Some people have called Obama a socialist, and that has other people all shaken up — even “all wee-weed up,” as the president himself might say. I have a couple cents to add to this discussion — and whether these cents are sense, I don’t know.
For some years — starting long, long before Obama — I’ve played a little game. It goes like this: “If Politician X were not an American, but a politician in some other country, what party would he belong to? If his views and outlook were exactly as they are now — if it were merely a question of nationality, or venue — what party would he belong to?”
Well, let’s play with Obama: If he were a Frenchman, what party would he belong to? What would be his natural political home? And if Italian? Why, in either case, he’d be with the Socialists, right? I mean, he certainly wouldn’t be a Conservative or a Christian Democrat. What if he were German? SDP, right?
And take the countries whose main socialist party is a Labor party: Britain, Israel, Norway, etc. (Kind of funny to think of Obama as an Israeli, isn’t it?) What party would he belong to? He’d be a Laborite, right? I mean, no doubt.
“Socialist” is a heavy charge in America, causing the wee to flow. But that’s a little weird. Most of the world’s democrats are socialists, don’t you think? I mean, free-marketeers — genuine free-economy people — are always in the minority. Some portion of the world’s people are democrats — let’s hope it’s a majority, and a big one. And most of those are surely socialist: certainly more than they are Friedmanite (as in Milton) — or Reaganite, or Goldwaterian.
In America, just about everyone on the left — just about everyone who leans toward statism — is in the Democratic party. If your inclinations are socialist, you are probably a Democrat, or vote Democratic. We are a two-party system: with two big ol’ parties. Bella Abzug was a Democrat; Ike Skelton is a Democrat. Kind of a funny system we have.
I’ve just checked out the website for the Socialist International — slogan, “Progressive Politics for a Fairer World.” Does it make me a total McCarthyite to say that sounds just like our Democrats? A partial McCarthyite? Well, doesn’t it sound like them, exactly?
And check out the names on the Presidium: The president is George Papandreou (of Greece, needless to say). (Nice job there, by the way!) Vice presidents include Bachelet (Chile), Barak (Israel), Brown (Great Britain), and Zapatero (Spain). Are those politicians so different from Obama? From Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Charlie Rangel, and scads of other Democrats? Really? Of course not. It’s just that, in America, when someone says “socialist,” we all go, “Eek, a mouse.”
Someone was saying the other day that Kerry might become secretary of state, in a second Obama term. As far as I’m concerned, that’d be pretty much exactly like Joschka Fischer becoming foreign minister. Kerry and Fischer: They are cut from the same philosophical, political, and attitudinal cloth, aren’t they?
I believe that President Obama, and his closest allies, would like the United States to be a lot more like European social democracies. Is that such an outlandish statement? I think Obama et al. probably think that Norway is fundamentally more just than the United States. Remember the Socialist International slogan: “Progressive Politics for a Fairer World.” That’s the ticket.
The Norwegians gave Obama their most precious gift, the Nobel Peace Prize. Why do I say “the Norwegians”? Well, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is composed of five men and women who were appointed by the Norwegian parliament, the Storting. The committee is therefore a reflection of the country’s political culture. The chairman, Thorbjorn Jagland, is a major Laborite, and a former vice president of the Socialist International. Obama is a president after his heart, and the committee’s heart. He is a soulmate of theirs. They share an outlook, a worldview.
Some years ago, just before he left the Senate, I interviewed Phil Gramm — the old econ prof. And I asked him whether the Democratic party was, in effect, socialist. (This is long before Obama, mind you.) He said it was, “if by ‘socialist’ you mean the redistribution of wealth, more decisions made by the central government — no question about it. My grandmother thought of the Democrats as the party of the people. What they are is the party of government.” Tell it, Phil.