“Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” Luke 18:22
In the last gasp of a desperate campaign, Senator McCain and Governor Palin have decided that their best strategy is to frighten the American voter by labeling their opponent a socialist. This was the result of a sound bite from a conversation that Senator Obama had with the now famous Joe Wurzelbacher. Joe asked Senator Obama to defend his plan to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the top tier of wage earners while preserving those cuts for the rest of the population. As part of that discussion Senator Obama said that he believed that taxing the wealthy who have seen their income grow over the last eight years in order to provide a break for everyone else who have seen their income shrink over the same period of time, is good economic policy. He use the phrase “spread the wealth around”. That has become the touchstone for this attack.
I think that there are a couple of ways to respond to this claim.
The first is to take Joe the Plumber head on. He appears to object to the concept of a progressive tax system – the more you make the more you get taxed. The usual conservative objection to a progressive tax system is that it punishes success, and as a result, discourages the effort to be successful. Using that logic, the Bush administration aggressively cut the tax rates of the most successful. Their expectation was that this would encourage the wealthy to make more of the sort of investments that made them successful in the first place which will result in growing the economy for everyone else. The problem is that it doesn’t work.
The facts support a much different picture. Democratic administrations where policies favor the middle class have historically done better for both the middle class and the wealthy than Republican administrations. This has held true for the past 80 years.
Economists explain this by pointing out that a robust middle class is the best driver of our economy. When the middle class is doing well, everyone does well. I heard it expressed by CEO Victor Hammel, “I would rather pay a little higher tax on a higher profit than a lower tax rate on lower profits.”
The second is to dive into this claim of socialism.
First a quick definition. Socialism is the opposite of capitalism. In a socialist society there is no private ownership. The government owns everything presumably for the benefit of the people. It’s that last part that gets people confused because Socialists talk a lot about the equitable distribution of wealth.
The McCain campaign has been tossing the word socialism around much in the same way that the Bush administration turned liberal into a dirty word. What bothers me about it is that it is hypocritical and cynical.
It is cynical because the Bush tax cut plan is set to expire on January 1, 2009 anyway. So how does refusing to renew a tax cut, that didn’t have the desired result anyway, somehow suddenly become a socialist act? Those tax cuts were scheduled to expire BECAUSE so many people (including John McCain) were skeptical of their promised effect. Even if this weren’t an election year, I suspect that the Bush administration would have had a difficult time getting them renewed.
What is hypocritical is that we HAVE in fact taken a huge step toward socialism with the various financial bailout plans which both John McCain and Barack Obama voted for. In this case the government has in effect nationalized portions of the financial system (any maybe soon the auto companies) for the benefit of the people.
Finally a moral argument.
No less an authority than Jesus suggested that one our our two great responsibilities was to love our brother. The love he proposed was not just a philosophical concept. He proposed a practical redistribution of wealth from those who had it to those who needed it. He said that this benefited, not only the receiver, but also the giver. Part of the benefit to the giver was the realization that wealth if anything was an impediment to salvation. A prime example was the rich man Jesus spoke of in the quote at the top of this post. When faced with the choice of salvation or wealth, he chose wealth. I wonder what those who are calling Senator Obama a socialist would do today if they were given the same choice by Jesus. I hope they would chose more wisely than than the wealthy man.