Looking for Socialism in All the Wrong Places

August 5th, 2010 at 11:22 pm | 108 Comments |

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Before I say anything more about Stanley Kurtz’s description of President Obama as a “socialist” and “radical,” I want to underscore that I have no personal animus towards Kurtz. I’ve never met him, and he came to my attention via a friend who has a high regard for Kurtz’s intellect. I am not here to attack him, but his argument. Kurtz seems irritated that, like countless writers over the centuries, I choose to write under a pseudonym.  He wants to know why I do that, and why I chose Eugene Debs.  But whether I write under a pseudonym or not has nothing to do with the efficacy of my argument.  It must stand or fall on its own merits, just as Kurtz’s must.  As the lawyers say, the only thing relevant here is what is between the “four corners of the document.”

So let’s turn to Kurtz’s argument again – and to his answers to my criticisms.

The key question here is this: Let’s stipulate that all of Kurtz’s research into Barack Obama’s antecedents is precisely correct. Let’s imagine that Kurtz has accumulated audio and video tapes of Barack Obama consorting/bonding with known socialists and articulating a fully elaborated theory of American socialism’s march to power. Let’s stipulate further that Kurtz has a smoking gun video of Obama sitting around with Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright in 1990 and saying, “Well guys, how should we map out the next 30 years of the “transition” to socialism?  Just for starters, I think it would be helpful if I were elected president.  From that position, I could really expedite the program, don’t you think?”  What would this prove exactly?

Imagine a Stanley Kurtz of the 1980s, unearthing old Ronald Reagan speeches from the 1940s, back when Reagan was an Americans for Democratic Action liberal. What would those speeches tell us about the Reagan presidency? What would Hillary Clinton’s Goldwater activism of the 1960s have told us about a Hillary Clinton presidency?

Precious little.

We are what we do. The way to know the Obama presidency is to watch what the Obama presidency does, how it is staffed, what priorities it chooses.

Stanley Kurtz disagrees with this—it’s all happening by “stealth”, you see. I asked Kurtz and others over the weekend why a purported socialist like Obama would surround himself with such mainstream figures in the Democratic Party, and even one rather prominent Republican, Robert Gates. Kurtz apparently sees nothing unusual or inefficient about Obama’s appointments to influential positions.  It’s all part of the plan, I guess.  Indeed, Kurtz is “amused” by my Ockham’s Razor remark that Obama has never publicly advocated socialism.  Of course not, writes Kurtz:  it is a deliberate tactic of American socialists to eschew explicit, public advocacy of their deeply held world view.  Rather, “Obama’s policies do fit the model of what socialists call a ‘transitional program’, (i.e. a plan to bring about more complete socialism incrementally, over the long term).”

In other words: while Obama does not act like a socialist now, with a big Democratic majority and in the full flush of his mandate, he might act like one later, when he’s weaker. Or maybe not.  Maybe the transition is so precise and slow that Obama won’t act like a socialist at all, and leave that to subsequent Democratic presidents and congressional majorities. So when Obama rejects his party’s left and takes the most incremental available path on universal health care – that confirms his socialism. When he declines to temporarily nationalize the banks – that proves it too. And when he does temporarily nationalize the auto companies—that also proves it! Omitting real socialists to key positions in his administration – all part of the plan.

So, Obama’s scheme is a stealthy one, and it will lead not to a sudden explosion of socialism, but to an “incremental” “transitional program.”  This sounds very clever indeed, but it creates an insuperable obstacle for Kurtz’s analysis: if Obama’s plan for socialism is incremental and transitional, how are we to tell the difference between it and the mainstream liberalism that every major figure in the Democratic Party supports?  Does Obama send out a secret hand signal when he doesn’t nationalize the banks to those who understand that it means, “Don’t worry, comrades—socialism is coming—I’ve got this under control.”?


Click here to read Part 2.

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108 Comments so far ↓

  • easton

    Willy’s collection of centrists: The KKK lodge, the Aryan brotherhood, the John Birch society. Yep, I am sure he woos them real good. As to here, has he ever convinced anyone not of his persuasion of anything?

    This really is a demented argument. Only a moron believes Obama is a Socialist, I said the same thing about people who said Reagan or Shrub was a Nazi.

  • jorae

    Some concepts of Socialism came from Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778). He is famous for the quote “men are born free, but are in chains everywhere.” Society needed all it citizens to be educated in order to actually be free.

    “A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest, of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest.” Jefferson 1818 One of the first needs to be free was met through free education.

    The other virtue of a Social Democracy is the wages of labor needed to be met. In the beginning, America was basically farmers and farmers had slaves. Isn’t providing every need the same thing as a living wage? There’s no actual money exchange to buy a piano, but the owner provided food, housing, heat, clothing and medical.

    We now know these things as welfare. They exist because the owner has not provided a living wage. Anyone who complains about Socialism, should be writing a letter to the America’s corporations who have not been paying a living wage since the 70′s or has left America completely to leave the problem to our government.

  • Jack Jolis

    What in Europe they call socialists, are in America called Democrats.

    Of course, there are “left” and “less-left”-wing socialists in Europe, just as there are “left” and “less-left”-wing Democrats.

    Why should this obvious state of affairs be so contestatory? Especially as pertains to Obama, who comes from and remains manifestly on the left edge of the Democrat Party? (If he hasn’t managed yet to govern quite as radically as he and his most left-wing supporters would wish, this is due to the political reality on the ground — i.e., the resistance of the American people — but this in no way negates where his political heart and mind reside.)

    Of course he’s a socialist (even if, these days, with a small “s”). But that’s the least of our problems — the real question is: what else is he?

  • easton

    jack jolis: what else is he?

    Oooh, can I guess? Is he a pod person from the planet Xanaatxate? Or is he just a Muslim, atheist, Commie, Nazi?

    I do know what you are, a freaking Troll.

  • someotherdude

    For jack jolis:

    What in Europe they call fascist and right-wing nationalist, are in America called Republicans.
    Of course, there are “right” and “less-right”-wing nationalist in Europe, just as there are “right” and “less-right”-wing Republicans.

    Why should this obvious state of affairs be so contestatory? Especially as pertains to your average Republican, who comes from and remains manifestly on the right edge of the Republican Party? (If they haven’t managed yet to govern quite as radically as they and most right-wing supporters would wish, this is due to the political reality on the ground — i.e., the resistance of the American people — but this in no way negates where their political heart and mind reside.)
    Of course they are fascist (even if, these days, with a small “f”). But that’s the least of our problems — the real question is: what else are they?

    The United States is part of the Western tradition, and as such the right-wing nationalists of America are ethno-nationalists are right-wing nationalists are fascist. For all the anti-state and libertarian rhetoric they engage in, it’s all a cover for their desire to institute a right-wing state…just like any rightwing nationalistic fascist would desire.

  • florishes

    I agree wholeheartedly with someotherdude. Next…

  • John Q

    Let me see – how many examples of socialism can I find here in my city:

    Socialized protective services – we have a police dept, so I don’t have to hire private security;
    Socialized library services – so I don’t have to buy every single book I might want to read;
    Socialized public education – so my son could get an education, as I can’t afford private school;
    Socialized road building – so I don’t have to invent my own pathway to get around town;
    Socialized health inspectors, so I don’t have to bring my own posse of inspectors to make sure I’m not going to get ill when I eat out;

    I could go on, but you get the idea.
    Stanley Kurtz must be weeping……..

  • jorae

    Socialism gives me enough money not to ask for government assistant…The inability to think that thought make you a Republican.