Saturday, July 25, 2009

Barack Obama, Social Democrat?

"I did think it might be useful to point out that it wasn’t under me that we started buying a bunch of shares of banks. It wasn’t on my watch. And it wasn’t on my watch that we passed a massive new entitlement – the prescription drug plan without a source of funding. And so I think it’s important just to note when you start hearing folks throw these words around that we’ve actually been operating in a way that has been entirely consistent with free-market principles and that some of the same folks who are throwing the word socialist around can’t say the same."~Barack Obama

Consider this: If Brian Coulter in his Longview News Journal July 25 column was correct in insistencing that President Barack H. Obama is a socialist, then in November 2008, the American people elevated a socialist to the highest office in the land. If you find such an odd scenario to be highly unlikely, I'm with you. If you believe, as does Coulter and others on the increasingly hysterical right, that Obama achieved the presidency by hiding his "socialism" under a cloak of deception and guile, then you come perilously close to being relegated to the conspiracy obsessed fringe that has variously labeled the President a "Stealth Muslim," a "Manchurian Candidate," or an "alien born," illegitimate usurper ensconced in the Oval Office. Let us know how that works out for you.

The socialist tag is not new, in fact its "sell by" date has long since passed. That train has left the station. Yet Coulter et al. cling to the fallacy with a desperation that defies all evidence to the contrary. The smear emerged with a vengeance during the 2008 campaign, along with other rather transparent attempts at "Swift-Boating" then candidate Obama. Their spectacular failure, aided in no small part by the ineptitude and down right silliness of the McCain/Palin ticket, was given resounding emphasis in the margin of the President's victory.

Also dragged out to make the rounds in Coulter's column are the fusty old campaign ghosts of William Ayers (another socialist out of the woodwork?) and ACORN. Again, if these failed PR stunts didn't seriously damage Obama back then, what could motivate their use now? Apparently it's the same type of fixation that drives those coteries of conspiracy which disbelieve that we landed men on the moon, that the government has been completely forthcoming about Area 51, or that Elvis has indeed "left the building."

It bears asking, how could John McCain, a respected long time Senator and war hero, lose the presidency (and our country) to a socialist? The answer is, he didn't. He lost to an American Democrat, no more socialist than Franklin D. Roosevelt, who enacted one of the most lasting, effective governmental programs in our history; Social Security. At the time of his administration, Roosevelt also endured specious accusations of fomenting a socialist dismantling of capitalism and the nation. Yet amazingly, here we are decades later, functioning as a capitalist society. To the extent we are locked, as Coulter writes, in an abysmal cycle of governmental growth, unemployment, and precipitously increasing debt, is it really feasible that in less than one year, Obama has caused all the chaos? Not very likely.

The non-existent governance of the previous administration still bears the lion's share of responsibility for our present plight. Recall that the bailout of the financial institutions was an idea that sprang Athena-like from the head of George W. Bush. And by the way, if Obama is so anti-capitalist, why did he endorse a plan spawned by the unquestionably capitalist Bush administration? Bush was so fixated on war and terrorism that he neglected to govern. The mess Obama inherited has been the driving force behind the more controversial (and necessary) of his policies, not a blind commitment to socialist ideology as Coulter persistently and wrongly claims.

I take exception to one comment from Coulter's column which really gets us to the crux of the matter: "That Obama could cherry pick attractive collectivist elements of the socialist platform and enact them never occurs to Anderson..." Wrong. In fact, that idea is not difficult to attribute to Obama at all. If an idea is attractive to Obama, I suspect it is so because he believes that it will ultimately help, not hurt the country. And the President has proven his openness to all solutions, and shown a remarkable penchant for synthesizing seemingly disparate ideas into fresh approaches. Like Bush, Coulter seems averse to "nuance." His deficiency in knowledge about the diversity of thought on the left is revealing, as is his projection onto the left of the same monolithic lockstep that characterizes the right.

If you must have a label for Obama's economic philosophy, it could more precisely be called, Social Democracy, which is a specific anti-socialist movement born out of the left's response to the ascendancy of Capitalism in the 18th and 19th centuries. In a Summer 2009 essay in DISSENT magazine, Columbia University associate Professor, Sheri Berman provides the proper placement of Obama's economic philosophy in historical terms. She writes that the success and resilience of Capitalism long after its emergence caused the left to split into three distinct camps. The first (and the first to fall in the face of Capitalism's success) was Leninism, which advocated the use of force to advance its economic/social model. Other leftists, uncomfortable with such violence, chose to keep to a democratic path.

