Mr Obama is a Socialist
Mr Obama is not a Socialist

David Schraub objects to classifying Mr Obama as a socialist … and he is right and wrong at the same time.

Well, that is, of course, because it all depends on what is “is”. Oops. Sorry wrong word. Actually, it really depends more strongly on what you mean by socialist. By a strict definitional standpoint, a socialist is

Socialism refers to a broad set of economic theories of social organization advocating state or collective ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods, and the creation of an egalitarian society. Modern socialism originated in the late nineteenth-century working class political movement. Karl Marx posited that socialism would be achieved via class struggle and a proletarian revolution which represents the transitional stage between capitalism and communism.

So, by that definition, strictly speaking Mr Obama is not a socialist. He doesn’t want a “transition” to a Marxist regime and doesn’t want the government to fully control have collective ownership of corporations (that is except for the banks). So in a strict sense, he is not a socialist. So, Mr Obama is not a socialist.

However, by a more casual usage of the term “socialist”, there is a continuum between those (precious few) who believe in a completely unregulated economy and a strict Marxist/socialist. In that sense, the notion that Mr Obama is pressing policies that would engage more government’s distribution of goods, such as “spreading the wealth” than are currently in place, it is perfectly true that he is trending toward socialism and at the same time his critics would prefer the reverse. Their claim that from their point on the spectrum, “he is a socialist” is true in that sense. Liberal and conservative are fuzzy terms, which honestly really mean “more liberal than me, and more conservative than me” for a lot of people who commonly view themselves as somewhere near the center. Socialist in this sense, would mean “more tending to socialism” than either me (or my perception of the “middle”). In that sense, Mr Obama is arguably a socialist. So, Mr Obama is a socialist.

See.

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12 comments

  1. Nobody’s better than The Daily Show at exposing the BS. It starts getting good at 1:20.

  2. Boonton says:

    Trending towards socialism? That seems a bit like saying when I’m driving home from work, heading westbound in northern NJ I’m trending towards driving off a cliff into the Paciffic Ocean.

  3. Mark says:

    JA,
    Are you disagreeing with me or not?

    Boonton,
    Do you disagree that “socialist” often means “more socialist” than the your appreciation of the “center” or not?

    I’ve heard that some academics described NPR as “right wing”, mostly because it was right of them (or their notion of where the center lay). Do you agree or disagree that this is a common usage for socialist or not?

  4. Mark:

    However, by a more casual usage of the term “socialist…”

    What you see as “more casual usage” I see as “right-wing propaganda.” Either way, it’s certainly not a good thing to be encouraging, and a national politician should not be sinking to that level. Can you imagine Obama calling one of McCain’s positions “fascist?”

    It poisons the debate.

  5. Mark says:

    JA,
    Oh please, knock it off. When you say, “X is a liberal.” What do you mean. Do you mean some strict definition of liberal based on classical liberalism or do you mean some relation to “center”.

    Newsflash. Words have more than one meaning. There are technical usages for words and common casual ones.

    The converse of “socialist” is not fascist, it’s “free market”. Via wiki: Fascism is an authoritarian political ideology (generally tied to a mass movement) that considers the individual subordinate to the interests of the state, party or society as a whole.

  6. Boonton says:

    Do you agree or disagree that this is a common usage for socialist or not?

    Disagree, like fascism if you want to resort to this ‘common usage’ gambit then common usage for socialism would be to describe a policy or stance radically left of the status quo. Sorry, the tax rates of 1992 hardly qualifies as ‘socialist’ anymore than Reagan’s squashing of the aircraft controllors union as ‘fascist’. Yea I suppose you can say it’s ‘more fascist’ if you wanted to sound like a lefty from 1980 getting ready to spend a decade or two in the intellectual ghetto….if that’s your game plan I promise to help you in every way I can.

  7. Mark says:

    Boonton,
    Now I’m curious. How would you connect at all:

    Fascism is an authoritarian political ideology (generally tied to a mass movement) that considers the individual subordinate to the interests of the state, party or society as a whole.

    with the air-traffic controller union “quashing?” It seems more socialist than fascist.

