Playing With Fire and Getting Burned

President Obama frightens almost everyone, except for the sixty-six percent of Americans who approve of him. This of course redefines what is meant by “almost everyone” – so the new definition is the province of Fox News and most of the crew at CNBC – Kudlow and Cramer and Santelli and the like. You know the drill. Fox News has Glenn Beck – see the video clip where Beck pours “gasoline” on top of “a typical American” and says this:

 

President Obama, why don’t you set us on fire? Do you not hear? Do you not hear the cries of people who are saying STOP! We would like some SANITY in our country for a SECOND.

 

We didn’t vote to lose the republic. We didn’t VOTE for any of this stuff. We voted for CHANGE. You know what that change was? The change we wanted was an end to the GAMES! We wanted the games to be ended. We want people to say what they mean and mean what they say. We want people just to be honest. We want the parties to actually STAND for something. We want the SPENDING that is out of control, you’re building bridges that lead to nowhere; you’re spending MONEY that leads only to slavery! We just want some common sense. That’s all we want.

 

We can disagree with each other on policies. But good lord almighty, man, some of us don’t agree with all of the policies. We’d like to have a country left at the end of four years. No need to set us on fire.

 

No, it’s not very coherent or specific, but it is fervent – and Beck has blown the other Fox News rant-masters, O’Reilly and Hannity, out of the water. Roger Ailes has a star – there is a lot of money to be made confirming to the people who are frightened out of their wits that they ought to be. If that is only a third of us, that is still one hundred million people. And people love clever little skits – it worked for Sid Caesar and Carol Burnett. Ailes knows how television works.

 

But Beck and his skits and tears impress the advertisers – now they’ll pay big bucks for a thirty-second spot on Beck’s hour. Beck and his populist skit show may not change any minds. The outraged and terrified will nod and feel they are not alone, and most everyone else will shrug. They just don’t get it, and that doesn’t bode well for the Republicans.

 

Daniel Larison explains:

 

If the GOP is to have any chance of reviving anytime soon, it will be by peeling off disillusioned and dissatisfied Obama supporters. Even if Obama were driving people away (so far, there is little evidence for this), the GOP still has to be able to attract them. At present, the GOP’s powers of repulsion remain far greater. So far, everything the GOP has been doing in Congress and in the media has reinforced all the habits that have pushed so many people into Obama’s arms. Shouting fascism and tyranny in ever-louder voices is not going to change this pattern, but will probably ensure that it keeps getting worse for Republicans.

 

Only Fox News wins.

 

And on Thursday, April 9, things got even worse with that damned Rasmussen poll – it seem that only fifty-three percent of Americans “believe capitalism is better than socialism.” That is a bit startling, as is that with those under thirty, there seems to be a three-way tie. Thirty-seven percent prefer capitalism, thirty-three percent socialism and thirty percent are undecided. The younger folks aren’t watching Beck.

 

A comment from “Ian” at the blog Overruled:

 

I see this poll as even more evidence of how widespread the American people’s rejection of conservative values has become. Ever since Sarah Palin ceased to be an attractive-but-unknown face from Alaska, conservatives have railed against any attempt to use government spending to mitigate the present economic downturn, labeling it “Socialism!” The alternative, they say, is to double-down on George W. Bush’s policies, cut taxes on the super-rich, and rely on the invisible hand of the market to make everything all better again.

 

In other words, the American people have been subjected to a months-long campaign which defines President Obama’s popular policies to improve the economy as “socialism,” and George W. Bush’s disastrous policies as “not socialism.” Is it any shock, then, that many Americans no longer find the word “socialism” very scary?

 

That happens when you use a term to scare the daylights out of people, assuming everyone knows not only what the term you just used designates as political-economic theory, but more importantly, the long history and many personalities and connotations and emotional heft that are, like barnacles, inevitably fused to this one-word shorthand for so much that is wrong with everything. They don’t know – so you can call them stupid or blind, or uninformed, or you can patronize them with simple-minded comedy skits. That’s hardly a way to get people on your side. And it can backfire.

