The North Iowa Tea Party took the initiative to put up a billboard comparing Obama to Lenin and Hitler. In a rare fit of sanity, other factions of the Tea Party have denounced the sign as unhelpful. Even the co-founder of the group responsible for the billboard said, “The purpose of the billboard was to draw attention to the socialism. It seems to have been lost in the visuals.”
Still, this group was hardly unique in trying to paint Obama as the lost grandson of Hitler. Tea Party rallies are rife with such signs, and Glenn Beck spends so much time talking about Nazis the History Channel is starting to feel encroached on.
Moreover, there is such delicious irony in the tag line, “RADICAL LEADERS PREY ON THE FEARFUL & NAIVE.” Really? We can argue about naive, but preying on fears has become the cornerstone strategy of conservatives. Karl Rove practically made a science of it. Can you say 9/11? And are not the comparisons to historical tyrants and despots intended entirely to prey on fears?
Even ignoring the comparisons, what no one is backing off from is labeling Obama a “socialist”. All seem to agree this is the important message of this sign in particular, and of the Tea Party and Conservatives more generally. We will hear this socialist chant shouted long and hard as we ramp up to the elections. But isn’t that just fear mongering as well? It’s pretty indisputable that the specter of socialism induces fear in the electorate. So the only real question is whether or not the label is factual.
What is socialism? Merriam-Webster’s defines it as:
Main Entry: so·cial·ismPronunciation: \ˈsō-shə-ˌli-zəm\Function: nounDate: 1837
1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2 a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
3 : a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done
Are any of those things even close to happening in this country? Had the government opted to temporarily nationalize the banks instead of using TARP and just throwing cash at them, then that would have been socialism—at least a little bit for a little while. But it should be noted that despite calls by some economists to do exactly that, Obama consistently rejected that strategy.
What about healthcare? Even the public option, which Obama also backed away from, would not be socialist medicine. Britain has socialist medicine. All the hospitals are owned by the state. All doctors are federal employees. Nothing remotely like that was ever proposed here. At the extreme, the proposal on the table was Medicare for all citizens. But Medicare is not socialized medicine. At best, it could be argued to be socialized insurance.
Let’s be clear. If the income tax was raised to 90% and the government took to dropping cash from helicopters over poor neighborhoods that would not be socialism. It would be stupid. But it wouldn’t be socialist. The term is used entirely because it inspires fear. Something radical leaders do use to prey on the naive. Hmmmm…