Only in American English is “socialism” a four-letter word

You’d think we were back in the middle of the Cold War, what with all of the talk of “socialism” from the McCain-Palin campaign lately. Aside from the fact that, absent the bad word itself, if you described to the average American the major tenets of socialism, you’d probably encounter little resistance, and mostly outright acceptance.

Beyond the false pejorative, you have the greater problem that, well, Barack Obama’s ideas just simply aren’t socialist, at least not any more socialist than the way things already were in this country before George W. Bush took office.

Hendrik Hertzberg has (yet again) an outstanding commentary in this week’s New Yorker, discussing the matter. Some relevant highlights:

“At least in Europe, the socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives,” McCain said the other day—thereby suggesting that the dystopia he abhors is not some North Korean-style totalitarian ant heap but, rather, the gentle social democracies across the Atlantic, where, in return for higher taxes and without any diminution of civil liberty, people buy themselves excellent public education, anxiety-free health care, and decent public transportation.

No, please! Don’t improve the schools, treat health care as a right, and make it easy for people to get around! Actually, it would seem a significant number of Republicans, of all economic classes, do seem to think this way, to which I simply have no retort. You can’t reason with the fundamentally unreasonable.

He continues, and here it’s worth repeating the entire paragraph:

The Republican argument of the moment seems to be that the difference between capitalism and socialism corresponds to the difference between a top marginal income-tax rate of 35 per cent and a top marginal income-tax rate of 39.6 per cent. The latter is what it would be under Obama’s proposal, what it was under President Clinton, and, for that matter, what it will be after 2010 if President Bush’s tax cuts expire on schedule. Obama would use some of the added revenue to give a break to pretty much everybody who nets less than a quarter of a million dollars a year. The total tax burden on the private economy would be somewhat lighter than it is now—a bit of elementary Keynesianism that renders doubly untrue the Republican claim that Obama “will raise your taxes.”

Right. Under Obama, our tax burden will soar to the unheard of rate of… well, slightly less than what they were 8 years ago.

And now, the best part. For those of you who don’t know, Alaska’s oil resources are collectively (yes, collectively) owned by the state, and oil companies are taxed for their use of the oil-rich land. Those taxes not only fund all state government activities, but provide enough of a surplus that each citizen of the state (including children) receives an annual check in the thousands of dollars. Did somebody say “redistribution of wealth”? No, no, of course not.

A few weeks before she was nominated for Vice-President, [Sarah Palin] told a visiting journalist—Philip Gourevitch, of this magazine—that “we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.”

Who’s the socialist again? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Special thanks to JW for tipping me off to this article via Facebook. I would have seen it eventually anyway, of course… when my print copy arrives a week after everyone else’s, as usual.