14 July 2012


A distinction was clarified for me in a NYTimes editorial written by Milos Forman, the Czechoslovakian film director who immigrated to the U.S. in 1968, during the Warsaw Pact invasion of his homeland.  Forman points out that socialism takes many forms ~ economic, political, social, philosophical ~ but that most people in the U.S. have no real understanding of the differences.  Rather, we tend to lump them all together and equate them with our old cold war foe, communism.  Doing so is false and misleading, it turns out, a result of lazy thinking.

Foreman should know.  Born in 1932, he grew up under the vicious oppression of Nazi Germany (both his parents died in concentration camps) and of communism.  He writes ~ "Now, years later, I hear the word 'socialist' being tossed around by the likes of Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and others.  President Obama, they warn, is a socialist.  The critics cry, 'Obamacare is socialism!'  They falsely equate Western European-style socialism, with its government provision of social insurance and health care, with Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism [my emphasis].  It offends me, and cheapens the experience of millions who lived, and continue to live, under brutal forms of socialism.

" Whatever his faults, I don't see much of a socialist in Mr. Obama or, thankfully, signs of that system in this great nation.  Mr. Obama is accused of trying to expand the reach of government ~ into health care, financial regulation, the auto industry, and so on. It's fair to question whether the federal government should have expanded powers.  America, to its credit, has debated this since its birth.  But let's be clear about how frightening socialism actually could be.

"Marx believed that we could wipe out social inequities and Lenin tested those ideas on the Soviet Union.  It was his dream to create a classless society.  But reality set in, as it always does.  And the results were devasting.  Blood flowed through Russia's streets.  The Soviet elite usurped all privileges, sycophants were allowed some and the plebes none.  The entire Eastern bloc, including Czechoslovakia, followed miserably.

"I'm not sure Americans today appreciate quite how predatory socialism was.  It was not ~ as Mr. Obama's detractors suggest ~ merely a government so centralized and bloated that it hobbled private enterprise.  It was a spoils system that killed off everything, all in the name of 'social justice'.

"What we need is not to strive for a perfect social justice ~ which never existed and never will ~ but for social harmony.  Harmony in music is, by its nature, exhilarating and soothing.  In an orchestra, the different players and instruments perform together, in support of an overall melody.

" .... I am not asking Mr. Obama and the Republican leaders to stop playing instruments of their choosing.  All I am asking is that every player keep in mind the noble melody of our country.  Otherwise the noisy dissonance might become loud enough to wake another Marx, or even worse."

The distinction between Western European-style socialism, with its governmental provision of social insurance and health care, and Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism cannot be overstated.  How many times over the years has the conservative political/medical establishment resisted health care reform by labeling it "socialized medicine" ~ as though that were a bad thing.  Different nations have tried different forms of universal health care, and the citizens of Canada, the UK, Sweden, France, Israel, Finland, and other nations swear by their excellent health care systems.

Government oversight is inherently neither good nor bad ~ it all depends on what is being overseen, and how, and why.  When certain industries (healthcare, banking, and oil come to mind) prove themselves incapable of social conscience or self-restraint, then it rightfully becomes government's role to regulate their activities to protect American consumers.  That is what the Founders had in mind.  We pay taxes for services rendered ~ schools, roads, national defense, postal service, and yes, regulation to assure clean air and clean water, fair financial practices, equal access to education, and affordable healthcare, among other realms of protection.

The Founders would not condone the predatory, soulless form which capitalism has evolved into.  When a privileged few control nearly all the nation's wealth (and wield a disproportionate share of political influence), the scales need to be brought back into balance.  Any true patriot, not to mention anyone with an ounce of common sense, disregards the venomous nonsense of the far right, complete with baseless accusations of socialism (which kind?  do you even know?).  When a system is broken, don't blame the repairman who shows up to fix it.

The noble melody of our country ~ justice, equal rights, education, free speech, tolerance for diversity ~ has always been a work in progress.  Perfect social justice may not exist in the world, but as an ideal it is the only goal worth striving toward.

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