George Will on American Socialism

George Will made an incredible point last weekend on This Week. He pointed out (and I’m clearly paraphrasing) that 95% of what the government does is redistribute wealth and we all seem fine with it. Our tax policies make corn and sugar growers rich because our tax code subsidizes them, actually pays them to be in their business. That’s your money going to someone else. 

The idea of people being shocked at the “redistrubtion of wealth” amazes me. Take a look at the Farm Bill that just got passed.

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One last hit on Obama the “Socialist”

I’ll ask our readers and commenters one last question on Obama the “socialist.”

It’s not my question, Tom Brokaw asked it on Meet The Press this weekend to John McCain, who had no good answer. 

If Barack Obama were a socialist would Warren Buffet, America’s richest man and uber-capitalist be endorsing him? For those of you prepared with comments like “Obama can pull the wool over anyone eyes.” Well all I can say is no one pulls the wool over Buffet’s eyes and no one separates him from his money.

I don’t think Obama is a socialist and neither does Warren Buffet.

Context, Context, Context!

Two cents on the issue of socialism as it pertains to this campaign and the potential future economy of this country. This notion of “spreading the wealth around” as the platform of Obama’s economic strategy is malarkey. The notion that Obama is a socialist is malarkey. The reason being that this fit-for-scrutiny soundbite extracted by Obama’s critics is of course taken completely out of context from the rest of the “Joe The Plumber” conversation.

Obama has no intention of taking money back to “give it” to anyone. He has no intention of “leveling the playing field” in any sense that a doctor and a plumber would/should earn the same income. The full extent of his economic plan – whether you agree with it or not – is to provide tax breaks to the middle class (95% of the population) and repeal Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest members of our nation. People who can afford it. People who’s livelihoods do not depend on it, nor do their business investments.

Why would I make such a statement? Because these are the same folks who already are shipping jobs overseas and doing everything they can to scrape an extra buck now WHILE they have huge tax cuts. Why should we believe they’ll act any differently if these tax cuts that have hampered the middle class for 8 years are maintained? The wealthiest 1% had 8 years of tax breaks to stimulate the economy and have done nothing. The Obama tax plan doesn’t give these wealthy people’s money back to citizens -everyone still has to earn their way up. It invests money back into federal programs that are vital to the survival of our nation. We can’t have a strong military with no funding. We can’t protect our borders with no funding. We can’t increase the quality of our education under NCLB with no funding. And we can’t expect the middle and lower classes to carry this burden when these people can’t even afford to keep their homes.

If you think this is going to level anyone – especially when you consider that the wealthiest of our citizens make more than the lower half of our populations earnings COMBINED – it’s ludicrous. I don’t like taxes, no one does. I would certainly consider myself a fiscal conservative. But we can’t have it both ways. And we can’t keep comparing our business tax rates to other nations, like Ireland – who Senator McCain loves to  mention. I’m sorry, but when was the last time the Irish were an economic superpower? We’re supposed to be the richest nation on Earth. We have one of the most complex national infrastructures and economies (both of which are in the crapper right now). Of course our tax rates are higher. And seeing how the dollar is performing, it’s even less of a surprise.

So, love Obama’s tax plan or hate it, but it’s not socialism. It’s not horribly unfair. And I should only wish I was in a position of wealth great enough to bitch about it.

Which leads me to my PS…

PS: Why are so many people who will benefit most from Obama’s tax cuts so bent out of shape? No one’s stopping them from achieving the American dream. If anything, they’re getting a boost up to/from the middle and then they can make the push up to the top with the same American elbow grease that got our parents’ and grandparents’ generations up there.

I’m so spent by this election…and I haven’t even been taxed yet.

One last thing-seen the banking news lately?

For all this talk of Obama’s supposed socialism, anyone notice that we’re using nearly $1 Trillion of OUR money to sure up private industry, effectively nationalizing the banks? All this being done under a Republican administration? Apparently corporate welfare is A-OK?

McCain and Palin: Socialists?

An exchange from the 2000 campaign on MSNBC’s Hardball (quoted nimbly in the New Yorker): 

During the 2000 campaign, on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” a young woman asked him why her father, a doctor, should be “penalized” by being “in a huge tax bracket.” McCain replied that “wealthy people can afford more” and that “the very wealthy, because they can afford tax lawyers and all kinds of loopholes, really don’t pay nearly as much as you think they do.” The exchange continued:


YOUNG WOMAN: Are we getting closer and closer to, like, socialism and stuff?. . . 
MCCAIN: Here’s what I really believe: That when you reach a certain level of comfort, there’s nothing wrong with paying somewhat more. 

Then of course there’s Sarah Palin:

A few weeks before she was nominated for Vice-President, she told a visiting journalist—Philip Gourevitch, of this magazine—that “we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.” Perhaps there is some meaningful distinction between spreading the wealth and sharing it (“collectively,” no less), but finding it would require the analytic skills of Karl the Marxist.

Obama a socialist? Off the Marx.

UPDATE: Washington Post’s Fact Checker Gives the McCain Camp Two Pinocchios for pushing this one.

While I can’t go as deeply as I’d like in defending Obama (again) against this silly claim, let me post this from Ben Smith’s blog on politico. Bold represents my emphasis:

A top legal advisor to Barack Obama, Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein, said today that Obama’s 2001 remarks on “redistributive change” — pushed hard on the right today — are being misinterpreted, and that he was actually articulating “conservative” legal principles, and that the then-law professor’s “law-speak” was being misinterpreted.

