Politics & Policy

The dreaded S-word, &c.

Some people have called Obama a socialist, and that has other people all shaken up — even “all wee-weed up,” as the president himself might say. I have a couple cents to add to this discussion — and whether these cents are sense, I don’t know.

For some years — starting long, long before Obama — I’ve played a little game. It goes like this: “If Politician X were not an American, but a politician in some other country, what party would he belong to? If his views and outlook were exactly as they are now — if it were merely a question of nationality, or venue — what party would he belong to?”

Well, let’s play with Obama: If he were a Frenchman, what party would he belong to? What would be his natural political home? And if Italian? Why, in either case, he’d be with the Socialists, right? I mean, he certainly wouldn’t be a Conservative or a Christian Democrat. What if he were German? SDP, right?

And take the countries whose main socialist party is a Labor party: Britain, Israel, Norway, etc. (Kind of funny to think of Obama as an Israeli, isn’t it?) What party would he belong to? He’d be a Laborite, right? I mean, no doubt.

Sometimes I play this game with myself (that didn’t sound quite right), particularly with regard to countries I’ve visited, and whose politics I’ve studied: “What party would I belong to?” Sometimes the answer isn’t perfectly clear. Sometimes — most often, I think — it is. (I would go with the most Reaganite party available. And if none were suitable — I’d be an independent, and maybe dream of starting a party of my own.)

“Socialist” is a heavy charge in America, causing the wee to flow. But that’s a little weird. Most of the world’s democrats are socialists, don’t you think? I mean, free-marketeers — genuine free-economy people — are always in the minority. Some portion of the world’s people are democrats — let’s hope it’s a majority, and a big one. And most of those are surely socialist: certainly more than they are Friedmanite (as in Milton) — or Reaganite, or Goldwaterian.

In America, just about everyone on the left — just about everyone who leans toward statism — is in the Democratic party. If your inclinations are socialist, you are probably a Democrat, or vote Democratic. We are a two-party system: with two big ol’ parties. Bella Abzug was a Democrat; Ike Skelton is a Democrat. Kind of a funny system we have.

Bella was once in love with Stalin and Stalinism; I’m not entirely sure she fell completely out of love. As for Ike, he’s basically a Midwestern conservative — like that other Ike, who won a world war and became president.

There’s something I admire Sen. Bernie Sanders for: He calls himself a socialist, by golly. He makes no bones about it. He ran for the Senate as an independent, and the Democrats put up no candidate against him: He stood for them, really. Is that suggestive? No?

We have a Socialist party in America, but it’s very small — if you’re not one of our two big parties, you’re small. I remember that, in one of his presidential campaigns, Jesse Jackson received the endorsement of the Socialist party. He took some needling for this: but he wouldn’t disavow it. I always wanted a reporter to ask him, “Reverend, what are your economic views, broadly speaking? Are you a socialist? A capitalist? Which are you closer to?” The answer might have been interesting.

And I wonder, idly: Does it bother the Socialist party that socialists in America tend to affiliate with the Democratic party, or at least not with the Socialists? It must. (Does it bother the Libertarian party that so many libertarians affiliate with the Republicans? Not sure.) (One point of view is: It’s in the Socialists’ interests for the Democratic party to become more socialist, and in the Libertarians’ interests for the Republican party to become more libertarian.)

I’ve just checked out the website for the Socialist International — slogan, “Progressive Politics for a Fairer World.” Does it make me a total McCarthyite to say that sounds just like our Democrats? A partial McCarthyite? Well, doesn’t it sound like them, exactly?

And check out the names on the Presidium: The president is George Papandreou (of Greece, needless to say). (Nice job there, by the way!) Vice presidents include Bachelet (Chile), Barak (Israel), Brown (Great Britain), and Zapatero (Spain). Are those politicians so different from Obama? From Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Charlie Rangel, and scads of other Democrats? Really? Of course not. It’s just that, in America, when someone says “socialist,” we all go, “Eek, a mouse.”