It was a further schism in this second faction that would lead to the economic model that comes closest to Obama's ideas: Social Democracy. Unlike the other two factions of the left, represented by classic Marxism/Leninism and Democratic Socialists, the Social Democratic division believed in a compromise between the best of Capitalism and Socialism, and sought to reform the former rather than eagerly awaiting or even hastening its demise. The "Unheralded" battle between these factions of the left, Berman writes, is the great untold political story of the 20th Century.

Social Democracy, far from attempting to dismantle Capitalism, actually seeks both to strengthen and reform it. This has been in Berman's words, a process of "encouraging [economic] growth while at the same time protecting citizens from capitalism's negative consequences." In fact, the model has proved to be successful in Denmark and Sweden, and Berman believes American leftists should strive to emulate it.

Of course Coulter will concede none of this because it wouldn't advance and preserve his prejudices to do so. His all encompassing obsession seems to be the libeling and maligning of the executive. Meanwhile President Obama, and I might add we as Americans, have serious problems to face down and conquer. We must leave naysayers like Coulter to do what they do best, which is to complain rather than offer realistic solutions.


Read Coulter's column in its entirety at:


  1. They are extremely good pessimists.

  2. Pessimists, yes. But there is something new going on out there. I don't know if it's just that the shock of having elected an African American President has just worn off or what, but the conspiracy theories are really coming out of the woodwork! You have the "birthers," the "deathers," the "Socialism Dreaders," and who knows how many other forms of derangement making the rounds. Some of these bizarre claims have even been uttered in the halls of the legislature. What is going on out there? It's very odd indeed.


  3. Well said, Durren. I am so weary of the innuendos from conservative aquaintances that I am communist or socialist because of my liberal views. That I was somehow unpatriotic when I harshly criticized Bush doctrine, and that I am unamerican because I believe that access to healthcare is a civil right. And yet these same conservative friends of mine are thenselves harshly critical of Obama doctrine and believe that healthcare is a privelage of the ones lucky enough to afford it. But dare to call THEM unpatriotic!

    Many would rather have their semi automatic rifles with no oversight than to live in a country where truly no child is left behind in the healthcare system. Rather than fix our nation's healthcare system, they seem to prefer their tax dollars be wasted on inadequate Medicare policies and the use of emergency rooms for nonfunded primary care. THIS is what truly drives up the cost of healthcare and insurance for all Americans. They want freedom from government interference but refuse to allow loving same sex couples the right to legal marriage. They tell the government to allow them to live freely according to their own convictions, and to require the rest of us to also live according to their convictions. Where is the liberty in that?

  4. Celeste, I agree. The internal contradictions of the conservative program have never been more on display than over the last couple of years. The wake up call was Katrina, for it was there that the seams of the conservative cloak began to tear, revealing the empty, vapid infrastructure of conservative thought.

    Misery is what finally awakened the American electorate. You hardly ever hear discussions about how many innocent Americans died (needlessly) during Bush's administration. And to keep us from going there, Cheney (Dick & Liz) are out on the hustings delivering disinformation by the ton. The bloviators on radio, T.V., and in congress engage in irresponsible race-baiting.

    Once, they owned the word "values." So much so that even liberals bought in to the notion that we had none. We do have them. Liberal values. Ours seek to answer the very real problems facing our fellow citizens. Conservative values are now out there for all to see. They come down to fear, resentment, and xenophobia. Unmasked at last.


  5. Durren,

    It is odd, but it is scary too. When Coulter (Ann) is no longer the Republican making the most outrageous statements you really have to wonder what is happening to the party.

    Returning to the local scene, Coulter (Brian) either doesn't understand what socialism is or he chooses not to. I suspect the latter because he may have realized he's done a deal with the devil by working in socialized education.

    His second column on this subject is even more ridiculous than the first attempt. For example, he takes a statistic from the 1930's and then again from today and then claims (not even an unstated implication) that Obama is the cause of the increase! When I was in school if I turned in a paper containing that trick I'd be looking at a failing grade. That one was so bad surely the editor should have objected?

    Coulter even uses the firing of Rick Wagoner, CEO of GM, a failed company, as more "evidence" of socialism!

    [Compassionate note to Brian: if you want to use GM as an argument about socialism, you simply have to refer to the fact it's now partly government owned, and hope your readers don't remember the Bush bailouts. Please note the firing of CEOs at the helm when a company crashes and burns is actually a common practice in the private sector. I only wish there had been more of it during the financial collapse.]

