Monday, November 28, 2011

Is It Right To Call Obama a Marxist?

Liberals love to throw around the word "fascist," so much so that it retains all the impact of calling someone a "poopy head." I've always found the word a peculiar epithet for liberals to adore, as fascists believed in top down, government-led control of the economy. If fact, the word "Nazi" stands for National Socialist Party. As economic systems, the only difference between fascism and true socialism is that fascists would allow for private ownership of industry - as long as the politicians called all the shots. Industrialists were allowed to enrich themselves as puppets of the state.

Socialism, fascism,'s all splitting hairs. Socialism is nothing but communism light, with free elections, some tenuous property rights, and less cult of the state. Fascism has the tenuous property rights of socialism but also the cult of state of communism. But ALL believe in centralized control of the economy, with government consuming inordinately large chunks of a society's economic output.

There, I just cut through the confused clutter of a thousand poli sci classes.

Conservatives, of course, like to do their own name calling, with "socialist" and "Marxist" being their favorite zingers. And while these terms are often applied too loosely, they are at least generally applied to those who believe in large and dominant central governments, so unlike the liberal use of "fascist," at least conservatives are getting their insults right.

And often, it's not an insult, it's just a statement of fact. Words like "socialist" actually mean something, they're not just vague putdowns. To be precise, someone who believes an economy should be controlled by a dominant centralized government must be one the big three: socialist, communist, or fascist. I know of no other model for big government. If one of my readers does, please inform us. Liberal is not a model, for the record, it's a characterization, mostly for those who believe in the socialist model. And for those who are going to write me and say, "theocracy," I would argue that economically, these are socialist societies. With a sharia twist, perhaps, but socialist still.

So, I ask you for a moment to separate all these words from the silly insults they have become. No one, outside of the comical characters of the Occupy movement, likes to be called a socialist, because the word has been sullied. Same with the others, fascism and communism. All three have become epithets. This happens sometimes when a concept becomes thoroughly discredited by history. It's kind of like how liberals everywhere now call themselves "progressives," even though there's not a whit’s difference between the two. "Liberal" doesn't poll well anymore. 

So, if we were going to describe President Obama - as opposed to insulting him - what label best applies? I think we can safely rule out labels like "capitalist" and "libertarian." Clearly, Obama is a big government guy, so he must be one of the three, but which? As I said, as economic models the differences between the systems are not enormous, but there are a few.

A thought experiment is sometimes helpful in these exercises. A few weeks ago, I asked Naked Dollar readers to imagine Steve Jobs in a different time and place. My thinking was that the results would not have been quite so glorious (you can read it here).

Let's reverse the game. Let's take a historical figure, Lenin, and place him in modern America. What would be the result? I pick Lenin because more than any, he was responsible for the implementation of communism. Marx was an isolated theorist holed up in the British Library. Lenin was a man of action.

Well, let's start with what Lenin wouldn't be doing today: leading an armed revolt to assume power. This strategy is only effective when you are revolting against a tyrannical and corrupt power like the tzars or Fulgencio Batista in Cuba. So how to achieve Marxist ends within a benign democracy, where there are no trodden masses to support a revolt?

The answer is from within the system, for unlike 1917 Russia or 1958 Cuba, our system allows anyone to accumulate power if they play their cards right. In the U.S., growing government power is a game best played slowly, but also faster when the opportunities present. Lenin would have understood this. Do it in a way that few notice what's being imposed on them, like the proverbial frog in pot of water that slowly boils. You boil to death before you realize there's a problem.

In short, the entire liberal movement has operated by this playbook for the last 70 years, to great effect. Obama is merely the movement's apotheosis. So, intellectually, it's safe to call Obama either a socialist or a communist. The constructs of these ideologies are what he believes to his core.

But what about in practice? Communist? Sorry, no. I don't doubt Obama would like very much to rule without the inconvenience of Congress, the Supreme Court, or even voters. In a rare moment when he allowed a thought bubble to escape, he professed envy on the Chinese leadership that could just do whatever it wanted, without messy democratic constraints. But the fact is he can't, so we can't call him anything more than a communist wanna-be.

Socialist, perhaps? This is certainly closer to the mark, and Obama is especially animated by the class warfare aesthetic that adorns socialist movements everywhere. But socialists, like communists, want the government to own the means of production, particularly the biggies like banks, airlines, car companies, and so on. (Communists, on the other hand, want all those and the corner deli, too.) Interestingly, we haven't seen Obama, even in the midst of crisis, move to take over any industries. He merely wishes to control them. His levers of power are Obamacare, Dodd Frank, the EPA, and so forth. Not textbook socialism.

Which brings us to fascism. Obama certainly doesn't embrace any of the weird eugenics of fascists-past, nor is he quite so militaristic, so labeling him a fascist wouldn't be entirely accurate. But we are discussing economic models here, and, ironically, fascism may be closer to the mark than the others. Obama is willing to allow the appearance of private property but the reality is that an army of technocrats set the rules. Call it socialism by fiat.

Or perhaps we should call it Obama-ism, because anything so incredibly destructive probably deserves its very own ism.

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