Someone was saying the other day that Kerry might become secretary of state, in a second Obama term. As far as I’m concerned, that’d be pretty much exactly like Joschka Fischer becoming foreign minister. Kerry and Fischer: They are cut from the same philosophical, political, and attitudinal cloth, aren’t they?

I believe that President Obama, and his closest allies, would like the United States to be a lot more like European social democracies. Is that such an outlandish statement? I think Obama et al. probably think that Norway is fundamentally more just than the United States. Remember the Socialist International slogan: “Progressive Politics for a Fairer World.” That’s the ticket.

The Norwegians gave Obama their most precious gift, the Nobel Peace Prize. Why do I say “the Norwegians”? Well, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is composed of five men and women who were appointed by the Norwegian parliament, the Storting. The committee is therefore a reflection of the country’s political culture. The chairman, Thorbjorn Jagland, is a major Laborite, and a former vice president of the Socialist International. Obama is a president after his heart, and the committee’s heart. He is a soulmate of theirs. They share an outlook, a worldview.

Now, this is simply true. (May I say I’ve studied the matter in intimate detail?) You may think it a positive thing, or a negative thing — just possibly, a neutral thing. In any case, it’s true.

Tell you a quick story: I was in Oslo, shortly after the signing of our new “ObamaCare” law. A hotel clerk, learning I was American, said, “We’re so happy for you: so happy that you have health care now.” I just smiled at her.

I don’t think it’s too reprehensibly right-wing to say — too McCarthyite or gap-toothed to say — that Obama is not entirely comfortable with American exceptionalism. Okay? Does that cause wee? You may remember something that happened right after ObamaCare was passed and signed: Obama went out and met the people, and a lady expressed great concern over tax hikes and ruinous statism. Obama gave a long, long answer — rambled for 17 minutes. This received some mockery in the press, even the mainstream press.

And I was struck by the way he began his answer, his ramble — he went right to comparisons with other countries: “Here’s the bottom line. Number one is that we are the only — we have been, up until last week, the only advanced country that allows 15 million of its citizens to not have any health insurance.” America has been exceptional in many ways. And, as a rule, this exceptionalism has worked: which is why millions, and hundreds of millions, have wanted to flee their unexceptional countries to join up.

Some years ago, just before he left the Senate, I interviewed Phil Gramm — the old econ prof. And I asked him whether the Democratic party was, in effect, socialist. (This is long before Obama, mind you.) He said it was, “if by ‘socialist’ you mean the redistribution of wealth, more decisions made by the central government — no question about it. My grandmother thought of the Democrats as the party of the people. What they are is the party of government.” Tell it, Phil.

Are socialists a bane of society? Well . . . look, Sidney Hook was a socialist, and Reaganite hawks like me revered him.

As I’ve long commented, our terms are a little screwed up here in America — our political terms, I mean. We are weird about “liberal.” What we really mean, most of the time, is socialist, or collectivist, or statist, or leftist. That’s why our MSM had difficulty with John Howard: “the right-wing, Bush-supporting, warmongering prime minister of Australia — by the way, leader of the Liberal party.” And we are kind of hopeless with the word “socialist.” All we know is, “We don’t say that here — except when Bernie Sanders wants to.”

Is Obama a socialist? I don’t know — give me a definition. Are socialists limited to those who call themselves socialist, à la Bernie? Bob Novak said, “If you call yourself a journalist, you are a journalist.” I agree (mainly). Does something similar apply here? An old song goes, “I got it bad, and that ain’t good.” I don’t know what Obama is, politically, but — from the point of view of this Reaganite — it ain’t good.

‐There has been some discussion of Obama as “Kenyan anti-colonialist” — as a walker in his father’s footsteps. I think there is something to that. But I also think that Obama’s worldview is no different from John Kerry’s — and the worldview that I was taught. Hell, in my anthropology department, everyone was an African Marxist — I mean, the pasty-faced Midwesterners, as well as the (bona fide) African Marxists.

