We’re All Socialists Now

April 11, 2009

Rasmussen, home of the some of the most idiotic polls, recently asked Americans whether they think “socialism” or “capitalism” is “better.”

Capitalism won, but not by as much as you’d think (especially if you grew up during the Cold War, or watch FOX News regularly). 53% said capitalism is better. 30% said socialism is. It becomes much closer for the under-30 crowd, with neither capitalism nor socialism getting more than 40%.

Weekend Opinionator has a good summary of the online bullshit discussions on this. Here’s my take. People in this country, for the most part, don’t have the first clue what socialism is. Thanks to the right wing calling everybody and everything that’s not straight out of an Ayn Rand novel “socialism,” I’d wager that a solid majority of the American public believes socialism is anything short of utterly unregulated free-market capitalism, with the government playing no role in the economy whatsoever. In other words, any country with a mixed economy is “socialist.” Considering that every major industrialized country in the West has had a mixed economy since WWII, the answers to the poll tell us absolutely nothing except that the rampant overuse of the term “socialist” has broadened its meaning to such an extent that it is, for all intents and purposes, meaningless.

Since the election, and really even before, we’ve heard that Barack Obama is a socialist. We’ve heard that the vast majority of Democrats in Congress are socialists. We’ve heard that the US is rapidly moving toward socialism. We’ve been told that the stimulus package is socialism. Undoing the Bush tax cuts and restoring the top tax rate to 39.6% from 36% is socialism. Europe is socialist.

The problem is that there’s no Soviet Union anymore to define “socialism” for us. People are told that President Obama, Britain, France, and Germany are all socialist. People are looking at these things and thinking, jeez, socialism’s not that bad. And if the Bush/Cheney/Limbaugh/Beck/Hannity axis represents “capitalism,” well, you do the math.

In reality, of course, you’d be hard pressed to find many among the American or European political leaderships who are not capitalists, using any remotely useful definition of the term. Yet Alabama Republican House member Spencer Bachus claims he can identify 17 socialists in the House of Representatives, whom he refuses to name (these people truly are self-parodies). Michele Bachmann adds that the Obama administration represents the “final leap toward socialism” (one only wonders what constitutes the succession of leaps toward socialism in the US prior to this). Sarah Palin has gone on record claiming that Obama’s policies are “socialist.”

Is it really any surprise that the American public has lost any sense of what these words mean? Looking for the new bogeyman, the right has landed on the godless, socialistic French. The average American, though, does not exactly recoil from Western Europe’s lifestyle and standard of living in horror (35-hour work weeks! 6 weeks of vacation! unpasteurized cheese! those socialist junk cars like BMW and Mercedes!).


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