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Obama. Not a Socialist

Posted by sdrury on September 9, 2009

For the last month or so Barack Obama’s health care reform plan, vague as it is, has been deemed socialist by his critics. The charges are nothing new, as Obama listened to them during his the general election portion of the presidential campaign. He patiently dismissed them in much the same way as he quashed an annoying fly earlier this summer. But now the socialist charges are tied, rightly or wrongly, to plans to reform health care. One thing that should be patently clear from anyone who looks closely at Obama’s record thus far is that he is most definitely not a Socialist. Neither his environmental policies, (just ask James Hansen), nor his Supreme Court selection (other candidates were far more liberal than Sonia Sotomayor-despite her finding in the New Haven firefighters case) nor his plans for Afghanistan (which are downright hawkish) can be considered liberal, let alone socialist. And let’s not forget his thoughts on gay marriage or torture extreme interrogation techniques or bailing out Wall Street. Barack Obama is not a socialist.

Yet the accusations persist. Obama is very much a pragmatist and politician. In my view, Obama has given the conservatives ample opportunity to coalesce behind a health care proposal. They have chosen to pick a fight with him. Which is fine. It’s not like liberals never picked a fight with Bush the Younger. The main Republican counter proposal to Obama’s health care package seems to be to do nothing and keep the status quo. Which, unless you’re among the affluent, is simply unacceptable. The Republicans know full well that if Obama is able to get reform through he will nearly impossible to beat in 2012 (given the paucity of Republican candidates this will be a tall order anyway). Obama is fully aware of this fact as well. Which is all the more reason to join Max Baucus and say that, “We tried to do it with the GOP, but we’re moving on without them.” And the message to conservative Democrats will be, “You WILL vote for this legislation and shall be thusly rewarded come re-election time.” Obama has to play politics with members of both parties.

Explanations about the utter farce that is the American health care system can be found in better places. It’s a challenge to find an unbiased view but here’s two: and here:

But, the fact is that any plan that includes the government would, especially given the conservative bloviators obsession with the term, be labeled “Socialist.” What’s remarkable is that this reductive terminology was soundly rejected by the electorate in the  fall. Now less than a year later, perhaps through Republican perseverance (or maybe just volume) it’s back.


Obama ought to address this once and for all. He ought to lecture people, like the former professor that he is, on what socialism really is. (Sidebar–How could anyone keep a straight face and compare Obama’s inexperience unfavorably to Sarah Palin’s? Imagine Palin teaching a law school class for a second. OK, stop. Yes, it’s comical–like the sub who covered your high school chem class, but back to the point).  In practice, there are no socialist countries. There are plenty of social democracies though, such as: Norway, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, Finland, Spain, Italy. All of these nations, by the way, routinely finish ahead of the US in quality of life ratings. Quality of life measures things like (lack of) crime, economic well-being, employment rate, national security, health, education, political stability. There’s a famous metric called the Popsicle Test. Which asks parents would they let their child(ren) walk, alone, however far they needed to go in order to buy a popsicle. And then walk back. Think of all the variables. We don’t do so well on that compared to the countries mentioned above. Maybe it’s because the total number of wars or armed conflicts the aforementioned countries have been involved in since World War II comes to zero. Nobody really wants to bomb Denmark. Now, that’s part of the price of living America. President Obama has made it abundantly clear that the US will continue its role as defender, promoter and champion of democracy. I would love nothing more than for Obama to stand in front of Congress and tell them we can’t get serious about paying for universal health care unless we cut the defense budget, which, depending on whom you listen to, makes up 50-67% of the budget. Imagine the howls of protest. So that won’t happen.

Health care reform is equal parts morality and finance. The thing about social democracies is that critics think they restrain growth. Things can’t bigger. And in America we love big. Big cars, big boobs, big guns, big houses, big boats. Big, big, big. And if things can’t get bigger then that limits the growth of banks, oil companies, security, companies, big box stores, utility companies, auto companies. They can’t get super-rich and if they can’t get super-rich that won’t let other people get rich through jobs and stock purchases. Because, of course, we know these super-rich companies will always, really, ALWAYS share their rewards with the common folk. Like maybe the execs will hire an extra housekeeper for the new house (number four) in Tahoe. Perhaps we haven’t learned our lessons yet from the failures of constant growth or paid enough of price? Look at your stock portfolio or the unemployment rate.

Obama should cite the even-keeled approach of some of those European countries. And reductively, the critics will tell Obama and his many supporters, to love or leave America, referring, again, to our exceptionalism. Let’s remember that the framers of the our 18th century constitution were heavily influenced by Western European thinkers. Jefferson, a name invoked only slightly less than Lincoln by Republicans, visited (heaven forbid!) France. So did Franklin. They liked what they saw. Now, it’s time to address 21st problems with 21st Century solutions. And it’s time to look to Europe again, and take steal some ideas from them and make them our own. Republicans will hate it, but too bad. You lost. We’ll combine our military prowess with healthcare for all. That would be exceptional.


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