Obama the Socialist? Not Even Close
WHEN I was asked to direct “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” my friends warned me not to go anywhere near it.
The story is so American, they argued, that I, an immigrant fresh off the boat, could not do it justice. They were surprised when I explained why I wanted to make the film. To me it was not just literature but real life, the life I lived in Czechoslovakia from my birth in 1932 until 1968. The Communist Party was my Nurse Ratched, telling me what I could and could not do; what I was or was not allowed to say; where I was and was not allowed to go; even who I was and was not.
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, and its government provision of social insurance and health care, with Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism. It offends me, and cheapens the experience of millions who lived, and continue to live, under brutal forms of socialism.
My sister-in-law’s father, Jan Kunasek, lived in Czechoslovakia all his life. He was a middle-class man who ran a tiny inn in a tiny village. One winter night in 1972, during a blizzard, a man, soaked to the bone, awakened him at 2 in the morning. The man looked destitute and, while asking for shelter, couldn’t stop cursing the Communists. Taking pity, the elderly Mr. Kunasek put him up for the night.
A couple of hours later, Mr. Kunasek was awakened again, this time by three plainclothes policemen. He was arrested, accused of sheltering a terrorist and sentenced to several years of hard labor in uranium mines. The state seized his property. When he was finally released, ill and penniless, he died within a few weeks. Years later we learned that the night visitor had been working for the police. According to the Communists, Mr. Kunasek was a class enemy and deserved to be punished….
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 devastating. 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.”
Dept. of Bolshevik Nostalgia
Why should we care about income inequality? A century ago, the answer (at least for the ruling class) was, “Because if we don’t, there will be a violent socialist revolution.” Today we don’t have to worry about that so much, for some reason, so we need to address the question more directly.
“For some reason…”
It’s a complete mystery!
Yes, They Are Convincing Themselves
Thoseboringpolitics recently asked:
Here’s my question to everyone who participates in this name-calling-fest: Why? Honestly, how is it constructive? Who are you convincing? Yourself? Do you need to convince yourself by calling others who may disagree with you “scumbags” or “oppressors” or “retards”?
The answer is: Yes, they are convincing themselves.
“Politics is kind of a team sport,” as former DNC chairman Tim Kaine once put it. And as Jonas Kaplan, a UCLA psych professor, put it five years ago, “in the political process, people come to decisions early on and then spend the rest of the time making themselves feel good about their decision.”
In short, we pick our side — and then look for reasons.
Hence: confirmation bias. Evidence that our side is right? Reblog without a second thought! Evidence that our side is wrong? Quick! Find some information to disprove it!
Hence: Ignoring our own side’s foibles while scrutinizing the foibles of the other side. Notice how conservatives are digging into the Solyndra scandal, while liberals are more interested in Rick Perry’s cozy ties with a Merck representative? Notice how Dan Quayle’s “potatoe” gaffe proved he was a total idiot, while Obama’s “57 states” gaffe proved nothing other than that he was tired? (Or was it the other way around?)
Hence: subtly different ways of describing the same thing. When Side A rehashes old ideas, it is just cobbling together a “greatest hits package drawn from the Republican hymnal.” But when Side B does the same thing, it is deploying “a very tested set of strategies.”
Hence: Name-calling, when people are short on time or simply lack the vocabulary or resources to gin up more sophisticated arguments as to why they were right all along. If the other side is a bunch of scumbags, then obviously we made the right choice when we cast our allegiance with our own side … all other evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
From an evolutionary-psychology standpoint, this all makes perfect sense. Maintaining our hostility against those who are not part of our in-group is a good strategy to safeguard the tribe’s resources and protect our offspring. Today, of course, we play in-group/out-group games all the time in sports**. And of course politics. As UC San Diego prof Gary Jacobsen put it in 2008, “Party identification is part of your social identity, in the same way you relate to your religion or ethnic group or baseball team.”
We are all cavemen still. It’s harmless enough, in sports.
** (see The Onion’s excellent commentary, “You Will Suffer Humiliation When The Sports Team From My Area Defeats The Sports Team From Your Area”) …