Obama’s remarks came in a long interview on civil rights and Constitutional law with two other law professors on the Chicago public radio station WBEZ in 2001. (The full transcript is here, and audio is here.) Sunstein argued that Obama is discussing redistribution in a relatively narrow legal context: The discussion in the 1970s of whether the Supreme Court would create the right to a social safety net — to things like education and welfare. He also noted that in the interview, Obama appears to express support for the court’s rejection of that line of argument, saying instead that the civil rights movement should aim for the same goals through legislative action.

What the critics are missing is that the term ‘redistribution’ didn’t man in the Constitutional context equalized wealth or anything like that. It meant some positive rights, most prominently the right to education, and also the right to a lawyer,” Sunstein said. “What he’s saying – this is the irony of it – he’s basically taking the side of the conservatives then and now against the liberals.”

The first mention of redistribution, which does not appear on the YouTube clip, comes when Obama discusses a 1973 Supreme Court ruling finding that there is no right to education.

“One other area where the civil rights area has changed… is at the state level you now have state supreme courts and state laws that in some ways have adopted the ethos of the Warren Court. A classic example would be something like public education, where after Brown v. Board, a major issue ends up being redistribution — how do we get more money into the schools, and how do we actually create equal schools and equal educational opportunity? Well, the court in a case called San Antonio v. Rodriguez in the early ’70s basically slaps those kinds of claims down, and says, ‘You know what, we as a court have no power to examine issues of redistribution and wealth inequalities. With respect to schools, that’s not a race issue, thats a wealth issue and something and we can’t get into.”

Later in the interview, Obama seemed to concur with conservative and mainstream liberal scholars on the court’s more modest view of its powers:

“Maybe i am showing my bias here as a legislator as well as a law professor, but you know, I am not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts,” he said. “You know the institution just isn’t structured that way. Just look at very rare examples where during he desegregation era the court was willing to, for example, order … changes that cost money to local school district[s], and the court was very uncomfortable with it. It was hard to manage, it was hard to figure out, you start getting into all sorts of separation of powers issues in terms of the court monitoring or engaging in a process that is essentially is administrative and takes a lot of time. The court is not very good at it, and politically it is hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard. So i think that although you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally, I think any three of us sitting here could come up with a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts, I think that as a practical matter that our institutions are just poorly equipped to do it.”

Obama did suggest in the interview that he favors “redistributive change,” and that it should come though “political and organizing activities,” and that’s the discussion Republicans are jumping on, arguing that it shows the same philosophical impulse as Obama’s now-famous commetn to an Ohio plumber that he favors “spread[ing] the wealth around.”

“Now we know that the slogans ‘change you can believe in’ and ‘change we need’ are code words for Barack Obama’s ultimate goal: ‘redistributive change,'” said McCain advisor Doug Holtz-Eakin. “No wonder he wants to appoint judges that legislate from the bench – as insurance in case a unified Democratic government under his control fails to meet his basic goal: taking money away from people who work for it and giving it to people who Barack Obama believes deserve it. Europeans call it socialism, Americans call it welfare, and Barack Obama calls it change.”

But Sunstein argued that in the context of a long, legalistic interview, the words referred to the narrower forms of redistribution — education, legal filing fees, legal representation, and other issues — that had been discussed in the case Obama cited and in discussions around it.

A University of Chicago law professor who appeared on the 2001 WBEZ program with Obama, and who also supports him, Dennis Hutchinson, described the interview as “not a bombshell.”

“He’s saying you dont achieve stable social change through judicial activism,” Hutchinson said. As for “redistribution of wealth,” “that’s what a progressive tax system does,” he said.

“It’s two minutes and 17 seconds of what I could say in front of a class,” he said, suggesting reporters go back to speculating about Obama’s cabinet picks.

UPDATE: The legal scholars over at Volokh have a similarly underwhelmed take.

Obama the socialist? I think so.

Obama - Marx - Socialist - Election 2008

While gentlemanly and healthy debate can be a good thing, it’s boring. Which is why Jerry Springer gets more face time than political debates. People are more interested when the gloves come off, when people start swinging and pulling hair. One has to be careful though. You certainly want to get your point across, but without sounding like an off-the-wall hack like Keith Olbermann.

I recently posted a link to a YouTube video, which is actually an audio clip from a radio appearance Obama made in Chicago in 2001.  If you look around, you can find the full 53 minute audio of the entire radio program.  While the link I provided is edited for length, as it focuses on Obama’s comments only, it has not been tampered with or remixed.  Period.  I’ve listened to the 53 minute version too, and it’s the same.  However, if you’ve read James’ article, you’d believe the sound bites were “cherry-picked”.

Recently, there has been much speculation about Barack Obama, and whether or not he believes in socialist ideologies. I’m here to put that speculation to and end, once and for all.  In Obama’s first book, Dreams of My Father, he wrote:

“One who has read Marx cannot fail to see that corporations are not only what Marx referred to as the advanced stage of capitalism,” he wrote. “But Marx even called it finance capitalism by which a few would control the finances of so many, and through this, have not only economic power but political power as well.”

These are Obama’s own words.
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