The Pot, the Kettle, and the Race Card

"Is Barack Obama a socialist?" is the provocative title of a recent Salon.com opinion column by Michael Lind. He examines the latest McCain campaign tactic, that of seizing on the public's negative reaction to Obama's "spread the wealth" comment to Joe the Plumber.

Lind accurately identifies the hypocrisy of McCain speaking out against the redistribution of wealth. To the question of whether or not Obama is a socialist, Lind answers, "If he is, then so is John McCain." Lind goes on to provide many examples in which both McCain and Obama advocate for socialist policies. He even ties in Friedrich von Hayek's and Milton Friedman's stances in support of variants of socialized medicine as an example of the fact that even the supposed defenders of capitalism have their socialist sides. He says:
Without exception, all of the policies supported by Obama belong to broad categories of public policies that have been supported, in one form or another, by conservative-libertarian thinkers like Friedman and von Hayek and conservative politicians like Reagan, George W. Bush and McCain himself. The differences between them and Obama are differences of degree, not of kind.
This is all too true. In many respects, McCain calling out Obama as "redistributionist-in-chief" is just the pot calling the kettle red.

However, while Lind is devastatingly right about the lack of differences between the candidates, he only goes so far as to criticize McCain for his hypocrisy. Lind accepts the popular--and incorrect--notion that conservatives are defenders of capitalism, and he seems to think it's enough to simply point out the hypocrisy. He doesn't take issue with socialism itself, only that McCain shouldn't throw stones in his glass house.

What Lind is really steamed about is that Obama is being branded with the word "socialist" itself. The reason?
McCain's last-minute clarion call is really a racial "dog whistle." The McCain campaign may appear to be debating public philosophy, when in fact it is making a disguised appeal to white racism. [bold added]
Yes, you read that correctly. Out of the blue, with no proof at all, and with very little explanation, Lind whips out the race card. He continues:
If that is the case, then "redistributionist" and "socialist" may be intended to be understood by white swing voters as code words that function the way that "welfare queen" did for the Reagan campaign. A "socialist" or "redistributionist" is a politician who taxes white people like Joe the Plumber and gives money to ... you know who.
This is a very dubious argument. The word "socialist" has an actual meaning, and it has nothing to do with race. Despite my cynical view of McCain, I don't think he is race-baiting with this campaign tactic. It has simply sunk in, finally, that a fiscally conservative message resonates with what is left of the pseudo-capitalism of the Right. The main reason why McCain is trailing at all is that he is too far to the left -- as the examples in Lind's article attest -- to electrify his base. The only thing in McCain's corner is the visceral fear many in America have at the prospect of an Obama presidency. And this is not a racist fear, but a fear that is central to what it means to be an American: the hatred of a tyrannical government.

What Lind thinks of as a "racial dog whistle," calling on the racist fears of a black president, it is nothing of the kind. Rather, it could be seen as an "individual rights dog whistle," calling to America's battered and fading sense-of-life and its fear of an omnipresent State. Without truly understanding why, and certainly without identifying the contradictory premises that confuse their political views, many Americans still are repulsed by the fundamental attack on individual rights that socialist policies represent.

One of the tragedies of this election is that those who respond to McCain's warning have no good alternative if they want a president who will seek to protect their individual rights.

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