In a feature Esquire interview in July, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was asked point blank, "Is Obama a socialist?" Bush's short answer, "I don't know." His answer was as duplicitous as it was cryptic. Bush and the GOP attack hounds have worked night and day to tar Obama as a stealth red president out to socialize medicine, snatch wealth from the rich and middle class, impose a Joe Stalin style big and repressive government on America, and reorder capitalism. This is cunning, calculated and a Kool Aid delusion ploy. But it's also working.
Right-wing bloggers, chatters, and talk radio gabbers pile tons of anti-Obama slurs and slams on websites, blogs and in responses to articles. In an August US News and World Report poll nearly 90 percent of the respondents said that Obama's policies are socialist. There are more than 2 million references (and climbing), quotes, quips, comments, and notations on Obama as a socialist on Google. And there are more than a quarter million references and comments on Google to the dopey Obama as Joker poster. Packs of blog respondents bragged that they were plastering up posters all over the joint.
The sheer mass of anti-Obama slanders from the right, the fringe and the GOP hounds has forced much of the mainstream media and respected commentators, analysts and bloggers who should know better to spend time and space arguing the cons of the claim and refuting it. This just gives back-door credence to the silly charge.
The irony is that then candidate Obama also gave backdoor dignity to it last October during a rally in Raleigh, North Carolina. Obama mocked the charge in a blast at McCain for strongly hinting there was a red taint to Obama's agenda. Obama laughed it off saying, 'what's next, calling me a communist?' Unfortunately, there are more than a few who have happily said just that about him too.
Even if he never pursed his lips and dignified the idiocy, and the GOP had played it on the up-and-up-and-up and stuck to the standard attack on Democrats as pro-tax and spend, big government, and dovish on defense, Obama still would be branded a socialist. It's a juicy term that touches a raw nerve with most Americans who are in a fog on what socialism is and how it works as a system. To many a socialist is someone who is pro-union, pro-increased government spending on health and education programs, and pro-civil liberities and especially civil rights. This always drew fire from the right. During the 1960's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was routinely smeared as a communist and socialist.
But it's the mildest criticism of big business and the wealthy that insure a slap on of the socialist tag. The American economic sacred cow is that laissez faire wealth is tantamount to a divine right of kings, and any attempt to touch it is economic heresy. Politicians know that's it is a kiss of death to be seen as an advocate for tax and income fairness. That invites being plastered with the socialist tag.
GOP presidents and presidential candidates ritually play the 'tax and spend' card to brand their Democratic rivals as dangers to middle-class wage earners. This stokes fear that underneath the Democrat's supposed taxing and spending the rich will be hammered and the poor will be the beneficiaries. The wealth taking scare has worked in the past precisely because wealth and income iniquities are so great, and the notion that there's nothing wrong with those iniquities is so deeply entrenched in tax policy, philosophy and politics.
Any talk of putting more wealth into the hands of the non-wealthy in the way of tax cuts, a Social Security tax increase on upper income wage earners, capital gain increases, and closing tax shelter loopholes is plainly regarded as wealth redistribution downward. During the campaign, McCain grabbed at the formula that GOP contenders traditionally use and hit Obama with it.
It has worked to the extent that it has because millions of middle and working class wage earners dream that they will be rich someday and are horrified that they can have their imagined wealth downsized by a tax and spend Democrat or worse a Democrat who's branded as socialist leaning.
Obama cringed in horror at the absurd notion that he is a wait-in-the wings Marxist. But tossing the damaging political label at him is more than just a last desperate gasp effort by the GOP attack hounds to get an edge on Obama. It taps into the deeply held belief--and even fear--that Obama can and will actually mug the rich and by extension those who fantasize about being rich. The question, "Is Obama a Socialist" is silly and revolting. Yet, to even ask it creates just enough doubt. And that suits the GOP.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, "The Hutchinson Report" can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles at 9:30 AM Fridays on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and live streamed nationally on ktym.com