At a dinner party one night, a drunken Winston Churchill asked an attractive woman whether she would sleep with him for a million pounds. “Maybe,” the woman said coyly. “Would you sleep with me for one pound?” Churchill then asked. “Of course not, what kind of woman do you think I am?” the woman responded indignantly. “Madam, we’ve already established what kind of woman you are,” said Churchill, “now we’re just negotiating the price.”
I'm reminded of that anecdote when the political discourse turns, as it has done in recent days, to socialism.
Hiding behind the skirts of Joe the Plumber, the McCain camp is accusing the Obama tax plan of being, well, socialist:
"You see, [Obama] believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that help us all make more of it. Joe, in his plainspoken way, said this sounded a lot like socialism."
When confronted about this in a recent interview, McCain explained that redistributing wealth is one of the "earmarks of socialism".
I would venture to say that typical Americans don't really know what socialism is. They equate it (with good reason) with communism, which conjures images (in the minds of most Americans) of Soviet soldiers goose-stepping across Red Square in the shadow of huge missiles and tanks and large pictoral representations of Lenin.
Socialism and communism are similar in the sense that they seek to achieve economic equality among all the people. Communism is actually a form of socialism (there are many possible forms) in that class equality is achieved through the elimination of classes. Socialism in a political sense is often seen as a stepping stone to communism; socialism still has classes and a central government, which achieves economic parity through (among other things) nationalization of industries and financial institutions, and, of course, wealth distribution.
So it's quite true that an earmark of socialism is wealth distribution. But so is nationalization of financial institutions.
My point here is that capitalism in America already has socialist earmarks. Nationalization of financial institutions? Well, we achieved something pretty close to that with the bailout.
And wealth distribution? The thing that the McCain people (and Joe the Plumber) want America to fear? News flash. We've always had that, too.
Let me 'splain. I pay my taxes. That's taking money from me. The governement takes that money and spends it. For example, it contracts with Halliburton to manage prison camps in Iraq. That contract inures to the benefit of Halliburton, its exeuctives, and its stockholders. Or, the government takes my tax dollars and uses it in part to fund college grants to promising inner-city students. Or when, as governor of Alaska, you tax the oil companies and then cut a check for $1,200 for every Alaskan.
That's all wealth distribution, my friends. Anytime a government taxes its citizens and spends that money domestically, it is engaging in wealth distribution. The only way to avoid this is to do away with ALL taxing and ALL spending altogether.
So like Churchill's whore, we've already established what we're talking about. Now, we're simply negotiating the parameters of it.
And the choice boils down to this: Should we continue the policies of having wealth distribution benefit the already-wealthy (hoping that wealth will trickle down)?
The clear answer seems to be no, for the simply reason that wealth doesn't trickle down…
Obama, of course, does not seek income and wealth parity (which is what a REAL socialist would do). There will always be ridiculously wealthy people and impoverished people, even under an Obama economic plan. But Obama, unlike his predecssors (and that includes Clinton), is seeking, forthrightly, to close that income gap. He is acknowledging that we already have wealth distribution in this country, except that it flows disproportionately to the benefit of the uber-wealthy. Reversing that trend might correctly be viewed as a movement toward socialism, but there are plenty of air brakes — both politically and socioecomically — to prevent things from becoming ACTUALLY socialist.
So don't let the "socialist" or "communist" labels scare you. We already have wealth distribution in our capitalistic society. Obama just wants it to be more equitable.