The subject of yesterday's Epoch Times column, "When the S-Word Was Taboo," is something I have been thinking and writing about for a long time. The CNN anecdote appears in American Betrayal in the larger context of deception and self-deception in what we should think of as the socializing of America, if not the Sovietizing of Ameria.
See below for what follows the introduction of thr S-word taboo (circa 2008) in the final pages of Chapter 1, American Betrayal.
No one in the mainstream media, liberal or conservative, wanted to talk about it. Finally, I overcame the ultrasensitivity and wondered aloud on CNN whether as president “Obama will lead the country in a socialist direction” and was instantly accused of “Red-baiting” by the next panelist. Coincidentally or not, I never resumed regular appearances on Dobbs after that, and my contract was not renewed. Even National Review’s Stanley Kurtz, with his clear-cut and ground- breaking reportage, at that time danced around directly calling Obama or his New Party affiliation “socialist,” arguing that what was important here was not the label, but rather the fact that Obama and the New Party were clearly far to the left of mainstream liberalism.
I disagree. The label, the clarity, is always of paramount importance. Of course, with Charles Krauthammer at Fox summarily disposing of the label that set off the cry of “Red-baiting” at CNN, little wonder mum remained the word. It still does. As long as Obama, or anyone else, isn’t correctly identified and discussed as being “socialist” or “Marxist,” his place and that of others like him in the continuum of American liberalism is secure; the same goes for the socialist tenets of American liberalism in general. (In 1933, the Democratic Party should have changed its name to the Democratic Socialist Party. The Republican rem- nant would have done well to take the name Constitutionalist Party.) This is the identical argument I frequently make about our failure to speak freely about Islam—and yes, absolutely, our deferential attitudes toward the two ideologies are deeply and tragically related.
I much appreciated the counsel of a British writer named Adam Shaw. Describing the wide range of socialists, so labeled, in British and European poli- tics, and commenting on the contortions of the American media, particularly conservatives in the media, to avoid the “obvious fact [that] President Obama is quite clearly a socialist,” he tried to shine a little wisdom across the water: “To call someone a socialist is not conspiratorial, and it is not fear-mongering; it is simply the truth, and it is time for some in the conservative media to take a deep breath and admit it—America has a socialist leading the country. Welcome to the club: It stinks!”
Why our neo-Victorian recoil at such frankness? The answer has something to do with what Andrew C. McCarthy has described as “fog from the vaporous arsenal to which Alinskyites resort when they know clarity would betray their radicalism.” This is key: the use of confusion, obfuscation, deception . . . when they know clarity would betray their radicalism. Of course, I would argue that the use of the term “Alinskyite,” in reference to community organizer Saul Alinsky, is itself a shot of fog. All of these weapons of semantic confusion from the “vaporous arsenal” go straight back, past Alinsky, to Lenin and Marx.
From The New York Times, March 7, 2009, Exhibit A: “Obama has always sought to avoid being defined by labels, presenting himself as open to ideas from the left and the right . . . Asked to describe his philosophy in a word, he said, ‘No, I’m not going to engage in that.’ ”
Of course not. “Engaging in that” might burn off the fog, which, in this same story, Obama actually tries to sink more deeply into. On Air Force One earlier in the day, the Times reporter had asked the new president whether his domestic policies could be described as socialist. “‘The answer would be no,’ he said, laughing for a moment . . . As the interview progressed, Mr. Obama never returned to the question.” About ninety minutes after the plane landed, though, he called the reporter from the Oval Office and said he had been think- ing about it. “It was hard for me to believe you were entirely serious about that socialist question,” the president said.
Notice the implication of ridicule, the suggestion that such a question was so unworthy as to be a punch line.
He then dismissed the criticism, saying that large-scale government intervention in the markets and the expansion of social welfare programs had begun under his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.
As Charles Krauthammer told us, large-scale government was part of “Eisenhower’s America.”
“It wasn’t under me that we started buying a bunch of shares of banks,” Mr. Obama said. “And it wasn’t on my watch that we passed a massive new entitle- ment, the prescription drug plan, without a source of funding.”
