11/24/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Weekly Roundup: OffTheBus Readers Engage in Social(ism) Networking

It's fitting that Larry David should have such a wonderfully neurotic post about the twilight hours of this endless election season this week because I'm increasingly reminded of a scene in Curb Your Enthusiasm where Mr. David's semi-fictitious alter-ego squares off against an unruly toddler who won't quiet down at a film screening:

"You're a poo poo head!"

"No, you're a poo poo head!"

Larry should obviously have known better than to engage, but couldn't help it once the tone was set by his juvenile adversary.

Sound familiar?

Substitute "poo poo head" for "socialist" and you'll get a pretty decent feel for the national political dialogue this week. As scattered as the week has been now that all of the major campaign milestones have come and gone, turning the tables on John McCarthy, erm, McCain's criticism of Barack Obama this week has been the one thread in our inbox.

"I don't know what name you could give to those 8 years of no bid contracts that the Bush Administration handed out to large corporations other than socialism.," writes Elizabeth Barry, implying that a McCain-Palin administration would simply continue Bush's brand of corporate welfare. "That's the way it works in socialist countries-it's one brand fits all and whether you like it or not, it's the brand that the government chooses."

As suggested by Elizabeth, a strangely subdued Michael Moore on Larry King Live last night, and several other submissions in our Campaign Trail inbox, it's an antiquated definition of socialism that fuels McCain's plumber-driven charges.

"With McCain bandying the term 'socialist' around repeatedly to describe a simple comment by Obama in regards to 'spreading the wealth,' he's showing that even he has no idea what Socialism really is," writes Jim Nomad.

So what IS socialism, Jim??

"Basically, it's a single payer system for your rent, utilities, health and education benefits, protection, and partially, transit" where everyone "pays into a big pot with their taxes, and everyone gets those services."

Well, it's nebulous to be sure when applied to the U.S. Some would argue that we've had some degree of socialism present in our country since the establishment of the progressive income tax. Others, as Lynne Glassner points out, just like to ratchet up the rhetoric with a word closely linked to communism and fascism when a black man talks about taking their money and giving it to someone else. She goes on to explain Joe's interpretation of situation:

"In Joe's mind, progressive taxation is simply a Robin Hood scheme designed to steal from the rich to give to the poor, not a means to running a government that presides over 300 million people. I'd like to know what math class these folks missed because they don't seem to grasp the concept of progressive taxes, which are proportional to income. Fair, in Joespeak, lies in everyone paying the same rate; in doing so the wealthy get pinched but the middle class get beat unconscious. Does Joe think that a 6-foot 200-pound man needs to lose the same amount of weight as a man who is 5'6" and weighs in at 200? If they both lose 20 pounds, the taller man is in good shape but the shorter guy is still a heart attack risk. Both shed 10 percent of their weight. "

One key phrase, "spreading the wealth around" uttered indiscriminately by Barack Obama, has reignited the good old public vs. private sector debate in new ways. My father, a staunch fiscal conservative, felt compelled to send me an email about how socialist values erode the fabric of American society, using Gamal Abdel Nasser's nationalization of personal property in the 50's that destroyed incentive and work ethic across classes and flattened the Egyptian economy.

Now, he doesn't even insinuate that this country is comparable to Egypt in the 1950's, but it's the concept he and many other Republicans see in Obama's tax plan that reeks of fiscal leftism.

"As previously pointed out, Socialism is about producers having political power and control of land and capital systems. In other words, government ownership of or significant investment in banks and companies, land and significant control of production and distribution. Obama's plan does not advocate any of this." - Dennis Whitehead

But the question is not so much philosophical right now as it is practical. Do we trust the government with our money? Many have expressed outcry at McCain's double standard: supporting the bailout plan and offering to buyout rotten mortgages at full price while lambasting Obama over his response to Joe the Plumber.

The question this contradiction leads to is can we even trust ourselves with our own money? And, at it's most does Obama's plan really favor not just the have-nots but the wonts in the class war brewing in this country? Will he quickly convert our proud nation into one of those dreadful, overtaxed, European countries?

"I have traveled over 'there' (Scandinavia and the UK most specifically) many times and while imperfect (what system is perfect) they have a FAR better quality of living than we do (based on lifespan, access to health-care, levels of suicide, alcoholism/drug abuse, infant mortality, etc. and most recently have earned a better standard of living based on GDP," writes a submitter identified only by his email handle: ameriviking.

He continues: "I am not a Marxist/Socialist but I AM a Euro-style Capitalist -- Capitalism that puts lives, families, the environment BEFORE dividends and demands corporate responsibility to the society. Europe doesn't always get it right to be sure, but their minds and hearts are in the right place (in the lives of their citizens first)."

A romanticized view for sure, which is counterbalanced nicely by an excerpt from a submission by a 30+ year resident of the former Soviet Union (and also our weekly dose of Fringe Wisdom):

"Living under the socialism for 32 years, I must say that life was very simple at least until April 1991 (when I left): no cars, real estate, checking accounts, overdraft protections, credit cards, mortgages, car loans, payday loans, student loans, stocks, bonds (only federally issued), insurance (very limited), business loans (very limited), no job interviews, lending was done against accounts receivables, inventory, equipment, commercial construction, harvest, free health care & education, very limited market economy, competence level was much higher then in the United States considering the fact that we did not need to know much, general education is much more creative & wider & with more discipline than in the United States, customer service is much worse than in the United States, quality of products was much worse then in the US, choice of products was limited, I have personally never met pregnant teenager, single mother, divorcée, religious person of any kind, professional prostitute, gay or lesbian, overweight person, individual with cancer or diabetes or allergies. On the other side: I have not been looking for one."