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We could use a little socialism right now

Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jesus Christ was a socialist. In “Barack the Socialist” (Observer Viewpoint, 10/28/08), Christie Pesavento urges, “If you like socialism, then by all means vote for Barack the Socialist.” Colin Powell, endorsing Barack Obama on “Meet the Press,” said the important question is not whether Obama is a Muslim, but whether it would matter if he were.

A similar analysis is necessary here. The important question is not whether Obama is a socilaist, but whether it would matter if he were.

The fact is, the United States could use a little socialism these days. Pesavento’s “example to illustrate the injustice of redistributive practices” is entirely misleading.

First and foremost, Obama is not advocating, and has never advocated, anything approaching a system in which “everyone receives the same grade.” People currently making $250,000 a year (“next to nothing” in some locales, according to Pesavento) will still make $250,000 a year under Obama’s plan, but they will pay the marginal tax rate they paid under Clinton. Wow, that was a rough time for America’s wealthy. Nothing like today, when federal bail-outs are required. Under Obama’s tax plan, everyone else will get a tax cut, keeping more of their hard-earned money. What’s so bad about that? By the way, our entire progressive income tax structure has always been “redistributive.”

Second, Pesavento’s “example” belies the classist bias of the author. She paints a scenario in which “you have worked hard and managed to earn an A,” while “other students have slacked off and are receiving lower grades.” This classroom analogy is cute, but it is entirely inapposite. Unlike grades, one’s financial situation in today’s America has little or nothing to do with hard work. I am about to begin a lucrative career as a trial lawyer. Sure I’ve worked hard to get here, but I was also blessed with a comfortable middle-class upbringing, good health, United States citizenship, English as a first language, private schooling and white skin. Others with better work ethics than I possess but without the other benefits I’ve enjoyed will not have the same opportunities I’ve had. Before Reagan, prosperity in this country was more closely tied to effort than it is today. There was a time when Americans made money through hard work and creativity. But today, Americans make money with money, and often with money they don’t actually have (see the Wall Street bail-out).

The bottom line is that millions of Americans have a zero percent chance of financial success under our current structure. Barack Obama offers these Americans much more than “vague yet seemingly reassuring promises of ‘change.'” Obama offers a real plan under which more Americans will pay less taxes, have more job opportunities, have better education, have a cleaner environment, and have reliable, anxiety-free healthcare coverage.

Perhaps Pesavento is unaware that the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in this country is not “slack[ing] off” but catastrophic medical bills. Perhaps according to Webster’s dictionary, it is proper to label Barack Obama a “socialist.” But to do so misses the point. The proper question to ask is, why is that such a bad thing?

America will never be a country where “everyone receives the same grade,” nor should it be. But what America should be, at the very least, is a country where everyone is at least sitting in the same classroom at the beginning of the semester, with access to the same professor and textbook. That’s the America Obama wants to create, and he has a plan to get us there. That’s why he gets my vote.