Conservative Socialism: Spreading Debt Around

11/23/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

At a campaign rally last week, Obama said, "My attitude is that if the economy's good for folks from the bottom up, it's gonna be good for everybody ... I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." He made the comment in the face of massive corruption and greed on Wall Street, and in the context of the resulting financial meltdown.

Note, up front, that Obama did not say that wealth would be redistributed through a shift in tax policy. But let us assume for the moment that was indeed his intent. From that, in the last dying breaths of a cancerous campaign, McCain has implied through a grand leap of logic that Obama is now a Socialist. Yes, we almost hit the finish line before the dreaded "S" word was bandied about, but McCain just could not help himself in a spasm of reactionary labeling.

The big "S" claim primarily depends on the false notion that using tax policy to distribute wealth is a socialist idea. The absurdity of that assertion is laid bare when we consider that existing tax policies were implemented specifically to distribute wealth to the upper 1% of earners in the country in the discredited hope of stimulating trickle down growth. All tax policies redistribute wealth. The only question is who gains. Somehow if the beneficiaries are the extremely wealthy, Republicans view that government intervention as laudatory, but if the middle class benefits the tax policy is deemed to be the worst case of socialism. What we see in McCain's claim about Obama is the most cynical double standard.

Oddly, the agitators proven to be true socialists in this latest financial fiasco are the conservatives. Conservatives support privatizing gains on the way up and socializing losses on the way down. Conservative socialists do not spread the wealth; they keep our profits for themselves but spread their debts back to us. That is exactly what the $700 billion bailout accomplishes. Conservative socialists pocket all gains earned by investing our money while we shoulder all losses. Conservative socialists take our money to Las Vegas; if the gambling pays off they walk away with a thick wad of cash; if not, we pay the pit boss. The problem for the rest of us is that only conservative socialists can board this sweet money train.

McCain impugning Obama's economic policies by calling him a Socialist is like Britney Spears challenging Pavarotti's credentials as a singer. McCain should take a good look in the mirror with a bit of introspection before flapping his lips. What could possibly be more socialist than nationalizing our largest banks? Using taxpayer dollars to purchase an equity stake in financial institutions would make a Soviet central planner blush with pride.

Obama's tax policies cannot be described as socialist except by those too ignorant to know the difference or too cynical to reveal the truth. Obama simply wants to re-introduce a tax code that treats the middle class equitably, reversing Reagan-era policies of wealth distribution from bottom to top. Recovering stolen money cannot properly be described as stealing money from the thief, yet that is exactly McCain's absurd accusation against Obama.

Let us round-file this nonsense about "spreading the wealth" as a socialist threat from Obama and instead focus on the real problem of spreading the debt as a form of welfare for the extreme rich. The people who created the mess in which we find ourselves today are not the ones to whom we should turn for a solution. Hopefully, in less than two weeks McCain will be nothing but a senator who twice ran for president and twice failed.