Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Welcome to the United (Socialist) States of America

by Nathan Rothwell

The word “socialist” gets tossed around a lot in American political discourse.

Conservatives, in particular, chiefly assign the word as a pejorative term for liberals with which they disagree. Some (who really shouldn’t be named anymore) in particular are using it as the adjective du jour in describing an imaginary, impending dystopia  that has fallen upon us all now that President Obama has secured re-election, along with the Democratic Party retaining control of the U.S. Senate.

There are two major problems with the American Right’s leaning so heavily on terms like “socialist” and “socialism” when branding their liberal adversaries. The first is that America’s true socialist party, which has existed for over a century, directly opposes both the Republican and Democratic parties as agents of capitalism.

The second, much more glaring problem for conservatives is that the United States already tends towards socialism; and, moreover, it’s what the American people appear to want.

A sort of cynical cognitive dissonance is at play here when socialism is held up as both the cause of and solution to this country’s problems. This was well-documented this past election cycle, as Republicans would often blame entitlement culture for our country’s woes while at the same time try to scare elderly voters into believing that Obama was taking their Medicare benefits away. Essentially, they attempted to paint themselves as the true champions of popular, socialist-style government programs while at the same time decrying socialism as a whole.

Obviously this kind of rhetoric did them no favors in the electoral results – so why do they stick to it? Part of the problem lies with a worldview that hasn’t progressed much since the 1980s. Republican voters, elected officials, and talking heads alike cannot seem to distinguish socialism from the totalitarian version practiced in the Soviet Union for much of the 20th century.  And in being unable to separate the economic tenets of socialism from the totalitarian communist regime of the Soviet Union, any step towards the former begins the path toward the latter.

Yet surely, they would not object to market socialism practiced every day in the United States. A perfect example can be found in workers who receive employee benefits in the form of stock options in the companies for which they work. Far be it for opponents of socialism to tell the so-called “job creators” of this country how to pay their workers, even though workers controlling the means of production (in this case, the company) is socialism in its exact definition.

At the risk of sounding preachy about this nation’s Founding Fathers, those modern-day Tea Partiers who enjoy putting on wigs and wearing tea bags from their ears may want to pay close attention here. There is a reason that aristocracy was not allowed to take hold in the United States as it had throughout Europe. They worried that allowing vast amounts of money and land to be concentrated in the hands of a small number of families would allow those families to gain undue influence over the country’s true governors.

Yet instead of an aristocracy based on nobility, America has seen a corporate aristocracy rise to take its place. We live in a brave new political world where money is considered free speech, corporations are considered people, and those mighty kings atop the corporate thrones make 380 times more what they pay their workers.

What can one do with that kind of lavish cash? For one, it can buy the attention of a political party, who will be all too happy to accept your money in exchange for rebranding you as “job creators.”  It can also buy the affection of millions of Americans who are too occupied with proletarian concerns to know they are being duped into voting against themselves. It can even buy airtime on national airwaves to repackage the phrase “voting with your wallet” as a diatribe against women and minority voters for “wanting free stuff” (as if many wealthy voters didn’t vote for the Romney/Ryan ticket based on the immense tax breaks they stood to gain).

And this is before we even consider how corporations can buy direct government influence in the form of corporate subsidies and massive tax breaks. That lost revenue is made up for by increased taxes on the middle class – i.e. redistribution of wealth back to the wealthy. For all the hemming and hawing about “redistribution” in this country, its biggest detractors seem to have no problem with it, as long as the wealth redistributes into the hands of the plutocracy.

This is all brought to us by the economics we know and love as American capitalism. Within it exists a system of wealth redistribution in which the workers get nearly nothing, and CEOs are credited with doing all the work. This isn’t to say we should tear off the yoke of capitalism as a true American Socialist might suggest. I simply put forth that those who use the word “socialist” as a nasty word might want to make sure that they themselves aren’t a form of socialists themselves.

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