 

Ian explains:

 

One irony of this turn of events is that the conservative campaign to redefine Keynesian economics as “socialism” may have the effect of legitimizing actual socialists. Not that long ago, anyone who was properly labeled as a socialist was appropriately excluded from the American economic debate – virtually no one, including myself, has any interest in nationalizing the entire private sector. Now that conservatives have associated the word with the popular President Obama, however, I fear that real socialists now have an opportunity to latch on to the President’s popularity and ride it to greater relevance.

 

From McCain to Palin to Beck, and Cramer and Santelli on MSNBC, they should have known they were playing with fire. As Digby notes:

 

When the McCain-Palin people started blathering on about Obama being a socialist I wondered whether it would blow back on the conservatives. After all, only old people like me, who grew up during the cold war, still have that reflexive freak-out over the word. Young people just see it as another political ideology.

 

So, when the right-wingers went nuts and started calling this very popular young president a socialist, rather than tarring him with an unpopular label, they ended up validating socialism by applying it to a popular, mainstream politician.

 

But she is not particularly afraid of actual socialism:

 

I think it would be a very good thing to have some real socialists participate in our political discourse. As long as we have disaster-capitalists holding the kind of political sway they clearly hold, there is a need for balance from the other side of the ideological spectrum. We’ve seen the results of allowing the Big Money Boys to have their way in all things. A little dose of socialism (or fear of socialism, anyway) might mitigate their influence a little bit.

 

And it would serve the wingnuts right for dredging up what was essentially a dead ideology in America and applying it to the politician whom young people nearly worship.

 

Bad tactic all around. But then that’s their specialty these days.

 

Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly looks at the Rasmussen percentages and adds this:

 

For a couple of months, every sentence from Republican officials and Fox News personalities had to include the word “socialism” while attacking the president. It didn’t have much of an effect. …

 

You just can’t have an effective red scare with numbers like these.

 

But he adds that it is a bit hard to know why the respondents answered as they did:

 

Perhaps “capitalism” lost some of its appeal when our economy collapsed. Maybe a lot of people heard the media connect Obama and “socialism” – and since they like the president, they figure socialism can’t be that bad. In a similar vein, if right-wing blowhards like Limbaugh keep screaming that socialism is manifestly evil, there may be some who assume the economic model must have merit.

 

He was also intrigued by the twenty-seven percent who weren’t sure which was better. He cites the Atlantic’s Chris Good on those folks:

 

After all, who is sure of anything these days? When it comes to the economy, certainty isn’t exactly the spirit of the age. After learning that we’re on the brink of “nationalization” anyway, perhaps the respondents to this poll, when they got automated calls from Rasmussen, just felt more inclined to say “Well, my 401k is worthless, so who the hell knows?”

 

Of course, on the right, there are those like Donald Douglas in American Power with American Socialists Come Out of the Closet:

 

Growing support for a European-style socialist welfare state is a shift toward tyranny. It’s un-American through and through, and one can only hope that we’re in a passing phase of deviation from America’s historical norm of liberal exceptionalism.

 

Douglas seems to assume that everyone just knows France is a living hell, populated by zombies who talk funny or something. But not only have many of us spent considerable time there, and even more of us have French friends here, stateside, after all the movies and cooking shows and faux-French shops and restaurants everywhere, we just don’t get it. What’s the problem, exactly?

 

Matthew Yglesias is more interested in the respondents under thirty:

 

The generational change here is interesting. I think it reflects the fact that on a basic level “socialism” is good branding. The whole idea is that we should put society first rather than capital, or money. That sounds good!

 

But in the United States we never had a Socialist Party so “socialism” was primarily associated with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which was not at all good. But to people under thirty there’s less of that old resonance. And saying that Obama, who’s popular, is a “socialist” may simply tend to make people have warmer feelings toward the word “socialism.”

