Angry attacks against the health care reform bill that just passed Congress and signed into law by President Obama are being fed by wildly-untrue statements by the leadership of the Republican Party and their Tea Party allies, the ignorant buffoons on talk radio and the pundits on Fox News. Among the charges heard time and again are claims that the health care reform bill will (in the words of a letter to the editor published this week) “convert our republic into a socialist, communist or dictatorial nation ….” Wow, that’s scary, I had no idea that one bill could do all that.
But shouldn’t people who make public statements or write public letters have some working knowledge of the subject they write about? People who make such foolish statements as the letter writer demonstrate their ignorance when they obviously do not know the basic facts of political theory or government and, unfortunately, they do not know that they do not know what they are talking about.
Socialism is a theoretical economic structure in which the government owns all business entities (“means of production”). Socialism does not exist anywhere in the world.
Communism is a form of government structure in which all political power is vested in local political committees (communes). It also involves an economic theory that everyone should contribute to society to the extent able, and should receive from society according to need. Unfortunately it is too idealistic and as a practical matter it has failed, primarily because it fails to deal with motivation and self-interest.
A dictatorship is a political structure in which all power resides in one person (or a tightly controlled group). Anyone who thinks that Obama is a dictator or could become a dictator in our dysfunctional government is appallingly ignorant of the realities in the seat of our government—no one is in control in Washington, no person, no party. Just watching the news illustrates that fact.
All Western economies today [U.S., Canada, countries of Europe] are “mixed” economies, with elements of socialism intermingled with primary capitalism. Pure capitalism does not and cannot work as an economic system any more than pure socialism can work, for reasons too complicated to explain in a short essay. Think about the political realities of the economics of nations as a line with capitalism at one end of the line and socialism at the other. All countries are somewhere along that line between the two extremes, some leaning to the left of center, some to the right of center.
The economic issue to sort out in the United States is the proper balance between the two polar extremes and that is what the current dispute is about, although from listening to the angry rhetoric it would be hard to determine that. The discussion about something so essential as health care reform is being held in a very hostile political environment that has been so poisoned by angry partisanship that rational discussion has now become impossible.
It is difficult to carry on an intelligent conversation with people who do not understand the issues in health care reform and yet engage in verbal combat with criticisms of the bill that are not accurate.
Most of the right wing protesters who are so against “socialism” as a concept seem quite happy with the reality when they profit from it. For instance, small business owners like the Small Business Administration, because it invests government money in their businesses. Business owners and homeowners like FEMA because it socializes their business and property losses. Republican governors complain but hold out their hands for stimulus funds to generate new employment and to subsidize their shrinking budgets and unemployment reserves. Republican mayors look for pork projects in their districts, including funds for private athletic stadiums. Republican city councilors in my town are quite happy operating a for-profit power plant competing with free enterprise that subsidizes local taxpayers with funds generated with profits earned from non-residents, as well as operating a profitable marina and several golf courses—all socialist enterprises that compete with free enterprise. Republican bankers and financial institution managers, heads of corporations including GM and AIG, want/need public money to save them from collapse but otherwise believe in free enterprise and want government to leave them alone to do as they please without regulation or interference.
The real objection to government policy under the Obama Administration is not that it is socialist, but rather that it advocates “social programs”—help for the economically disadvantaged, tax relief for the working poor including the “unearned income credit,” unemployment compensation payments, food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance and other social welfare programs. Their objection is that people should not get something for nothing, that there are jobs for all who want them and those that do not have jobs are too lazy to work at menial jobs or to get an education so they could be employed, services go to illegal immigrants who want benefits they have not earned including free health care, that those who cannot carry their own weight in society should not be allowed to take from the “hard working Americans who have jobs and have to pay taxes to support benefits for others.”
Social welfare programs may be a prominent characteristic of socialist states, but there is a big difference between social welfare benefits and socialism as government policy, and these critics do not understand the difference.
They also reject the premise that members of a society have a duty to the less fortunate among them—the social contract theory of economic and community organization. Somehow in kindergarten they did not learn sharing and playing nice with others.
The point is obvious so we offer this advice to the political right: don’t make ignorant statements that government programs you don’t like—including health care reform—are “socialist” while enjoying the benefits of “socialist” programs from which you benefit. It makes you look self-serving, ignorant and foolish.