually call themselves socialists while abiding by the true definition of the word.
So while, for the reasons mentioned above, it doesn’t really hurt to be called a socialist, I have to wonder sometimes how Barack Obama feels. Obama’s not a socialist any more than I am. Actually, he’s explicitly said he is not a socialist, but that hasn’t stopped people from continuing to call him one.

In fact, Obama is called a socialist so often, you almost have to wonder about the mental fitness of his accusers – many of whom were, until very recently, leading GOP presidential candidates. It’s one thing to be a garden-variety churl who collects government benefits and then screams "socialist" at the drop of a hat, apparently believing that socialism is a political system in which benefits are extended to anyone other than yourself or the people sitting across the bar from you at Hooters. It’s another to be a GOP luminary who sounds like he discovered Fox News and The Communist Manifesto around the same time he contracted Tourette’s.

What Obama does advocate is progressive taxation, in which those who have more pay more in order to level the playing field for everyone. Sometimes the money collected through such a tax system goes to fund programs that help the less fortunate. It’s not a radical idea – it’s the American way, and has been for more than 100 years.

In fact, I don’t know of a contemporary politician who doesn’t believe that rich people should pay more in taxes than poor people. Even under Herman Cain’s blindingly stupid 9-9-9 tax plan, millionaires and billionaires would have paid considerably more than your typical family of four.

What Obama would like to do is tweak the tax code to make it a bit more progressive. You can certainly argue whether that’s a good idea, and it undoubtedly makes Obama more of a lefty than his immediate predecessor, but does it really make him a socialist?

Well, let’s see:

Socialist like Dwight D. Eisenhower, who presided over top marginal tax rates that hovered between 91% and 92% throughout his presidency? (Under Obama, the top marginal rate currently stands at 35%.)

Socialist like Richard Nixon, who advocated for universal health care way back in 1974, saying, "It is ¦ as important that economic, racial and social barriers not stand in the way of good health care as it is to eliminate those barriers to a good education and a good job"?

Socialist like Gerald Ford, who signed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, guaranteeing children with disabilities a "free appropriate public education"?

Socialist like Ronald Reagan, who, in lauding the Tax Reform Act of 1986, bragged that "millions of the working poor will be dropped from the tax rolls altogether"?

Socialist like George H.W. Bush, who signed the Americans With Disabilities Act, guaranteeing disabled Americans access to public services, programs and accommodations?

It’s become popular these days to say that Obama is some sort of dangerous political outlier who is dismantling our sacred traditions so he can install his own peculiar and malignant form of government. I would argue that the real outliers are today’s Republicans, who are as out of step with American tradition as they are with their own history.
Don’t believe me? Just ask that crazy, wild-eyed socialist Dwight Eisenhower.

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