 

Kathy at Comments from Left Field rounds up more apoplexy from the right – those saying the schools have failed, those saying there must be a direct correlation between those who pay taxes, and contribute to, and those who take, take, take and would of course love socialism – those bastard freeloaders. One simply says that this “has to be the scariest if true poll result of the year.” Gateway Pundit says this is the end of America.

 

Barbara O’Brien works on calming everyone down:

 

I have words of comfort for those predicting the End of America – I doubt that most of the respondents know what “socialism” is any more than you do. I suspect only a very small portion of the respondents would say yes to the end of private ownership of property, for example.

 

But since the meatheads on the Right keep erroneously defining President Obama’s policy proposals as “socialism,” I can see how “socialism” might look good to a lot of people right now. It’s just that “socialism” isn’t really socialism. This country is no more going to embrace real, undiluted socialism than it’s going to fold itself up and fly to Jupiter. So chill.

 

Mark Thompson is a bit blunter:

 

When you falsely complain that every single thing your opponents try to do is socialism and absurdly hold your bloviating, unpopular selves up as bastions of capitalism, you probably shouldn’t be surprised when people start thinking socialism doesn’t look so bad, and capitalism doesn’t look so good.

 

Well, maybe it is time to cue up the ghost of Joe McCarthy:

 

Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) puts the number of socialists in the House at 17.

 

“Some of the men and women I work with in Congress are socialists,” Bachus told local government leaders on Thursday, according to the Birmingham News.

 

Bachus gave the specific number of House socialists when pressed later by a reporter.

 

Of course, at the New Republic, John B. Judis says much of this furor over the Rasmussen poll is nonsense. You need to look at the matter in terms of real history:

 

I don’t think it’s a vote for Soviet-style socialism. While Cold War conservatives did their best to identify socialism, and European social democracy, with Soviet or Cuban communism, the identification doesn’t seem to have survived the Cold War itself.

 

Instead, what those 30 percent of under-thirties probably mean by “socialism” is a much greater degree of government – and public – control of private corporations and of the market. That would put the United States closer, say, to Sweden, France, or Germany, but would not put it anywhere near the old Soviet Union, which tried to abolish the market itself. Most of all, I imagine, it’s an expression of extreme disillusionment with the magic of the market as preached by Republicans and some Democrats as well.

 

And Judis suggests people do understand socialism, the real thing itself:

 

As a political philosophy, socialism predated Marx as any reader of “The Communist Manifesto” or of “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific” is aware. In America, too, there were Christian socialists like Walter Rauschenbusch, who was an important influence on Martin Luther King, and prairie socialists in Kansas or Oklahoma – who never envisioned giving up their farms for socialism. The point that runs through all these many varieties was not collectivism, but instead the subjection of large banks and businesses to social priorities – “people before profits,” as Bill Clinton said in 1992.

 

That’s what people seem to think is okay now. That sort of thing has been around forever.

 

Apply it now, especially with the banks and the shadow banking system. Simone Johnson, at Baseline Scenario explains why:

 

The case for keeping banks in something close to their current structure begins to take shape. It’s not about traditional claims that big banks are more efficient, or Lloyd Blankfein’s argument that this is the only way to encourage risk-taking, or even the House Financial Services Committee view that immediate resumption of credit flows is essential for preserving jobs.

 

Rather, the argument is: those opposed to banks and bankers are angry populists who, if unchecked, would do great damage. Bankers should therefore agree to some mild reforms and more socially acceptable behavior in the short-run; in return, the centrists who control economic policymaking will protect them against the building backlash.

 

This is a version of Jamie Dimon’s line: “if you let them vilify us too much, the economic recovery will be greatly delayed.”

 

People seem to want no more of that, and you can hardly blame them. Let Glenn Beck do his little skits – but what works to fix things is okay with most everyone else.

 

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in America Becoming French, American Socialism, Americans and Socialism, Americans Have No Problem with Socialism - Rasmussen Poll, Glenn Beck, Obama the Socialist. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Playing With Fire and Getting Burned

  1. Pingback: Slapping Down the Invisible Hand « Just Above Sunset

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