    Although this spectacle is limited to the readership of the LNJ, this nonsense needs to be called out wherever it is.

    Love the blog. Keep up the good work.

    P.S. Anyone want to predict how soon it will be before we have a "birther" article in the Saturday forum? Letters to the Editor don't count (too low a bar).

  6. Mike B.

    You do me proud, sir! Wish I'd thought of the points you raise.


  7. Responding to Mark B.

    You penned a phrase in which I am unsure how to respond: In this blog, you said--

    I suspect the latter because he (speaking of Brian Coulter) may have realized he's done a deal with the devil by working in socialized education.

    As a compassionate and loving teacher of ELL (English Language Learners) - I can tell you that I do my absolute and very best to teach children everyday. Exactly how have I worked a deal with the devil? I would consider my child lucky to be in the class of Mr. Brian Coulter, where statements can be examined before judgements made. However - your blog's statements - being so very full of harsh judgement for anyone who differs from YOUR opinion, have no room for clarity, only bias to the far left. Good luck selling your propaganda to those who cannot see them for what they are. Harsh judgements made for those who don't see it your way. As for my ELL students? They adore coming to school everyday and working with a teacher who does her job.... I don't question if they are here legally. I just educate them. I don't question if their parents are paying into Social Security... I just love them. Next time I am providing Christmas gifts from the Angel Tree (secretly) for one of my ELL students, I will definitely NOT be thinking of any deals with the devil. Our education system has flaws, of course. However, educators just suck it up and do what we're required to do. Without complaining. Just as Mr. Brian Coulter does on a daily basis. Wish you could say the same. Wonder what our students would learn from you as their educator? Not much, I am guessing.

  8. My comment will be visible after approval?

    Hilarious, good sirs. Thanks for the best laugh I have had today.

  9. Debbie,

    You say you're "unsure how to respond," but responded anyway. I think perhaps you should've given it a little more time, and maybe read Mark B's comments a little more thoroughly. What he said was that he suspects Brian C doesn't understand socialism because if he did, he would see teaching in a public (government) school system as a deal with the devil (socialists). It's called humor, perhaps a little too subtle for some.

    No one was trying to denigrate teachers in any way, just pointing out that someone who works for "socialized education," which is what our public schools are, providing an education, for free, to all the children of this country, should be a little more understanding when the government wants to keep us all healthy as well.

    And as you can see, your comment is visible to all. We receive an email advising us that someone has posted a comment, and we have the power to publish it or not. This allows us to not publish any hateful or obscene comments. So far, we've published every comment that's been submitted, even those like yours, and several others, that we don't agree with.

    So I hope you have enjoyed your laugh. You've given me a chuckle or two as well, good madam!

    Jonna (the other founder of this blog)

  10. Debbie,

    Apologies for not responding to your comment earlier. I haven't been checking the older postings so I missed your entry. Of course, Jonna is correct [and thank you, Jonna]. Debbie, you completely missed my point. But no offense has been caused here.

    I was criticizing Brian Coulter. He writes a column in the Longview News Journal where he has spent a lot of column inches attacking President Obama by calling him a socialist. Coulter is entitled to his opinion, but I wanted to point out that given Coulter's own very expansive definition of socialism he was himself working in a socialized education system.

    Socialism is a scary word and that's why people like Brian Coulter use it. That's why they also throw out other scary words like Marxism, Communism, Fascism, Hitler, Death Panels. They use "Socialism" to describe any government action they don't like. They rely on a good portion of the audience not listening closely or not understanding the real meaning of these words.

    I don't know whether Coulter is a good teacher. Despite the poor logic often displayed in his column he does write better than me. Additionally he has made reference to George Orwell, the English socialist author, several times in his columns so I suspect his students are exposed to excellent literary material.

    I support public education in principle and via my taxes. I appreciate what all public school teachers do, including those, such as yourself, in the ELL specialty. Like you, I want my children and the children of my neighbors, regardless of their parent's tax paying status or citizenship, to get a good education. I owe almost everything I have to a good public education system. On these issues it's the anti-government anti-immigrant conservatives you have to be concerned about, not a liberal like you'll find here.

    Debbie, please keep reading and posting at this blog. Our misunderstanding aside, your heartfelt efforts in educating the next generation of citizens in the public system are values that are shared and championed by liberals.