    Now, I personally think that even with the common notion of socialist (as being “more to the government control and further from free market”) the crux of the problem for McCain’s campaign labeling Obama as socialist, is that its a fine point of degree. I think they both trend to far away from free-market, just that Obama is just a tad further or more willing to go that way than McCain … but only by a (regrettably) little bit.

  8. Mark:

    I can’t believe you’re defending this. Words can have more than one meaning, but they can’t have completely arbitrary meanings.

    Let’s say I call McCain a “terrorist” for supporting the Iraq war. You say, but he’s not a terrorist! And I say, well he supported actions which killed a lot of civilians, and they deliberately used “shock and awe” to instill terror (“awe”) in the people. That’s terrorism. Compared to Obama, who opposed the war, he’s very much a “terrorist.”

    I wouldn’t do that, because it’s stupid, and it poisons the debate while weakening the English language. But John McCain is much closer to a “terrorist” than Barack Obama is to a “socialist.” So how about we drop the scaremongering labels and just debate the issues?

    Oh yeah, they can’t do that because McCain can’t win on the issues. “‘If we keep talking about the economic crisis, we’re going to lose.”

  9. Boonton says:

    with the air-traffic controller union “quashing?” It seems more socialist than fascist.

    Aren’t people on strike expressing their individual interests (wisely or not)? Isn’t quashing a strike because the country ‘needs’ the airlines running therefore subordinating the interests of indivdiuals to the ‘state, party or society as a whole’?

    I think they both trend to far away from free-market, just that Obama is just a tad further or more willing to go that way than McCain …

    It’s actually not so easy to make that case. Obama’s health plan is estimated to cost something like $1T. McCain’s $2T. Both supported nearly $1T in bailouts, McCain upped it more with calling for the gov’t to take over mortgages. Aside from falling back on the old sterotype of ‘Republicans are the free market party’, this is a pretty tough case to make.

  10. Mark says:

    JA,
    You’re confusing a bunch of different points here.

    1. I agree that this isn’t a useful injection into the debate. So what? That’s not the point I was making. My point is that the term used coincides with one (popular) usage and doesn’t with another more accurate one. That’s all.
    2. It is not weakening the language, it’s common usage. We don’t call people (commonly) terrorist on this basis, but liberal/conservative socialist/capitalist are terms commonly used not to denote their strict academic meaning but to mean either that the other is closer to one or the other as compared to oneself or one’s perception of the mean.
    3. The meaning isn’t “arbitrary” and it certainly conveys information, I laid it out fairly concisely. Does “liberal” have no meaning? The usage is the same.

    Boonton,
    That really sounds more socialist to me (government taking control of business affairs) than fascist. Where is any inkling of “tied to a mass movement” with the union? With your intimation that this is fascist doesn’t that imply that any and every government intervention anywhere is fascist.

    McCain’s health plan is $0 you know. What sort of plans of his is he going to be able to push though a Democratic locked Congress? 🙂

    Regarding whether McCain or Obama is more socialist note that I said, arguably, and obviously you agree because … you’re arguing. 🙂

  11. Mark:

    It is not weakening the language, it’s common usage.

    It’s NOT “common usage” among the general population. It’s “common usage” only among right-wing propagandists. Mainstream sources do not use it and the mainstream left certainly doesn’t use it. The right (and only the right) uses it specifically to equate their opposition with the hated enemy of years past in the minds of the public. This is not something to be encouraged or supported.

  12. Boonton says:

    What’s pretty clear here is that this argument does not advance what should be our shared objective of finding truth. It is mostly about some pretty petty semantical stuff. At the end of the day imagine we give the point to Marc….Obama’s programs are ‘more socialist’ than McCain. We are left with a big ‘so what’. This is like saying Dover NJ is closer to LA than Morristown NJ. We are still on the other side of the country!