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Ben Daniel

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The Great Socialist Deception

Posted: 01/18/12 10:40 AM ET

My children are victims of a socialist plot. So are yours, and so, probably, were you if you grew up in the United States after World War II.

Each morning, with their hands piously placed over their innocent hearts, my children are more or less forced to recite a quasi-religious creed with socialist origins. Publicly elected officials in the United States recite this creed every time they meet in open session, and it is used at service clubs and even in some churches. The socialist plot behind this creed is so discreet, so underground, so covert, that American politicians, ignorant of the creed's origin, started using the creed in earnest during the Cold War as a way of combating the very socialism embraced by the creed's author. It's brilliant, actually -- the ultimate Trojan horse. The use of the creed inserted socialism into American society even while American Cold Warriors were hoping the creed would promote democracy and capitalism.

I'm speaking, of course, about the Pledge of Allegiance, which, if Wikipedia is to be believed, was written by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister who self-identified as a Christian socialist. I cannot confirm this with Rev. Bellamy (he's too dead), but when we pledge our allegiance to "One nation, [under God], indivisible, with liberty and justice for all" it sounds an awful lot like an embrace of the socialist idea that the benefits and protections of society should fall equally upon the wealthy and the poor.

I'm joking when I say that the broad use of the Pledge of Allegiance in America is a socialist plot. It's not. But the origins of the Pledge of Allegiance can provide an interesting and important point to consider as we walk together through this election year: We the People don't know enough about history or economic theory to identify socialist ideology -- such as that found in the Pledge of Allegiance -- with which we interact every day.

This ignorance makes it far too easy for the term "socialism" to be wielded as a political bludgeon. When Republican presidential aspirants wish to discredit Barack Obama's policies, they call him a socialist. But is he? Of course not.

Merriam-Webster defines socialism as "any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods." Generally speaking, those who embrace socialism do so in the hope that "collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods" would further the cause of social justice through the redistribution of wealth such that the poor -- usually at the expense of the rich - -would get a larger share of the common good.

Meanwhile, for better or worse, Barack Obama has bailed out banks while ordinary Americans faced foreclosure. He saved General Motors while small businesses languished. His healthcare plan preserved the role private insurance companies play in providing medical insurance for the American people. Under the Obama administration the federal government made deep cuts to the assistance it gives poor people to help them heat their homes. If Obama is a socialist, then the Pope is a Methodist. But listening to this year's Republican political rhetoric, you'd never know it.

Not that I care if people don't understand history and economic theory. I care about honesty. As a person of faith I am convinced that human beings have a moral responsibility to use language to tell the truth, even if they are running for political office. When Rick Perry says, "we have a president that's a socialist"; when Rick Santorum claims the president is failing to fight socialism; and when Newt Gingrich writes a book called, "To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular, Socialist Machine," they are not telling the truth. Perennial Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney hasn't called Obama a socialist directly, but he has described him as one, which is just as bad. All this may be honest ignorance, or it may be deliberate dishonesty. Either way, we have a group of potential presidents who are bearing false witness. Last I checked, this is a violation of one of the biblical Ten Commandments, which should matter to these men, who, as self-proclaimed Christians, certainly must hold the Ten Commandments in high esteem.

I know better than to expect that a politician's stated faith commitments will trump his ambitions, but as the political season unfolds I will reserve the right to smile at the irony made manifest each time a candidate recites the Pledge of Allegiance at a campaign event and then, with a straight face, calls the incumbent president a socialist. This is a right I'd rather not use. As much as I love irony in comedy, in politics I prefer a more straightforward approach. This aspiration is rooted in my faith; I long to live in a nation where politics are marked by well-informed honesty. To date, the Republican primary season is making me feel a bit pessimistic when it comes to educated truth-telling, so for the time being I'll smile at irony, wherever I can find it.