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Debunking The "Socialism" Charge

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Last week you heard how to debunk the right-wing talking points about Ayers, Rezko and Acorn.  While those smears are still being promoted somewhat, a new one has arisen.  It's a right-wing staple.

When Obama was speaking with Joe the Plumber, Obama said it's good to "spread the wealth around."

Well, that, combined with Obama's plan for refundable tax credits and raising the tax rate on families making more than $250,000 a year, set off a right-wing firestorm.  McCain all but called Obama a socialist:

audio: McCain

At least in Europe, the Socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives.

I want you to get the real flavor of this.

Here's Sarah Palin with Sean Hannity a few days ago:

audio: Palin

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HANNITY:  Barack Obama, when Joe the Plumber has become such a big issue in the campaign--

PALIN:  And we're talking about him again today--

HANNITY:  I saw some signs when I was out there, you know, I'm somebody the bricklayer, I'm somebody the hairstylist--but he doubled down.  He was asked this week, "Do you regret saying 'spread the wealth?'"  He said no!  So what is that philosophy?  The #1 issue on people's minds is about the economy.

PALIN:  It sure is.

HANNITY:  So what does that mean to you?

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PALIN:  Well, it means that finally Joe the Plumber was able to accomplish something that none of us have been able to accomplish--and that is to get Barack Obama to candidly, finally state what his true intentions are for his tax increases.  And that is to take more from our families, to take more from our businesses, what they have produced and earned, and then spread that out according to his own priorities.  

And with an Obama, Pelosi, and Reed trifecta there, that could potentially be controlling Washington, D.C., I think our economy's in a world of hurt.  Because as Joe the Plumber suggested, that hints at socialism, is what he said...  

An anchor on a Florida radio station last week even point-blank asked Joe Biden:  

audio: Biden interview

WEST: You may recognize this famous quote. From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs. That's from Karl Marx. How is Sen. Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to spread the wealth around?

BIDEN: Are you joking? Is this a joke?


BIDEN: Is that a real question?

WEST: It's a real question.

BIDEN: He is not spreading the wealth around. He is talking about giving the middle class an opportunity to get back the tax breaks they used to have. What has happened just this year is that the people making $1.4 million a year, the wealthiest 1%, good, decent American people, are gonna get an $87 billion tax cut. A new one on top of the one from last year. We think that the people getting that tax break and not redistribute the wealth up, should be the middle class. That's what we think. It's a ridiculous comparison with all due respect.

She couldn't resist taking a closing shot at the end of the interview:

audio: Biden interview

Interviewer:  Getting back to the spreading-the-wealth question.  What do you say to the people who are concerned that Barack Obama will want to turn America into a socialist country much like Sweden?

Biden:  I don't know anybody who thinks that except the far-right wing of the Republican party.

Interviewer:  OK, Sen. Biden, thank you very much.

As we discuss this, you can pick and choose what elements of the following to use, depending on whether you're guiding an undecided voter towards the righteous path, or just blasting a persistent right-winger.  And it's not just useful info for before the election.  If Obama wins, this cry from the right of "socialism" will be with us all eight years!

Sources you'll hear include: Newsweek, the Inter Press Service news agency,, the New York Times,, United for a Fair Economy, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and

Interestingly, McCain isn't the first Arizona senator to call Democrats socialists.  After Lyndon Baines Johnson agreed to run as John F. Kennedy's vice-president, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona wrote Johnson a letter.  He said he couldn't understand how Johnson was able "to embrace the socialist platform of your party."

Johnson wrote back, in part:

I think all of us have to decide for ourselves what represents a "socialist" platform, and what represents the reasonable consensus upon which a political party can honorably go to the country. 

Useful words for today.  

We all know how well Goldwater himself did in 1964 when he ran against LBJ.  May that be a harbinger for 2008.

McCain's socialism charge against Obama fails on three counts.

A tip of the hat to the blog perrspectives -- perspectives with two r's -- for compiling some of the sources here.  When I started researching, I came across a post of his, and he had sourced the info I was looking for.

First, McCain is screaming socialism because, he says, almost half of the people who would get a tax refund under Obama, "pay no taxes."

It's true they pay no income tax because they earn so little.  But they do pay federal payroll taxes on every dollar of their income.  Not to mention state and local taxes.

Second, and related, there's a bipartisan, widely supported federal program that already makes such refunds.  It's called the Earned Income Tax Credit, begun in 1975.  Low-income working individuals and families receive a refund in excess of the tax they pay.


Well, Ronald Reagan called it 

the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress.

And in 1999, none other than John McCain called the Earned Income Tax Credit "a much-needed tax credit for working Americans."

So I guess Ronald Reagan and the 1999 John McCain were socialists.

The third count that McCain's criticism fails on, is the 2008 John McCain.  His own current health care plan gives a $5000 tax credit to each and every family, regardless of whether they pay income taxes.

Another element of the right-wing "socialist charge" is that Obama won't renew Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Yet in 2001, when McCain voted against those very same Bush tax cuts, he said:

I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle class Americans who most need tax relief.

And McCain has himself defended the entire progressive tax system in the United States, where the higher the income, the higher the rate someone pays.