He added, “We’ve actually been operating in a way that has been entirely consistent with free-market principles, and some of the same folks who are throwing the word socialist around can’t say the same.”
Aside from that parting whopper about his own administration operating on “free-market principles,” Obama never spoke truer words. George W. Bush did indeed ramp up the socialization of the U.S. economy with colossal government bailouts in the banking, auto, and insurance industries. Further, the Bush administration’s intervention into the home loan industry capped one of the great, bipartisan social engineering disasters of all time. His reputation as a conservative, however, seems secure—if only, as Jonah Goldberg has noted, as a foil for the Left and, I would add, a talisman of the Right, a Buddha to rub for reassurance and corroboration. The thinking goes: Since I’m a conservative and supported Bush, Bush must be a conservative, too. Or: Since Obama’s planned tax increases are more modest than Eisenhower’s, Obama must not be a socialist. Call it innocence—conservatism—by association.
Obama’s socialism did become a topic on conservative talk radio for a time, notably driven by Mark Levin, while Glenn Beck on Fox News explored what amounts to a century-old “progressive” assault on the nation’s founding princi- ples. Such antisocialist rhetoric reached a crescendo during the Obamacare debate, which probably explains why Obama himself entered the fray. During a televised January 2010 meeting with House Republicans, out of the blue, he made the following point: “The component parts of this thing [Obamacare] are pretty similar to what Howard Baker, Bob Dole, and Tom Daschle proposed at the beginning of this debate last year. Now, you may not agree with Bob Dole and Howard Baker, and, certainly, you don’t agree with Tom Daschle on much, but that’s not a radical bunch.”
Another declaration of innocence by association. Then this: “But if you were to listen to the debate and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you’d think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot."
Here we see an epic act of self-vaccination, a public declaration designed to ward off any political harm caused by mounting discussion of whether nation- alized health deserves to be called socialist or Marxist. (Yes.) We never heard the term “Bolshevik” invoked during the health care debate, but I think the president chose the label for being the most antique and, to the twenty-first- century-ear, most outlandish, and thus the most likely to cue reflexive laughter.
To wit: A smattering of applause arose from the Republican ranks at the mention of “Bolshevik plot,” as though some Republicans actually believed Obama had delivered a witty zinger. On the contrary, the president had put them on notice as to what was politically incorrect and thus diss-able, which is quite different. Suggesting that nationalized health care had “Bolshevik” ori- gins was ridiculous, he was saying, while arguing that it was a “plot” was crazy. Further, such talk was only one step away from conspiracy theory (total looney tunes!). Bolshevik plot? Bob Dole? Are you crazy? Yuk, yuk, yuk.
Would that some Republican, any Republican, had replied, Not necessarily a “plot,” sir, but a program that is indeed “Bolshevik” in conception, design, and purpose nonetheless. Government control of private sector activity, as the Ameri- can people well know, is aptly described as Bolshevik—or Marxist, socialist, collectivist, statist, and, for that matter, fascist, too. Indeed, nationalized health care was one of the first programs enacted by the Bolsheviks after they seized power in 1917. (Banks, insurance companies and means of communications were also taken over by Soviet authorities immediately.) Further, it is worth noting that one of the most prominent early champions of nationalized health insurance and social- ized medicine in this country, Henry Sigerist, was a notorious apologist for Stalin, including his state-engineered famine in the Ukraine. According to historian John F. Hutchinson, Sigerist “shared with the architects of Soviet health policy under Stalin an outlook best described as medical totalitarianism. He really believed that humanity would be better off if every individual were under the medical supervision of the state from the cradle to the grave . . . Sigerist’s belief in the necessity for state control over all aspects of medicine ultimately made him an apologist for state control over most aspects of human life.”
It’s always no. Such rejoinders, such logical deductions from the conservative side, the side left to defend the republic as founded, come few and far between. At almost every challenge, the bastions of tradition run up a white flag. It’s almost as if they’ve been neutralized, neutered even, as though there were nothing left on the inside. Could it be that emptiness, reluctance to stand on and defend tradition and its institutions, a shaky hold on principle, a failure to draw conclusions and make judgments, are the real legacy of the “American Century”?
If so, who really won all of those wars?