Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Socialist Answer

Regarding the Socialist Question: I don't use the word "socialist" as an insult. I use it to label a person who espouses a particular philosophy and economic system. It's not a dirty word, and if you take it as such, then honestly, that is your issue, not mine. I'm not trying to invoke a bogeyman or scare people by using the term. It is a convenient way to refer to those that believe in socialism, social democracy, social interventionism, etc. I'm not going to list every single type of "social" philosophy and economic system (just as my political opposites do not use every conceivable term to label "conservatives" or "capitalists").

I'll refer to those systems by the trait that they share, in my view, which is that of socialism. Again, it is not an insult, it is simply a word that represents a particular economic system. If you are embarrassed by it or put off by it, I suggest you rethink your positions. Otherwise, relax. Considering that many of the people who now post here, Democrats in leadership positions, and liberal talk show hosts/guests refer to Tea Partiers as racists and teabaggers (so accusing us of hating and discriminating against people based on their race, and a term for a sexual act), I don't see how labeling someone according to the economic system that most closely matches their beliefs and statements can be so insulting.

Many people on the left (I didn't say all!) have long tried to use "conservative" or "capitalist" as dirty words, constantly trying to tie those labels to the actually reprehensible belief systems of racism, sexism, nationalism, etc., Of course, these ties are completely false and truly insulting. Therefore, I feel much of the outrage at the use of the word "socialism" is manufactured at worst and hypocritical at best. And if it really riles you that much, you may want to tell the explicitly socialist groups that show up at most liberal/progressive rallies and protests that they do not represent you if that is the case. Every progressive leaning rally that I have ever attended usually has a large contingent of people carrying signs from various groups that use the word socialism or socialist in their titles. If that does not represent you, then fine, but if it does, then don't be ashamed or insulted.

Lastly, do labels oversimplify things? Yes. However, that is sort of the nature of our language and conversation. Labeling someone as a socialist may oversimplify their belief system, but it is one of the most accurate methods of describing a certain, basic set of principles. Labeling people as socialists is not meant to paint them as uncaring people or anything like that. I know, as most of my personal friends are progressive (hello, I live in Seattle), that the majority of liberals are incredibly kind people that have different ideas about solving society's ills. However, knowing people are kind does not preclude me from fighting against their solutions while simultaneously fighting for mine.

Thus, I may disagree with socialism and all of its variations, and I may personally find the outcomes of socialistic-like policies to exacerbate the problems they are supposedly solving, but I still respect the people who believe in those types of policies. I also acknowledge that it is not a fully descriptive term, but that is what discussions are for. I ask for the same respect and acknowledgement from those that find fault with the conservative or capitalist point of view. To assert that I am not compassionate and do not care simply because I believe in different solutions to the problems in our communities is ludicrous and gets us nowhere. We would move very far down the road in talking to one another if we could at least come to the table agreeing that the other side cares about people. Then we can focus on issues and policy, and debate the various methods of moving our country forward.


  1. Dear Patty and other friends of freedom:

    I have been reading all the postings by PG on this site. I believe that PG has been assigned to troll this blog and to try to "brainwash" those of us who do not support Obamacare. PG probably works for Organizing for America or has a cubby at AARP (his previous employer United Healthcare makes lots of money by providing supplemental health insurance policies sold by AARP...follow the money) or maybe a desk in the basement of the White House.

    Therefore, ignore PG. Do not engage with PG...not because s/he is right but because there is no point in wasting your valuable time that could be better used in faxing and calling your Congressional politicians (I will not say Representatives as they pretty much don't do that anymore.)

    PG has been regurgitating the rhetoric of Pelosi, Reid and Obama. Very smoothly, too.
    S/he claims to have read every section of the multi-thousand page bills passed by the House and the Senate. Congressman John Conyers, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said something like "I love those Members who say 'Read the Bill!' What good would it do to read the bill if you don't have two lawyers and two days to tell you what it means."

    Yeah. That was from our Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. And he is so right. Each of the government health bills has hundreds of references and links to a variety of existing codes and laws such as the Internal Revenue Code, the Public Health Act, Social Security, Indian Health, etc., etc.

    Here is just a tiny example:


    Section 6 of the Federal Trade Commission Act (15 U.S.C. 46) is amended by striking `and prepare reports' and all that follows and inserting the following: `and prepare reports, and to share information under clauses (f) and (k), relating to insurance. Notwithstanding section 4, the Commission's authority shall include the authority to conduct studies and prepare reports, and to share information under clauses (f) and (k), relating to insurance, without regard to whether the subject of such studies, reports, or information is for-profit or not-for-profit."

    This is the kind of language and links that permeate both the House and Senate bills on healthcare. Several lawyer friends, including a former US Supreme Court clerk, have read great parts of both bills that were passed, but they all say that it would take a committee (with full access to the volumes of the US Code) an inordinate amount of time to correlate all the changes made to existing laws and come up with a comprehensive understanding of the consequences of these bills.
    Continued in Part II.

