President Obama, You’re No Socialist

Guest Post: By BERRY CRAIG

Sometimes, people unintentionally define themselves by what they call others.

Take Republicans who say Barack Obama is a “socialist.” It just shows how far right-wing they are.

They pinned the “socialist” or “socialistic” label on the president when he was a candidate last year. Their man, John McCain, got clobbered.

Name-calling is about all the Republicans have got left. After eight years of President George W. Bush, the economy is tanking. Unemployment topped eight percent in February.

Americans are still losing lives and limbs in Bush’s bloody and seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I guess desperation drove the Republicans to forsake “liberal” for “socialist” as their stock smear-word for Democrats. The switch apparently isn’t scoring many points.

So far, Obama’s approval ratings are way up. Bush’s were way down when he left office.
Sarah Palin, McCain’s running mate last year, was one of those hinting that Obama leaned toward the socialist side. A recent survey from Public Policy Polling matched Obama and Palin in 2012. He beat her 55-35.

At least the GOP is consistent. Republicans still argue that Reagan-Bush (Senior and Junior)-McCain-style government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich makes the good times roll for all of us. Many of them are still gung-ho for war in Iraq and Afghanistan (although more than a few of them – including Bush, Cheney and Limbaugh – ducked the Vietnam War in their salad days).

I heard one Republican define socialism as “…the equal sharing of misery.” He was quoting British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Churchill was one of history’s greatest wartime leaders. His courage and steady hand helped lead the Allies to victory in World War II over Adolf Hitler, a mass murderer who tried to exterminate the Jews of Europe while embracing big business, industrial and banking tycoons in Germany and busting unions.

Churchill was hardly objective about socialism. He detested Britain’s socialist-oriented Labor Party and British unions. He was an imperialist who staunchly defended Britain’s colonial empire. He did all he could to make sure Britain’s rich and titled upper crust – to which he belonged – stayed on top in his nation’s class-ridden society.

“Equal sharing of misery” would apply to the old Soviet Union and every other communist state, which sometimes titled themselves “socialist” – as in the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” But just because they said they were socialists didn’t make them socialists.

Similarly, tagging your country a “republic” doesn’t always mean it really is a republic. The “Republic of the Philippines” was a right-wing dictatorship under strongman Ferdinand Marcos. The same was true of Nicaragua under the brutal Somozas. South Africa was officially “the Republic of South Africa” even when it was ruled by white supremacist thugs.

There is a fundamental and unbridgeable gap between communists and genuine socialists, who also answer to “democratic socialists” and “social democrats.” Socialists believe reform should come via ballots, not bullets. In other words, real socialists believe in real democracy. That’s why communists hate them as much as they hate capitalists. Communists diss democratic socialists, claiming they are flunkeys and willing henchmen of the capitalist powers-that-be.

Real socialists believe in mixed economies. They say governments should own large enterprises that are too important to the well being of their nations as a whole to be in private hands. At the same time, they say government should regulate – but not abolish – other private enterprise in order to safeguard workers, other consumers and the environment.

Unlike McCain and the rest of the Republican Right, socialists think sharing the wealth is good for everybody. So does Obama. But that doesn’t make him a socialist. His policies make him no more than a garden variety liberal Democrat.

Real socialists are common in countries like Norway, which routinely elect them to office.

The democratic socialist Labor Party is the senior partner in the Norwegian government. Jens Stoltenberg, a Labor Party member, is prime minister.

“Misery,” equal or otherwise, doesn’t accurately describe Stoltenberg’s country – or its democratic socialist-minded neighbors Sweden and Denmark — not by a long shot.

“The Norwegian economy is a prosperous [italics mine] bastion of welfare capitalism, featuring a combination of free market activity and government intervention,” one source says. “The government controls key areas, such as the vital petroleum sector, through large-scale state enterprises.”

That source isn’t the Norwegian government or the “socialistic” United Nations. The quote comes from the CIA’s 2008 World Factbook.

Norway is more than just one of the world’s most prosperous countries. It is also one of the healthiest.

For years, Norway has had what the Republican Right sneeringly calls “socialized medicine.”

Yet as a whole Norwegians are healthier than Americans, based on the two commonly accepted standards for societal wellness: life expectancy and infant mortality.

People who live in Norway have a higher life expectancy rate at birth than Americans, whose country is the only western industrial democracy without government-provided health care for everybody. (It is 79.81 years in Norway and 78.14 years in the U.S.)

Norway’s infant mortality rate is lower than ours, too – 3.61 deaths per 1,000 births compared to 6.3 deaths in the U.S.. Those numbers are also in the Factbook.

So are per capita gross domestic product figures. Norway’s was an estimated $57,500 in 2008 compared to $48,000 for the U.S.

Norway is more proof that union wages do buy more. Fifty-seven percent of Norwegian workers belong to unions compared to 12.4 percent in the U.S.

True, Norwegians pay more in taxes than Americans. But most of them agree they get their money’s worth. Few Norwegians would trade their “welfare capitalism” for the red-in-tooth-and-claw, to-heck-with-you-I’ve-got-mine capitalism GOP represents. “Socialism” isn’t a dirty word to most Norwegians.

Stoltenberg, his party and probably most Norwegians apparently prefer Obama to Bush or McCain. Even so, the Norwegian Labor Party doesn’t claim the American president as a fellow socialist.

Based on his politics, the liberal Obama would be a centrist in Norway. Moderate and conservative Democrats would be in right-wing parties Norway. On the other hand, most Republicans would be on the far, far right in Norway and every other western European nation.

Meanwhile, if I were the president, I’d be hoping that the GOP keeps on saying I’m a “socialist.” That would put me in company with one of America’s greatest presidents.

The last time we had a Depression, Republican Rightists – whose policies brought on the hard times – called President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the guy trying to clean up their mess, a “socialist.” “I am a Christian and a Democrat,” FDR said.

He welcomed criticism from the union-haters in big business, big industry and big banking who voted Republican. FDR dubbed them “economic royalists.” That label stuck.

The “royalists'” kids and grandkids – arm-in-arm with neo-Confederate descendants of segregationist Dixie Democrats – are mostly running the GOP. They’re also some of the ones calling Obama a “socialist.”

I haven’t heard Obama call somebody who calls him a socialist an “economic royalist.” Maybe he should. It resonated in the 30s and 40s when the “socialist” president who coined the term got elected four times in landslides.

FDR’s drubbing of Hoover, Landon, Willkie and Dewey should be food for thought for Obama and for latter day Republicans whose well-heeled ancestors made out like bandits under Harding, Coolidge and Hoover and thought these three GOP presidents who gave us the Depression were really swell guys.

[Berry Craig is a professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a member of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association-Kentucky Education Association.]

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