Monday, October 20, 2008

Here We Go Again

The Obama campaign has responded deftly to every desperate attack John McCain and Sarah Palin have thrown its way, but their responses have either been unprincipled or else revealing of how close in principle (if not in competence or style) Obama and McCain are. Thus, on several occasions in recent postings, I have pointed out, contra Obama:

-that, if we overlook the God thing (which he at least has the decency to temper with “liberation theology”) and one or two over the top statements (for instance, the one about HIV in the black community), what Jeremiah Wright was castigated for saying is absolutely correct;

-that William Ayers’ “revolutionary” activism in the late 60s and early 70s, however misguided and tactically questionable, were in every way and by any defensible measure superior to John McCain’s voluntary military “service” (which included bombing and napalming civilian populations); and that, in all likelihood, Ayers’ views today are wiser than those of the “business leaders” and foreign policy “experts” whose counsel Obama praises himself for seeking out;

-that Congressman John Lewis was absolutely right to take the McCain-Palin campaign to task for fostering a poisonous, racially charged atmosphere at campaign rallies; and for comparing McCain-Palin rallies to George Wallace’s when he ran for President in 1972;

-that being (or, in this case, not being) a Muslim, though hardly a point in anyone’s favor, is no worse than being a Christian or a Jew; and that Arabs are no worse or better than anyone else.

Now, in these final, Joe the Plumber days, the Obama campaign is falling in line with McCain’s disparagement of “socialism,” as it deftly makes the obvious point that the description hardly fits Obama or his policies.

[As is well known by now, Joe the Plumber is not exactly a plumber and his given name isn’t even Joe. It is also known, contrary to the story McCain keeps telling, that Joe is not about to buy any business, that he is in serious trouble for non-payment of taxes, and that he’d be better off under Obama’s tax plan than under McCain’s. All in all, another fine vetting job from the McCain campaign staff!]

Having spent several decades arguing for socialism (that’s even the title of a book I wrote long ago), I’m loathe to repeat the arguments here for the benefit of anyone who cares about McCain’s “charges.” There’s too much to say and what would have to be said isn’t always obvious or straightforward – as it is with Wright or Ayers or Lewis or with Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism. Still, I cannot forbear from making just a few comments, prompted by the ignorance evinced by both sides (but especially by McCain, who raised the issue) about socialism and related matters:

-socialists, most of them anyway, favor income and wealth equality, but it is not in virtue of that commitment that they are socialists. Neither can socialism be defined by views about the “size” of the state or its role in economic affairs, although many (perhaps most) pro-socialists are indeed more “statist” than most pro-capitalists. In both pro-capitalist and pro-socialist circles, opinions on these matters vary considerably. The difference between socialism and the capitalism that is so dear to both Republicans and Democrats has to do with property rights – rights to control and to benefit from productive assets -- and with underlying systems of property relations.

-since the Joe the Plumber campaign is a rather transparent attempt to mobilize white working class (actually petit bourgeois) voters against Obama by adopting “populist” rhetorical gestures, it is odd that McCain and his surrogates are using Obama’s remark about “spreading the wealth” as their cudgel. Back in the first Great Depression, genuine populists like Huey Long knew better than McCain or any of his handlers how to appeal to the constituency the Joe the Plumber campaign targets. For them, spreading the wealth was a watchword; indeed, it was very nearly their only point.

-all taxation is redistributive in its effects. Apart from a few strains of libertarian theory (but not outside of the political practice those theories are sometimes invoked to defend), redistribution (of market generated distributions of income and wealth) is a deliberate policy or, at least, a foreseeable by-product of deliberate policies. This was certainly the case with the Bush tax cuts and, since McCain promises more of the same (though with a few new, generally worse, wrinkles), it is true of his proposals too. The difference from Obama’s policies is not that one (Obama’s) is redistributive while the other (McCain’s) is not, but that Obama’s policies are less likely to make the rich even richer at the expense of everyone else and may even tend in the opposite, more salutary direction.

I remain convinced that Obama knows better than his policies suggest, and that in his campaign – and in his future administration – the problem will be with the constraints he is under, not with any lack of understanding or good intentions on his part. It will be up to “we the people,” starting from the day Obama is elected, to do our best to change those constraints. On the other hand, should a torrent of racism erupt and McCain win (at this point, there seems to be no other way that could happen), our job will be much more difficult – because McCain does not know better and his “maverick” intuitions are as wrong-headed as can be. Sarah Palin is not the only reactionary ignoramus on the Republican ticket.


Francis Deblauwe said...

A great cartoon lambasting this phenomenon on the Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3 blog...

sointly said...

How can you constently spew such erronous garbage.