According to the McCain campaign, "sharing the wealth" is antithetical to "real" American values. In the last throes of the presidential race, the Republican candidate is stamping his feet about an imagined "socialist" agenda masterminded by Barack Obama.
Socialism is a real ick! word in our culture. It conjures uncomfortable, foreign images of China, Cuba, the USSR, and perhaps most horrendously, the "national socialism" of Nazism. Crying "socialist!" in a room full of Americans will surely scare the bejesus out of some.
Senator McCain's attempt to brand Obama as "redistributionist-in-chief" and secret socialist should be a non-starter, because so much of what America embraces is laced with the very principles of socialism:
In education, our system of public schools is a socialist system. Americans love to view education as "the great equalizer," and the embodiment of the egalitarian American Dream. A school system based wholly on open markets would simply exclude lower-class children.
Teach for America, a major route into the teaching profession, is a program that aims to redistribute talent by placing high-achieving (and largely middle- and upper-middle-class) college grads in placements in high-poverty neighborhoods. This is a case-in-point of redistribution of resources. Most sensible people would call it social justice.
In entertainment, the National Football League's salary cap system-- in which no team is permitted to spend more on players' salaries than any other team-- is socialist. The NFL and its millions of fans call it parity-- or fairness.
With bipartisan support, our government nationalized its largest home mortgage providers, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, along with other troubled banks. That means the citizenry owns its institutions-- socialism.
In federal government, the fact the number of each state's House members is determined by population-- and not by its population's wealth-- reflects socialist ideals.
Medicare, offering health insurance to anyone aged 65 or over, is socialist in principle. Everybody is supposed to be taken care of, regardless of his or her wealth.
The celebrated "you can make it if you try" promise of the American Dream reflects the egalitarian bent of socialism.
A more politically palatable word for this sentiment of opposing the few controlling the many is populism. Whichever word we use for the striving toward a more just, free society, a more perfect union, we need policies that do more to empower struggling Americans to live the American Dream. Senator Obama's supportive, non-intrusive healthcare, tax, and education plans fit this description.
But for McCain supporters who already think it's unfair or un-American for CEOs to pony up equitable tax dollars, the socialist cry is red meat to stoke further anger and fear.
Those cynical tactics come home to roost on Tuesday.
Dan Brown is a teacher and the author of The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle.