Posted by: seanmalstrom | October 27, 2008

Why America dislikes ‘socialism’

When I wrote the post, “How Obama loses”, it was an offering to use some of my skills in this field to offer a contrarian view of what is around, but mostly to get some people down to earth because I dislike the idea of emotional meltdowns. (The only people I want to see have a meltdown are these political analysts engaged in fraud with their methodology.) I wrote the post for the more younger people so they don’t invest their emotions into what goes on in Washington (what goes on in Washington shouldn’t influence your emotions) such as the guys on PoliGAF, the political threads on NeoGAF. Alas, anyone who links to what I said gets banned.

Browsing the thread, I found a post by a moderator named Dragona who (apparently not from America) asked:

I have never, nor will I probably ever, understand this right-wing American obsession with taxes. The country was based upon the idea of “No taxation without representation”, not “No taxes, ever!”

Another worrying thing I find with right-wing Americans, is the fact that social democracy, or socialism, is a dirty word. What on earth is wrong with Sweden again?

In any socialist country (which is, again, a social democracy, not Stalinist Communism) people can and do acquire and make great fortunes. Why is it a threat to the “American way of Life” to help their poorer populace with social programmes such as socialised healthcare, and enforcing financial regulation that would have prevented the subprime mortgage fallout?

(Going to skip details about the subprime mortgage fallout or socialized healthcare, as those would require their own full explanations.)

The answer is that Americans do not think of government being society. While Dragona quotes the Independence War slogan of ‘no taxation without representation’, allow me to offer the very first three sentences of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” (the famous essay that drove the colonists to revolution passion):

SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

At first, colonists were unwilling to rebel against Britain because they considered it the same as rebelling against society. The King was seen as the head of society. Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”, starting from those first few lines, differentiated between ‘government’ and ‘society’. From that premise, Paine would proceed to tear down the Monarchy since it is ‘government’, not ‘society’. In fact, to better society would be to tear down the government! Thomas Jefferson had a quote that said something like “every twenty years it is good to have a revolution.” Good for what? Well, good for society.

The biggest fear of Americans is that their country becomes like Canada, or even Sweden, where there is no differentiation between ‘government’ and ‘nation’. When Americans speak of their nation, they do not necessarily mean their government. Americans view ‘society’ and ‘government’ as two very seperate things.

This differentiation between government and society/nation is not found in Europe. Allow me to quote the 1848 preamble to the French Constitution:

“France has constituted itself a Republic for the purpose of raising all the citizens to an ever-increasing degree of morality, enlightenment, and well-being.”

Thus it is France, or an abstraction, which is to raise the French to morality, well-being, etc. No differentiation is made between society/people/nation or the government. When there is no differentiation of government and society, the relationship of the government to the people can only end up being the relationship of the potter to the clay, that a politician seeks to mold society into… something.

The Americans formed another idea of the relations of the citizens with the State, when they placed these simple words at the head of their constitution:

“We, the people of the United States, for the purpose of forming a more perfect union, of establishing justice, of securing interior tranquillity, of providing for our common defense, of increasing the general well-being, and of securing the benefits of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity, decree, etc.”

Here there is no chimerical creation, no abstraction, from which the citizens may demand everything. They expect nothing except from themselves and their own energy. To many, to blame the government for the shape of their life would be as ridiculous as a farmer blaming the government for frost.

This personification of the State has been, in the past, and future, a fertile source of calamities and revolutions. France, for example, went from political revolution to political revolution. The major difference of the French Revolution as opposed to the American Revolution was the French (and much of Europe) following the teachings of Rousseau (while Americans followed Locke). Rousseau believes in the social contract. In America, ‘social contract’ has a very different meaning and tends to refer to the walls placed in between society and government (which is what people refer to among themselves as consitutional rights, bill of rights, etc). In America, the First Amendment (concerning the Right of Free Speech) is not the government ‘granting’ free speech. It is a wall to stop government to restrict speech of society. In America’s eyes, life, liberty, and property did not come about because man made laws. It is the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that causes man to make laws in the first place.

There is much disagreement on how government should interact with society, on how it can help society, on how it can hurt society, and this disagreement is what creates the political spectrums in America. Republicans disfavor more government interaction with society. Democrats favor more government interaction with society. But neither Republican or Democrat would say, “There is no such thing as natural society. There is only the government. Government is society.” This is what Americans would refer to as ‘socialism’ including ‘democratic socialism’. ‘Communism’ would be something more forceful, like Russians or Chinese ruling by inflicting tanks and infantry upon citizens.

