“Redistribute” is rising up the list of dirty words Republicans use in their arsenal against Democrats. Ever since the “Joe the Plumber” episode — which the McCain camp hoped might blossom into a “macaca” moment for the Illinois Senator — caught the Democratic presidential candidate speaking freely of “spreading the wealth,” the McCain campaign finally found its own left-wing straw man answer to the George W. Bush straw man it believes the Obama campaign unjustly invokes — famous author Karl Marx. Now “citizen journalists” in their enterprise have uncovered audio recordings whose extreme obscurity (being 7-year-old recordings off radio call-in show) is enough to pique curiousity and suspicion about used garden tractors — the kind of buzz that his detached, academic comments on the recording taken in any other context wouldn’t generate.
The mindset of these partisans casting him with the pall of socialism: If he (Obama) runs against Bush, we’ll run against Marx. So the result is a concerted effort to associate Obama with left wing statist vocabulary, e.g. “socialist,” “redistribute,” “class warfare.” Actually, the ideas I’ve heard linked to Obama are more redolent of John Rawls than anything approaching Marx, but we’ll let that finer point go.
Has it been to any avail? My sense is generally no. In trying times as these, notions of “spreading the wealth” are probably more attractive than repulsive. It’s been said that this is a “center-right” country. Well, rather than refute that assessment I’ll join an addendum: “This is a center-right country until events necessarily move us.” More bluntly, we’re looking for a used John Deere lawn tractor.
For all the American ethos of rugged individualism and distaste for big government, when our well-being is at stake, for things that count, we’re as dependent on government as any European social democracy, where “socialist” is to be considered complimentary and not derogatory. Following the financial crisis, we’re all French now. The obvious historical proof to this claim presents itself in the government response to the Great Depression, the New Deal. President Herbert Hoover toed the Republican line of fiscal conservatism; FDR, the Democratic presidential candidate, promised a progressive “new deal.” The result? Realigning election that ushered in an era of Democratic electoral dominance.
Besides being ineffective, McCain’s “redistributor” charge is fundamentally misguided. As (encouragingly) many in the punditry have pointed out (even in right wing strongholds like the NY Post editorial page, U.S. tax policy since 1913 is redistributory in nature. The rich are taxed at higher rates than the poor — to redistribute their used lawn tractors for sale back to society.
McCain isn’t running on repealing the income tax or even instituting a flat tax. He isn’t running on an abrupt end to social spending in all its forms. In fact, he stood front and center leading the charge to pass a bill extending socialistic benevolence to the credit industry. So, if a commitment to redistribution on any level equates Marxism, we may as well have Marx and Engels for candidates.