“If we allow that Socialism (in the ethical, not the economic, sense) is that world-feeling which seeks to carry out its own views on behalf of all, then we are all without exception, willingly or no, wittingly or no, Socialists…. All world-improvers are Socialists.”–Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West.

It is common among President Obama’s critics to say that he is a Socialist. The evidence for this claim rests upon his administration’s expansion of government spending, as well as Obama’s infamous line to the so-called “Joe the Plumber” that he would like to “spread the wealth around.” This, combined with the standard Democratic party platform of welfare and general reliance on the Federal government, forms the basis for their case.

And, in the very broadest sense, they’re right. Obama’s philosophy seems to me to be, at its least redistributionist, one of Utilitarianism, which in my opinion is inevitably Socialistic in practice if not in theory. To say otherwise requires a narrow definition of Socialism. Nor does the fact that his critics themselves have in mind a particular brand of Socialism that may not in fact be Obama’s refute their basic claim.

 Now, it is true that most of the people charging this do not understand the definition under which Obama can most certainly be described as a Socialist. If they did, the charge would lose much of its sting. Indeed, much of the cries of “Socialism” seem to simultaneously suggest Obama is a Marxist or, more broadly, a Communist. But these are not the same as Socialism, and it is inaccurate to describe Obama’s policies as such.

Among Obama’s supporters, it is common to point out that expansions of the Federal government also occurred under George W.Bush, and that there were no outcries of Socialism then. This, they say, proves the case that the accusations of Socialism are in fact simply attempts to scare people. In my view, it actually shows a truth that neither side would likely care to admit: that Bush was also a socialist, though of a different flavor than Obama.

The easiest way to describe the difference between each man’s socialism is to say that Obama’s is an international Socialism, whereas Bush’s was National Socialism. Regrettably, describing it thus will inevitably lead to associations with the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers’ Party), often abbreviated as “Nazi”. Understand that I have absolutely no intention of describing Bush (or Obama) as a Nazi. Their brands of socialism are nothing like Nazism. A better term might be “American-exceptionalist Socialism”.

Bush’s socialism was also closely intertwined with his professed Christian faith. Much of the government’s power under Bush was focused on carrying out tasks that were associated with the Christian right. And these policies are as Socialist as any others which seek to use government power to impose a philosophy on the people of a country.

Likewise, it must also be said that while the redistribution policies may not have increased much under Bush, they did not cease altogether. Likewise, the tax-cuts he implemented notwithstanding, Bush did not fundamentally change the socialistic nature of the U.S. government, and, in his own way, enhanced it.

Finally, Bush initiated the use of military force in an effort that is, all but technically, a war. War is a fundamentally Socialist undertaking. For a successful war effort to be made, the power of the State must be increased. That Bush and his Administration appears to have been unwilling to admit this fact does not disprove it. Furthermore, Bush’s attempt at waging a “capitalistic” war through the use of private security contractors and the effort to avoid actually paying for it proves the Socialistic nature of War by its very failure. And, in what is shaping up to be the defining issue of the administration, it expanded the power of the government to encroach on what were hitherto considered rights of private citizens in the interests of defending National Security. (The “greater good” that is at the core of all Socialist thought.)

The true Capitalism, of, say, Ayn Rand, is a philosophy which tells its adherents to enrich themselves through production of goods and trade. This is a philosophy to which war is indeed alien. A successful war is waged only by making the Individual sacrifice for the sake of the Team. Similarly, no True Capitalist would engage in “faith-based initiatives” and foreign aid, as Bush did.

Hence, Bush’s brand of Socialism differed from Obama’s in that (1) It placed more emphasis on the use of governmental power for the purposes of advancing the religious beliefs prevalent in the administration and (2) it encouraged the United States to act unilaterally in advancing its interests.

Nor was Bush’s Socialism a fundamental shift in the American philosophy of government. The American government has been, at least since FDR, a socialist one. So too have been all subsequent Presidents, except perhaps Ronald Reagan. And even if Reagan was indeed a Capitalist, he did not change the nature of the government.

Now, it is true that, generally speaking, Republicans are less like stereotypical Socialists then Democrats. The Republicans obviously prefer to cut taxes, and profess to believe in smaller government, less government intervention in matters of business. On the surface, at least, it would seem that they are right to claim they are not economically socialist like the Democrats.

