[I'll be posting these online now that I finally (!) figured out proper citation. For those of you without a West Bend Daily News subscription, you won't be able to access the electronic version... but then, you don't need to if you read it here.]
I remember hiding under the covers, worried about the bogeyman under my bed. My mom would come in and turn on the lights. I’d push back the covers, lean over the edge and, terrified, peek underneath. Nothing but dust bunnies. Whew.
There was enough loose talk about Karl Marx and socialism over the last few weeks, two of America’s biggest bogeymen, to make me put on my mean-old-professor glasses and work up a little pop quiz to test our political understanding. See how you do.
Identify the source of the following:
“Owners sell off their land and houses and bring the proceeds to their leaders who then redistribute the wealth to each according to their need.”
Does this idea first appear in
a) Karl Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Program,”
b) Vladimir Lenin’s pamphlet, “What Is To Be Done,” or
c) the Bible?
Did everyone get the Bible?
It’s a paraphrase from Acts 4:34-35. A little earlier, in Acts 2:44-45, we even find “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.”
Scary stuff, but that’s where Marx got it.
Does it strike anyone as ironic that this quotation – Western culture’s most compelling description of a community that cares about its members – was misconstrued over the last few weeks to suggest that the President-elect poses a “socialist” threat to America’s future?
So, let me be blunt: this fear-laden notion of socialism is a bogeyman. It keeps us scared and hiding under the blankets. Let’s turn on the lights and check out the dust bunnies.
For starters, if by “socialism” we mean a totalitarian state that controls every aspect of human life… well, you’d have to explain where that shows up in the President-elect’s agenda. No, another look under the bed confirms it’s all dust bunnies. Even the famous examples of oppressive totalitarianism – Nazi Germany, the USSR, and China under Mao – have all been vacuumed up by history. The lights came on and they turned to dust. Besides, think of all the fully functional, and fully free, “socialist” countries like Sweden, Norway or even France. Denmark hardly looks like Orwell’s “1984” and they’re currently the happiest people on the planet.
On the other hand if, by “socialism,” we mean “a government that does stuff for its citizens,” then nearly every heartbeat of America’s political and economic life runs on a “socialist” infrastructure. The interstate highway system, our sewer and water facilities, the electric grid, Social Security, Medicare, the Internet, our fire and police departments, and the armed services are all, technically, “socialist” programs. So was the public health service in Milwaukee during the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918-1919 – a public health service that kept Milwaukee at the bottom of the mortality rate nation wide.
Anyone want to privatize the fire department or the interstates?
In fact, over the past few decades no segment of the economy has benefited more from socialistic government spending than the largest corporations – and, let’s not forget, their Boards of Directors. Liberals haven’t been able to afford regular lattes for years. Wall Street CEOs? That’s a different matter entirely. Our schools may be underfunded, but President Bush’s corporate welfare queens are crowding into the Treasury Department’s waiting room this week, palms outstretched for government-issue golden parachutes. They whine that these bailouts will help “the employees,” but our tax dollars, apparently, will also help “the executives” pay for hunting trips to shoot French Red-legged partridges in rural England, as AIG officials did last month.
Turn on the lights and you can see what's happening under the bed: socialism for the rich and capitalism for everybody else.
Let’s get back to why the “socialism” bogeyman appeared so much over the last few weeks in the local paper. Washington County is one of the places in Wisconsin where bogeymen are still being kept alive. Here they’re fed by local radio talk-show hosts and state representatives who depend on sloganeering, promulgating irrational fear, and wedge-issue politics to keep their jobs.
But the lights are on now. It’s only a matter of time until everyone’s had a good look under the bed.
You go first.
I dare you.