Click here to read Part 1 of Eugene Debs response to Stanley Kurtz.
Kurtz has committed a great, yet banal sin of intellectual argumentation: He’s created a non-falsifiable hypothesis by which anything that Obama does, by definition, confirms Kurtz’s point that he’s a socialist. Kurtz and I both consider two definitions of socialism. Kurtz claims that my remarks about what constitutes socialism are “incomplete and unconvincing.” Actually, he misreads what I wrote: I proposed as a heuristic device the idea that if socialism really means large increases in government expenditures, or merely the support of existing mixed economies, than every leader in the advanced capitalist world is a socialist, including Cameron, Merkel, and George W. Bush. So, no, obviously that isn’t my definition of socialism, but only an example of what an absurd definition of socialism looks like. And Kurtz correctly rejects this—too broad. (Although, incoherently, he also seeks to preserve the distinction between a capitalist United States and a socialist Sweden—“differences of degree quickly shade into differences of kind”, he writes).
Kurtz also rejects the old fashioned definition of state ownership of the means of production. If Obama were to, via executive order, nationalize the entire American economy, well that would certainly prove he was a socialist. But that’s too bald for Kurtz and, presumably, Obama.
So Kurtz has created a third category, the non-falsifiable one: “full nationalization” is an “outdated definition” of socialism. So we are left with, to repeat, “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).” And also that stealth is critical to the implementation of this transition—thus nothing Obama actually does can be taken as evidence of his non-socialism, but, rather, only of his bad faith, or if you prefer, his implacable sense of what is required to consummate his vision of a socialist America.
Obama’s relationship to the actual left wing of his own party is instructive, in this regard. Just this week, the impeccably liberal Robert Reich, who supported Obama’s presidential bid, writes in the Wall Street Journal that Obama’s programs have been wholly inadequate to address the nation’s great problem—yet just potent enough to engender an enormous conservative backlash.
Reich lays out the argument for the Left’s disappointment clearly. Why didn’t Obama—the alleged socialist—fight for the public option? Why didn’t Obama—the alleged socialist—follow the recommendation of many, including Paul Krugman and Rep. David Obey, that the stimulus be much larger than what he ultimately proposed? Why didn’t Obama—the alleged socialist—give the American people just a small taste of real socialism and, at least, temporarily nationalize the large banks? (After all, even George W. Bush’s administration nationalized AIG, the largest insurance company in the world. Is Bush a socialist? Is Ben Bernanke? Is Henry Paulson)? Why didn’t Obama support a financial regulation bill that would actually break up the big banks and link bankers’ compensation to institutional performance? Why didn’t Obama withdraw American forces from Afghanistan as soon as logistically possible—why did he increase American forces there? Wouldn’t the fiscal savings have helped with the “transition” to socialism? I know I know—according to Kurtz, this is all part of the plan. But if this is the plan, the plan doesn’t really make much sense, does it?
Let’s look at another specific policy example—no, not what Obama was saying on Kurtz’s soon to be released basement tapes 20 years ago, but what he actually does when wielding the power of the presidency. The example is the budget deficit commission, co-chaired by Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, and Alan Simpson, a Republican. Bowles is yet another strange personnel choice for a socialist president to make. This commission is considering the allocation of revenue and taxes decades into the future. Having enormous pots of money to invest in socialist training centers, or whatever, might be helpful to Obama’s long range plan.
If this be so, you might think that Obama would have selected at a minimum somebody like Robert Reich to run this commission. Instead Obama chose a conservative, Southern Democrat. Bowles wants government spending going forward to be set at 21% of GDP. That will ensure that the transition to socialism takes … oh four or five centuries.
There are other problems with Kurtz’s argument that his presumed impending revelations can’t allay. Kurtz wants us to think that “organized socialism” has had “little public influence in the country at large”, yet simultaneously powerfully influences the public policies of the president of the United States. How? Kurtz observes that socialist colleagues of Obama advocated a plan that would “blend control of capitalism by community groups (like ACORN) ‘from below’ … After all, ACORN couldn’t insert itself into the banking system without support from congressional Democrats and the Clinton administration.”
Ah—ACORN. ACORN first swung the election to Obama via massive voting fraud, and now ACORN would be a key element in controlling capitalism “from below.” Let’s think about this for a moment. Kurtz thinks that ACORN has had a major impact on American life, and, moreover, promised to have a major influence on the transition to socialism going forward. But…ACORN is defunct. It collapsed like a house of cards following one trumped up charge leveled at it by elements of the conservative entertainment complex. The organization couldn’t survive the most minimal public scrutiny and, though Kurtz claims that ACORN had influential Democrats in its pocket, they chose, instead, to let the ACORN fall from its tree into a fatal abyss. Yet Kurtz would have us believe that the late ACORN was an ideological and logistical juggernaut, a modern day Comintern.
Still, contained in Kurtz’s remarks about ACORN is the kernel of an insight, however false, that brings his entire argument crashing to ground. Kurtz writes that ACORN needed those friends in high places to become as influential as it did: “After all, ACORN couldn’t insert itself into the banking system without support from congressional Democrats and the Clinton administration.”
Wait! Was the Clinton administration—starting with Bill and Hillary, of course—socialist, too? And the congressional Democrats of that period as well? At last Kurtz has latched on to a giant, transformative assertion that does justice to his hard work and ambitious goals. It’s not only Obama who is a socialist—it’s the entire modern Democratic Party!
Kurtz thinks he has proven a lot—the president of the United States is a socialist!! But, in fact, he has proven much too little. If Obama is a socialist, then the entire mainstream establishment of the Democratic Party is socialist, too. This includes the Democratic leaders and major committee chairs in both houses of Congress, who unreservedly support Obama’s program. This also includes the major Democrats who competed with Obama for the 2008 Democratic nomination for president whose policy differences with him during that campaign were infinitesimal (Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, of course, have major positions in the Obama administration). And the 2004 party nominee, John Kerry, has been one of Obama’s most stalwart allies, only differing with him, if at all, in that he wishes to move faster on climate control legislation. Do all of these people—in essence, the Democratic Party tout court—realize they are part of a stealthy transition program towards socialism? Has Obama manipulated people like Chuck Schumer and Pat Leahy, who strike nobody as fools? Or is everybody—Reid, Pelosi, the whole lot—on board the slowly moving socialist ship?
If almost every influential Democrat agrees with Obama’s policy positions, regardless of their personal histories and exposure to what Kurtz calls “the little known world of post 1960s socialism” what’s the point of chronicling that Barack Obama once sat in a classroom while Professor X told him this, or attended a reception at which some other community organizer said that? If Democrats are all socialists, you don’t need to bother with any of this stuff: just the simple proof that Obama is a Democrat, Democrats are socialists, and therefore Obama is a socialist. This is the much larger story—and maybe much larger book—that Kurtz should write.
Or at least, as Kurtz says, it could be said. That’s good enough, isn’t it?