It's been 20 years since the Berlin wall fell and the Soviet Union officially collapsed. And it has been about that amount of time since socialism served as a buzz word in American political life. Now, thanks to Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele, Victoria Jackson, the Tea Party brigade, and the health care forum interrupters, socialism is back in our political lexicon and boy does it sound great!
You have to wonder what the younger generation that has no memory or knowledge of socialism makes of these accusations. According to this latest definition by Beck et al, socialism = health care for all of citizens, tax structures that do not constantly benefit the very wealthy, government investment in the auto industry to avoid adding another million or so to the unemployment lines, and the regulation of business practices to safeguard American consumers and workers. Somehow Socialism even crept into the President urging young people to work hard and stay in school. See? Isn't socialism super?
Already last April, with the GOP campaign attempting to brand the President as a socialist, almost as many Americans thought as favorably of socialism as capitalism. A Rasmussen Report asked whether capitalism or socialism is a better system and 53% of American adults cited capitalism, 20% said socialism and 27% said they weren't sure. That seems remarkably high marks for socialism.
But perhaps these results are not so surprising when one considers the pass that capitalism has been given while it allows the foreclosure on people's homes, laying off workers while giving executives big bonuses, and making health care decisions based on insurance company's bottom line. When will capitalism be a word as dirty as socialism? As Arianna Huffington contended in her own column in December of 2008, laissez faire capitalism should be as dead as Soviet Union communism.
I am not a socialist in the traditional and authentic sense of the word. Nowhere close. My personal attitudes towards socialists and communist countries did an about-face when I visited East Berlin for the first time, and later Cuba. While I agreed with the ideals of economic equality I balked at the accompanying political oppression. Instead I turned to countries like Sweden, Norway, and Denmark which have marked out a middle way, managing to have a high standard of living for all of their citizens with a vastly smaller gap between the rich and the poor than the United States, while still maintaining a fierce commitment to political, religious, and expressive freedoms.
As a Christian, my preference for this economic and social equality has nothing to do with Marx and everything to do with Jesus. Yet according to those who are defining socialism for this next generation, I am a socialist as was FDR, JFK, Johnson, Carter, all of our allies in Europe and Canada and anyone who tries to give the poor and the middle class a fair shake. So along with God Bless America and Amazing Grace, I guess I better add The Internationale to my hymnal. Sing with me comrades!