Joe Wurzelbacher, a middle-class Ohio contractor, asked Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama about his tax plans a few weeks ago. Now, all of a sudden, Americans are having a debate about socialism.
In response to "Joe the Plumber’s" question about whether the aspiring small businessman’s taxes would go up, Obama said: "It’s not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you — that they’ve got a chance at success, too. I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody."
To Republicans, that sounds like Karl Marx. "I think his plans are redistribution of the wealth," Republican John McCain said. "That’s one of the tenets of socialism."
Is Barack Obama a socialist? Is "spreading the wealth" code for socialism? Or is all the talk about raising taxes on people making more than $250,000 a year more about fairness and fiscal responsibility? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, jump into the fray
Barack Obama may not be a socialist, but his policy prescriptions have an odor of socialism about them. If the term "socialism" makes people uncomfortable, "redistributionist" is more of a mouthful, but it’s just as accurate.
Obama’s 95 percent tax plan is "socialist" insofar as it would empower the government to write "refund" checks to the 40 percent of Americans who have no income tax liability. If Obama gets his way, eventually three out of five voters will pay little or no federal income tax.
An America in which fewer and fewer people pay taxes might sound like a conservative’s dream, but think again. Better to call it representation without taxation: More and more Americans would become dependent on the federal government for their health and personal welfare. Who cares if the government takes more of the other guy’s money, as long as I get my check? From an economic standpoint, raising taxes on upper-income earners in the middle of a recession would worsen and prolong the downturn by shifting dollars from the economy to the treasury. But the moral hazards would be even worse, and much longer-lived.
Obama says," when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody." Not quite everybody. But it’s certainly good for empowering and enlarging government.
Let’s make something clear: What Barack Obama is proposing — a tax cut for people making less than $250,000 a year — isn’t socialism. It is (as Republicans like Ronald Reagan once said) letting middle-class taxpayers keep more of the money they earn to support themselves and their families.
Sure: The tax cut will be offset by a tax increase of 3 percent on people making more than $250,000. Perhaps you could call that redistributionist. But until Republicans propose doing away with all taxes altogether and close up shop on government, they’re also pursuing policies that redistribute wealth, to an extent. That would make them — by the definition that seems to be in play now — socialists as well. Only their redistribution scheme benefits people who are already rich, as opposed to the rest of us.
The socialism charge is particularly rich at a time when the Bush administration just moved to partially nationalize banks — a step or two beyond even the wildest fantasies of any Democratic president since Harry Truman. John McCain says the plan hasn’t gone far enough. If we’re to call Obama a socialist and pretend that McCain doesn’t have similar, more elitist instincts, then the word "socialism" has no meaning. In this campaign, it probably doesn’t.
(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog daily at www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and joelmathis.blogspot.com.)