On the show Hardball in 2000, McCain explained:

[W]e feel, obviously, that wealthy people can afford more...I really believe, that when you are -- reach a certain level of comfort, there's nothing wrong with paying somewhat more.

John McCain, class warfare advocate.  Who woulda thunk it?

And remember, all Obama's plan does, is restore the tax rates for the wealthiest Americans back to where they were under Bill Clinton, to 39.6% from 35%.  Horrors!

So for all these reasons, I hope you can see how ridiculous the socialist charge against Obama is. 

More to come.  Stick around.


Now, let's expand the frame a bit.  You might want to ponder:

Why do almost half of families with children, earn so little that they owe no income taxes?

The problem isn't that they're going to get a bit of help from the federal government.  The problem is that our wage structure is so screwed up that people working full-time jobs earn so little that they can't support a family.

Here's more food for thought:

We've been having reverse Robin Hood, reverse socialism ever since Reagan took office.

From 1980 to 2006, the richest 1% of Americans nearly tripled their share of the national income, from 8½ to 22 percent.

Yet their share of the tax burden didn't go up proportionally.  

You'll hear the right complain now, over and over, that the wealthiest 1% pay 40% of the income taxes.   But to keep up with their 1980 ratio of share of income to share of taxes, their share of income taxes should now be 49%.

Ever since Reagan, the tax burden has shifted to the rest of us.  All Obama's plan does is shift some of the burden back where it was, and belongs.

And how about this:

The wealthiest 10% of Americans own 70% of all assets in private hands. And they want more tax breaks.

What, do they want to increase that to 80% of the wealth?  90%?  How about 100%?  Maybe they can have it all.  We can go back to feudal times.  Everyone else can depend on the kindness and largesse of the lords and other nobles, to survive.

Finally, a word about corporate taxes.  The right is forever going on about how heavy the corporate tax burden is.

Can you hear the violins in the background?  Are you getting out your handkerchief to wipe away your tears at this tragic situation?

As with most things right-wingers say, the opposite is true.

In 1952, corporations paid 32% of all federal tax revenues.  You know what that percentage was in 2003?

Must be way up there, huh?  The heavily burdened corporations.  Probably being forced to shoulder 40, 50% of the load now.

Must be for the right to be hollering and complaining so much.

Uh, no.

In 2003, the corporate share of the tax burden had fallen to 7%.

Yes, you heard me correctly.  Seven percent.  Down from 32%.

And the right, including John McCain, wants to reduce it even further.  

What are the ramifications of having the type of severe economic inequality, that Obama is trying to address, and the right-wing, with the 2008 John McCain as its cheerleader, is trying to maintain, and even increase?

The United States is a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the OECD.  It's mostly composed of the United States and members of the European Union, along with a handful of other countries.

The OECD puts out all kinds of reports.  One of its recent ones addressed this issue.

Right-wingers claim that economic inequality is fine, because it gives the poor an incentive to improve their condition.

Not so.

It turns out that 

Among OECD countries, social mobility as measured by the relative earnings of fathers and sons was highest in the Nordic countries where the rich-poor gap was narrow, and lowest in Italy, Britain and the U.S. -- all countries where the gap was significantly wider.

Only Mexico and Turkey have larger gaps between the wealthiest and poorest households, than the United States.  Only Mexico and Turkey have higher poverty rates than the US.

Nice, huh?

And wouldn't you know it

That gap has grown particularly large in the U.S. since 2000 -- that is, under the administration of President George W. Bush -- according to the report, which found that the gap between the U.S. middle class and the wealthiest 10 percent has also increased.   

The poor and the middle class both being hosed by right-wing rule.

Here's what the head of the OECD said:

Social mobility is low in countries with high inequality like Italy, the UK, and the United States... This means that, in most high-inequality countries, dishwashers' sons are more likely to be dishwashers and millionaires' kids can assume that they too will be rich

For more on the lack of economic mobility in the US, you can check out podcast 114.

What to do about this?

Social mobility can be promoted by government policies such as progressive taxation, improvements in the social safety net, job creation, and increasing investment in education.

Precisely the policies that progressives advocate, and that Obama has at least started on the road down.

As an Oxford University economist put it:

If the government can take on the role of lender of last resort, then we should think about the government taking on the role of employer of last resort.

Put bluntly, governments have to step up to the plate, as Roosevelt did in the Great Depression.

In other words, we need a new New Deal.

What would be the obstacle to this?

Of course, the right-wing free market ideology that has held such sway in the United States, and increasingly around the world, since Reagan took office.

Well, as you probably know, the entire free market ideology has recent taken some severe body blows, probably fatal.

Everyone has watched as the Bush administration felt it necessary for the government to step in and rescue the financial industry.  So much for free markets correcting themselves.   

And speaking of socialism,  we've all heard the bailout truthfully described as socialism for the rich: privatize profit, socialize loss.

More than just that however, are the explicit ideological admissions that right-wingers have had to make along the way.

On a minor note, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Christopher Cox, said that he and other regulators have learned that "voluntary regulation does not work."