In the scenario of no differentiation between government and society (i.e. government IS society), the politician sees himself, not as a man of the people, but as an angel hovering above flawed mankind, as a superman, who seeks to ‘uplift society’. But what if there were no political ‘supermen’, no grand legislator who sought to remold society? What should society do when left to itself? Shall it tumble off into the abyss? The American arguement is that society, left to itself, will uplift itself better. This arguement, referred to as ‘liberty’, is the belief that people’s natural inclinations are toward achievement and prosperity, not destruction and decay.

America doesn’t have to become Sweden since states are free to experiment on their own. Hawaii, for an example, created a state wide health-care system. Just recently, the state had to dissolve it as it collapsed on its own weight. States are ‘laboratories of Democracy’. The reason why a nation wide program has not been in place is because a state wide program hasn’t survived. In other words, if Americans wanted a taste of Sweden, they could just move to Hawaii or move to Massachusetts or even move to California. There is a wide spectrum of variety of government involvement among the fifty states. Some states have more programs than others. Some have less. They compete among each other.

To show how much dislike Americans have for ‘socialism’, consider ‘Welfare Reform’ from the 90s. ‘Welfare Reform’ was vetoed three times by President Clinton. Dick Morris went to Clinton and flatly said, “If you want to be re-elected, you must sign this bill.” This meant that Democrats would vote against Clinton if this pursued. Well, why would Democrats, as well as Republicans, desire Welfare Reform? What was wrong with Welfare? People saw it as socialism where parts of society were becoming the government.

All my life, I have seen presidential candidates come and go. But with Obama, this is the first time I have ever heard people questioning whether he was a naturalized American citizen. At first, I thought this was due to the controversy surrounding his birth certificate, his funny sounding name, or something like that. But then I asked myself, “No other presidential candidate has been questioned about whether they were a citizen or not. What is Obama doing that is causing people to wonder if he is a naturalized American?”

What is causing such questions is likely that Obama doesn’t see society and government as seperate entities. This is why the ‘socialist’ label, which does get frequently thrown around, is sticking to Obama. And what is most bizarre is that Obama is not running from what he says which critics are using to tar him as ‘socialist’. Even the more leftwing Democrats know that ‘socialism’ will never sell in America, especially a national one. And in this economic sensitive election, the charge of ‘socialist’ is even more powerful. If any politician believes in ‘socialism’ and American people discover it, that politician will be pummeled in a general election. Look at what Mondale stood for.

If I had to take the political temperature of the American people now, I would say they are as worried almost at the level they were at the 1994 election. What happened in 1994? What were people worried about then? They reacted to Hillary Clinton’s national healthcare plan which many saw as socialist. In one election, the entire House of Representatives and Senate changed parties to such a degree where such a healthcare plan became impossible to pass.

I think Obama crossed a political line of electoral no-return by saying he didn’t ‘misspeak’ on the spread the wealth comment. As election day nears, I hear more and more reports of Democrats voting against Obama, of shallow support in extremely heavy Democrat areas, and unusually heavy turn-out in Republican dominated areas. In many areas, such as Iowa, I am told the usual political conversations that normally exist every four years aren’t there and that the voter turn-out is huge and has a ‘solemn’ tone.

Something has spooked the American electorate, and it wasn’t something McCain said (I don’t even know what his message is as he changes it everyday). I’m having problems trying to place my finger on it. It was something Obama did or said. A colleague thinks it is how the Old Media is sounding like Pravda which is scaring people. I, at first, thought it was simply Obama fatigue. Were people simply getting tired of hearing about this guy? But the emotion to that would be more disgust, not the fear that is moving people to the voting booths.

Let’s put it this way. Going into Election 2008, conservatives greatest fear was Hillary Clinton becoming president. Conservatives despise Hillary Clinton more than almost all other Democrat candidates. Hillary Clinton voters despised conservatives just as equally. If you told me a year ago that conservatives and Hillary Clinton voters would be joined at the hip, working side by side, I would have thought you insane. Yet, this unholy political alliance is happening now. If such bitter partisans are now fighting together, it makes me realize that the election night results are going to be far more bizarre than anyone could have possibly thought.



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