  2. Part II

    PG says he did not see a single thing in the bills that said " dad can't continue to practice medicine, that my employer can't continue to provide insurance as part of my compensation, that if I lose my job my spouse can't put me on their coverage." Very simplistic. What PG does not tell us is that, for example, as soon as anything changes in your individual insurance contract--such as a change in co-pays or deductibles, things that happen annually--you will have to move into a plan "qualified" by the federal bureaucracy. PG does not tell you that there is a grace period of 5 years for current employment based health plans before they have to move into the same kind of "qualified" plans. (Title II, Subtitle A, Section 202 of HR 3962) PG does not tell us that physicians can practice as long as they abide by hundreds of requirements placed on them by the federal bureaucracy. PG does not tell us that the bills establish a private-public advisory committee "which shall be a panel of medical and other experts to be known as the Health Benefits Advisory Committee to recommend covered benefits and essential, enhanced, and premium plans." This is the panel that will be deciding what benefits are allowed and under what circumstances.

    Follow your instinct...anything this big will have both intended and unintended consequences. There is no reason we cannot begin again and go step by step so that everyone can clearly see what is being done. The only reason for the hurry and the monstrosity of this legislation is to get it done before we can all understand what the end result of it will be.

  3. In our currently overheated context of political discourse, use of the word socialism adds little precision to our conversations. I appreciate your effort to clarify you own use of the label. But it remains a distractingly fuzzy term with pejorative implications. We hear it more frequently now only because one side likes to use it to tar the other.

    Though it’s certainly useful to try to have productive conversations about labels and definitions of isms, I’d suggest starting somewhere else, perhaps your notion of interventionism.

    Focus on finding distinctions that make a difference.

    Consider this: Years ago, while participating in various anti-Iraq invasion protests, at least one of which was organized by ANSWER, I noticed that some fellow protestors held very different views than mine about the virtue of property rights. Many of them blamed the war on the so-called capitalist/corporate elite and the capitalist system in general. I did not. I asked if they favored maintaining a right to own property and they said, “No.” My response was that the moves extending property rights to blacks and women over the last century were positive moves which should be celebrated and reinforced.

    We didn’t agree, but at least we were completely clear where we stood. We found the words that properly captured an honest distinction. I could call those folks communists, and I’d probably be right, but use of that term would only overshadow the bright line of our disagreement.

    Liberty Belle, I imagine that you and I are far more closely aligned than the ANSWER folks on the basic issue of “Property rights... Should we have them at all?” The same might hold for questions like central planning versus market economy. But we'd all agree if the dichotomies were posed as freedom versus slavery, and justice versus unfairness.

    I’m very curious about how people with radically different perspectives operationalize their motivating ideologies. George Bush said he was pro freedom. I certainly am. But the kind of freedom he wanted to advance seems very different from the kind I want to promote.

  4. I think the thing that frustrates progressives and liberals about the word "socialism" is that it is so often used for scare tactics to reinforce rather inept policies. Every single successful industrialized society has used an economic model that blends free markets and socialism. No one wants child slave labor, so we limit the free market to put strict limits to protect child workers. No one wants poisoned food, so we drive the economy a little more towards socialism by having an FDA that checks food and penalizes those who sell unsafe food. It's all well and good.

    What I don't understand is when a raise in taxes for the highest tax bracket goes from 36% to 38%, people scream "SOCIALISM" at the mere prospect. A government should be constantly fine-tuning its economic policies to fit the needs of the moment, but this one word paralyzes the system.

    Socialism, like government itself, shouldn't be vilified to this level, or it ruins our ability to make needed changes. No one likes that banks got huge bailouts while homeowners got no help, so why aren't we passing financial regulation to prevent this from happening again? Well, it turns out that anti-regulation people castigate such efforts as socialism, and a feckless congress doesn't have the political courage to undertake needed reforms during an election year.

    And really, where are the fiscal conservatives on this issue? Why aren't they pushing changes that will prevent us from ever needing another billion dollar bailout? Again, they're too scared to vote for regulation because it can be painted as socialism (and goes against the traditional ideology of their party).

    When such small differences as a 36% or 38% tax rate warrant such intractable rhetoric, what hope does the government have in getting anything done? Very little. Which of course makes the anti-government rhetoric a self-fulfilling prophecy. I want a government that does positive things for its people, but that possibility is gone now because small differences have become intractable political divides. Conservatives argue that government isn't the solution; I argue that maybe they are unwittingly making that true when it doesn't have to be.

    The evil empire isn't coming to America, not even if the healthcare bill gets passed. Let's stop having panic attacks about socialism and cool it with a war of ideologies that's been over for years. Let's have a pragmatic government that works to solve problems, not one that is paralyzed by fear of a word.


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