I have friends, family members, who continue to insist that Obama is a socialist. There seems to be absolutely nothing I can do or say that gets them onto another track of thinking (if calling anyone names —Obama, socialist, for example— can even be called thinking).
There are just so many problems with this particular name calling. For one those who do it are not using any accepted definition of the word socialism, such as, government ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, a definition that might then be reasonably looked at to see if it could be applied to Obama. (It can’t.)
Obama himself has made it clear over and over again that he is not interested in expanding government ownership into the private sector. What evidently appears to be that is only his understandable and highly reasonable response to the costly mistakes that have created the present economic crisis that we face, mistakes that were made, not by government but by private managers, including banking, investment, insurance and automobile executives.
Yes, Obama is trying to bail them out, rather than let them flounder. Yes, one might object to that, as do many of my conservative friends. Let them flounder and die. And at this point someone is then sure to mention Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction.”
So not to let them self-destruct but to bail them out, is that what my friends mean by socialism? But Obama is not trying to support them so much as to protect us, for their mistakes are hurting us, more than the perpetrators themselves. And isn’t that the very first duty of government, the protection of its citizens?
In fact, Obama had more than ample justification to nationalize any number of poorly managed private enterprises. City Bank, for one. But he didn’t do it. And he’s not doing it now, even when City and the other banks while accepting government loans, continue to block economic recovery by withholding credit from legitimate clients.
That’s me. a legitimate client. I’ve been six months trying to refinance a mortgage, one based on more than adequate assets. My financial strength was never questioned. Instead the banks in my case, first Wells Fargo, the holder of my original mortgage, and now Fifth Third, would always come up with some additional petty request or requirement that would put off the closing. A government bureaucracy, not even a French one, couldn’t have treated me worse.
So with the automobile companies Chrysler and General Motors. Obama clearly doesn’t want the government to be in the business of making cars. With his blessing the private Italian company, Fiat, now owns Chrysler, and with Obama’s push General Motors is undergoing bankruptcy proceedings, clearly intended to recreate a viable private car company, not a public Government Motors.
But what’s really behind the Obama socialist name calling is most likely the presence in our government of large, and unfunded, entitlement obligations that Obama clearly wants to honor. If he was less behind these obligations I suppose they would be less to apt to label him socialist. In addition there is the present economic crisis accompanied by high unemployment levels that could very well, as in the case of health care, result in hugely expanded government funded entitlements.
But government entitlement expenditures are no more the distinguishing mark of socialism than of liberal democracy. Indeed, such expenditures are probably as old as government itself, extending back even to the tribe and the family. Why? Because some people will always need to be helped. The market economy, as Adam Smith never got tired of telling us, will always be accompanied by economic hardship among certain segments of the population.
This economic hardship and the resulting inequalities, such as poverty among the old and ill and out of work, have always had to be addressed by private aid groups, or when inadequate as often the case, by government programs, such as that of FDR’s Social Security during the Great Depression, such as the anti-poverty Earned Income Tax Credit, enacted in 1975 during the administration of Republican Gerald Ford and greatly expanded in 1978 under Democrat Jimmy Carter.
I don’t think my political opponents would want a market economy without welfare, unless they were to live all their lives in a gated community, separated from the real world. In any case there is no such thing on the earth, no place where without government all people are well provided for.
There may be dictatorships that neglect the poor, but not liberal democracies, even at the cost of going into significant debt as is happening in countries throughout the developed world as they struggle to relieve the effects of the recession. Obama’s political leanings are without any doubt to liberal democracy. So let’s let socialism just fade away and die. The animal itself has been dead for a long time.