Anyway, I thought of something Obama has done, while president, that I really liked. Really, really. (I think I sound like Sally Fields.) He was addressing “the African people,” or whatever grand term the White House used, in Ghana. This was in July 2009. And he basically said: “Get over how the Man colonized you. You have your own problems, of your own making, to work out of.” You know, I don’t think he used those terms, precisely — but that was the gist.

It is easy to point fingers, and to pin the blame for [rampant, dire African] problems on others. Yes, a colonial map that made little sense bred conflict, and the West has often approached Africa as a patron, rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants.

Yes, yes — tell it, Obama. A little more: “In my father’s life, it was partly tribalism and patronage in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is a daily fact of life for far too many.” A little more: “. . . just as it is important to emerge from the control of another nation, it is even more important to build one’s own.”

Good goin’.

‐So, Jon Stewart and his friends are planning a big Washington rally, and they’re calling it “the million moderate march.” These people are moderates now? Really? How did that happen? Who now qualifies as a lefty, the real McCoy? Angela Davis? Only? Will Dennis Kucinich be part of this march? Stewart has suggested a sign for his rally: “I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.”

Oh, that’s just great: After eight years of the most fevered, psychopathic opposition to George W. Bush — “Bushitler” — everyone realizes that Hitler talk in American politics is unwise and harmful. Better late than never, I suppose. Will Stewart et al. remember this for the next Republican administration?

I wrote about anti-Bush activism, and anti-Obama activism, in a piece last year for National Review. It was called — hey, haven’t I heard this phrase today? — “All Wee-Weed Up.” The subtitle: “Protests on the right, hypocrisy on the left.” For the piece, go here.

‐Prince Charles has said, “I happily talk to the plants and trees, and listen to them. I think it’s absolutely crucial.” I must say, I’m not at all bothered by the talking to the plants and trees. But the listening to them?

‐The other day, I had a note in this here column about Chris Christie and the teachers’ unions — specifically, the union in his state, New Jersey. I thought of something later — and I’m sure someone has made this observation before: You remember how that union official asked members to pray for the death of the governor? The thought occurred to me: Shouldn’t the union be shocked and ashamed at this breach of the sacred wall of separation between church and state?

That was funnier in my head than it turned out in the writing . . .

‐One of NR’s interns this summer was Andy Rota, who is now back at Boston College. At lunch one day, he told a group of us something interesting: The older profs at BC, very left, of course; but the younger ones? Not so much — more conservative, or less left. Encouraging.

‐I saw a piece by Andy yesterday at the Student Free Press Association: a terrific new site headed by my colleague and comrade John J. Miller. (We are fellow Michiganders, too. He’s just about the only one at NR who doesn’t talk with an accent.) I have called SFPA a site. Let me quote from the mission statement:

The Student Free Press Association is an individual membership organization of college-aged writers, bloggers, tweeters, podcasters, and viral video makers.

SFPA is run by veteran journalists for the benefit of beginning journalists. We identify and support college students who seek to improve campus journalism, explore careers in the media, and commit themselves to the principles of a free society.

Oh happy day: a really welcome development. I have no doubt it will do great good. Pardon the cheesy talk, but I mean it.

‐A reader sent me a great name — a classic American name: Marijuana Pepsi Sawyer. She’s an academic adviser at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater.

‐Care for a little music? I offer you, not exactly music criticism: This is sort of a “preview piece,” published in City Arts. It recommends some performances in the first half of the season, New York City. There may be some lines there that amuse you, no matter where you live.

‐Speaking of amusing: A friend from Michigan wrote me to say, “The girl who sells deer licenses at Wal-Mart? Her name is Bambi. Swear.” And it must be: ’cause my boy Et don’t lie.

A question: Do you think management put her in that position deliberately?

‐Finally, I wonder if you can stand a little cute kid talk. This is sort of fascinating. My little nephew — eight — says to his mother, “Mama, do you love me?” And before she can answer, he says, “I love saying that. It’s so tragic.”

I think he might have meant “dramatic.” In any case — an Impromptus-worthy story, I hope you will agree: even if it does come from blood.




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