Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The 'S' Word

The McCain campaign is out of substantive critiques of Barack Obama--or is at least recognizing that those critiques aren't working--so now they are resorting to name calling.

Whether or not Obama's policies warrant the label of course depends on how you define 'socialism'. But regardless of how you define it, one of two things follows: (1) it is false that Obama is a socialist or (2) both Obama and McCain are socialists. Both favor tax policies that levy a higher percentage rate on those who make more money (and, indeed, progressive taxation in the U.S. is far from new; it goes back to the Civil War). Both favor various tax credits and exemptions for small businesses and health insurance. And both have favored the rather heavy-handed government intervention in the recent financial mess, with McCain's suggestion that the government buy mortgages being more interventionist than anything Obama has put forward.

McCain and his ilk clearly know all this, even if they fail to mention it on the campaign trail. They are a lot of things but they are not stupid or incapable of basic conceptual thinking.

All this means that there is absolutely no substance to the charge that Obama's view are socialistic, at least as that charge is being leveled by his opponents. You can criticize Obama's views--argue that they are somehow unjust or that they will not have the effects he thinks they will have. But none of those arguments require invoking the label 'socialist' and so the only reason to sling the word around is its shock value. Socialism is evil--whatever, exactly it is--and so if you paint your opponent as a socialist, you've thereby painted him as evil. (Or if not thoroughly evil, sympathetic with evil forms of thought.) Devoid of substance, then, but perhaps useful for getting votes.

What is interesting, though, is that while the McCain campaign is certainly smart and nuanced enough to recognize what they are doing, they have to be counting on there being plenty of people who aren't, otherwise they wouldn't do it. So the next time you hear McCain or his surrogates throwing around the 'S' word, just know they are counting on you to be stupid and unrefined in your thinking.

1 comment:

NonVoxPop said...

I remember the first time I realized (in a philosophy class, no less) that members of a given system were more similar than dissimilar. It seems basic now, but contrasting members of a "mixed market democratic republic" like Obama and McCain is much harder than contrasting, say, McCain and Ahmadinejad. In a sense, that makes who wins the election less important-- our two guys are substantially similar. In another sense, though (leading to the election), it makes whatever differences they have all the more important. In an either/or choice where the options are substantially different on 20 different but equal points, each issue will be less important than if they only disagreed on two equally important points.
I agree with you that tossing socialism about is especially ridiculous when the Daily Show plays video of McCain proposing the same things in 2000 that Barack is proposing now.
More over at my place. :^)