The lessons of the credit crisis all point to the need for strong and effective regulation...without major holes or gaps.

Of major note is the recent testimony of Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve Chairman.   Greenspan, the god of free market worshippers.

Greenspan, of course, had long opposed financial regulations, even on the exotic financial instruments, derivatives, that are the cause of the widespread and devastating nature of the current financial crisis.

Listen to some highlights from Greenspan's recent testimony:

My Congressman. Henry Waxman, really nailed him:

REP. WAXMAN: The question I have for you is, you had an ideology, you had a belief that free, competitive -- and this is your statement -- "I do have an ideology. My judgment is that free, competitive markets are by far the unrivaled way to organize economies. We've tried regulation. None meaningfully worked." That was your quote.

You had the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others. And now our whole economy is paying its price.

Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?

GREENSPAN: ...[Y]es, I found a flaw. I don't know how significant or permanent it is, but I've been very distressed by that fact.

REP. WAXMAN: You found a flaw in the reality...

GREENSPAN: Flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works, so to speak.

REP. WAXMAN: In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working?

GREENSPAN: That is -- precisely. No, that's precisely the reason I was shocked, because I had been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.

Yes, give people whose lives are devoted not to creating products that people want to buy, or works of art, but to manipulating money around, with the solitary goal of making huge stacks of it for yourself, give those people free rein, let them operate in secret, don't regulate them at all, and there won't be any problems?

Talk about or ideology-induced blindness.

So if you're talking to a right winger about the financial system, or any issue for that matter, and he or she still dares to bring up the free market as some sort of a god that will solve the problem at hand, I guess you know what to tell them now.

Thankfully, much of the public doesn't seem to be deluded this year.  In a recent CBS/New York Times poll, the question was, which class would each of the candidate's policies favor.

Six in ten said McCain's policies would favor the rich.  In direct contrast, a similar number said Obama's policies would favor the middle class and poor.

51% of the public told Gallup, that they're in favor of heavily taxing the wealthy in order to redistribute wealth.

Ok, a great new Rush Limbaugh audio clip up ahead.  Stay tuned.


Some Americans are obviously still deluded, and McCain is doing his best to keep it that way.

Have you noticed his recent sleight of hand?

Joe the Plumber asked Obama if he'd pay more taxes if he bought a business that made more than $250,000 a year.  Obama said yes.

It turns out, though, that in reality, Joe only earns about $40,000 a year.  Joe would pay less taxes under Obama.

But McCain, Palin and all the rest have twisted things to make it sound like Obama would raise taxes on the $40,000 a year Joe.

Joe has bought into this.  As have many non-wealthy Americans.

One of the reasons I've heard that many working- and middle-class Americans don't want to raise taxes on the wealthy, is that they hope one day to be rich, so they don't want to pay more taxes when they become upper class.


Do the rich figure, maybe one day I'll lose my money, so I better advocate now on behalf of the poor and middle class?

Of course not.  The rich advocate on their own behalf.

So if you're poor or middle or working class, advocate on your own behalf now.  If you become rich, then you can advocate on behalf of the rich.

In fact, you're more likely to become rich if you advocate on your own behalf now.  You'll wind up with more money in your pocket to invest.

Here's a reminder of what we're up against.  It's Rush Limbaugh recently on Fox News:

audio: Limbaugh

As a human being, I have all kinds of admiration for Sen. McCain, and I truly hope that his campaign pulls this out.  It's crucial.  He represents, as the nominee of the Republican party, the stop sign to this advance towards a far-left socialism.  That word's being bandied about, too.  

And I was thinking, I heard Dick Morris talking about it tonight, and I got to thinking, how many people even know what it is now, who are under 50?  And how many people even think it's a bad thing?  Socialism is taught in the schools and the colleges as a good thing--it's fair, from each according to his means, and so forth.  

But it's transfer of wealth!  It takes from the achievers--it punishes them--and it gives to people who are not achieving things.  You know, really, the Obama camp wants to fundamentally alter the way this country exists.  They want to change the founding of this country, destroy the capitalist system--in my mind, it is extremely serious stuff.

I ask you to imagine what Rush Limbaugh and John McCain would say, imagine how the entire right-wing would howl and scream, if they heard what this American radical said about them:

These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power.

Pretty strong words, no?

Actually, I happen to have a live recording of this American radical when he uttered these horrible-to-right-wing-ears words.  

Take a listen:

audio: FDR

These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution.  But in their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for.  Now, as always, for over a century and a half, the flag, the Constitution, stand against a dictatorship by mob rule and the overprivileged alike.  And the flag and the Constitution stand for democracy and not tyranny.  For freedom, not subjection.  

Requires the overthrow of this kind of power.

Yes, that was FDR accepting his nomination at the 1936 Democratic Convention.  

So if you're called a socialist, labeled a Marxist, told you're engaging in class warfare, just reply, well then, all that mislabeling aside, I'm in good company. FDR and I, progressives fighting for economic justice, that's just what we are, and just what we do.


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This article is adapted from a segment of the weekly Blast the Right podcast. Jack Clark is a pseudonym for retired attorney Jerold Block, now working full-time to advance progressive causes.

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