Yet, there are still divides in the party, even in the matter of business. Many Republicans support the criminalization of drugs such as Marijuana. This not a pro-business move. Indeed, it means the use of tax dollars to suppress a substance that people take for pleasure. One can imagine the outcry if Democrats proposed similar measures for, say, soda or alcoholic beverages. The libertarian wing of the party may object; but the fact remains that many Republicans support this anti-capitalistic behavior.

Thus, while it is justifiable to claim that Obama is a socialist, it is nonetheless very remiss to pretend that his philosophy is a “new” or “alien” one to the way America has for some time behaved. He may be more of an internationalist than has been previously seen, but this itself is an unremarkable development. The trend of globalization to some extent necessitates that existing socialistic codes evolve to account for this.

In closing, I must note that government inherently attracts Socialists to it, and the power granted to those in government must, I think, encourage the Socialistic tendencies in all people. Individualists do not seek office. “All world-improvers are Socialists” wrote Spengler. I have always interpreted this comment to mean not that all who actually do improve the world are socialists, but rather that all who believe themselves to know what is best for all people are socialists. And it is just such people, whether from the Republican party or the Democratic party, who seek office.

The more I think about this charisma issue, the more it’s confusing me. Like I said in my last post, it seems to allow a charismatic person the ability to get elected easily, but it does not grant that person powers of persuasion as such. This doesn’t really make sense to me; and perhaps it isn’t even accurate. But, in the past, I’ve noticed that politicians cannot use charisma to help another, non-charismatic politician.

I realized today that this may well extend to issues as well, meaning that a charismatic person can’t actually change peoples’ minds. But if he can’t do that, well, why does charisma seem so powerful? Why does it enable someone who has it to attract legions of loyal followers?

Thoughts?

You may ask: “Why is Obama constantly going around making speeches about health care? We get it, Obama. Now please do some other President-type stuff.”

This constant stumping for health care reform is allowing for charges that Obama is a narcissist who loves to hear himself talk about these issues. It also makes him look like he’s got everything riding on health care, which means that it makes him look bad if it gets defeated. Why, people ask, won’t he quit talking about it and let Congress sort it out?

The reason is that Obama–more specifically, Obama’s charisma–is the Democrats only asset at this point. It is a great asset–but, as I’ve often said, you can’t transfer charisma. It seems to me that it can help you get elected–it almost guarantees it, in fact–and it can give you all sorts of power; but it can’t really make people like things that they aren’t predisposed to like. It makes for an eminently electable politician–so, from a career point of view it’s a great asset–but it’s not all that is required for endless legislative victories.

This is where the Elway analogy comes in. He was a great Quarterback, yet for much of his career, his Broncos came up short in the big game. They were mediocre teams, yet he was able to drag them into having some success, but never a Championship.

It’s very valuable to have a great Quarterback. You can get pretty far with that and nothing else. But you can’t get it all with just him. Elway finally won two rings late in his career when Denver finally got him a good running back in Terrell Davis, and a good coach in Mike Shanahan. Perhaps someday Obama will get a good supporting cast.

Unless Obama is somehow involved, the Democrats do not have the ability to pass health care. Their only hope is to let him use his natural charisma to persuade voters that it’s a necessary reform–but, as I’ve said, charisma can only get a person elected–I don’t know if it can actually change peoples’ minds on an issue.

Frank Rich writes: “And so leadership on financial reform, as with health care, has been delegated to bipartisan Congressional negotiators poised to neuter it.”

He writes this like he wishes President Obama would take control of the legislative process, and he seems to be faulting him for not doing so.

Maybe Cheney had a point about executive power, eh?

Sarah Palin spoke at an Ohio Right to Life Society meeting yesterday. It’s not known how much she was paid. However, according to The Columbus Dispatch: “Showing her commitment to the cause, Palin said she would return her ‘generous’ speaking fee to Ohio Right to Life after taxes are withdrawn.”

This seems odd to me. This means Palin is effectively taking money from the group and handing it over to the Federal Government, at no benefit to herself. But, according to Palin, this is essentially funding wasteful growth of the government. Can someone explain what’s going on here?

I’ve been reading the book Nixonland by Rick Perlstein lately, and it’s very good. It’s fascinating to see just how hard Nixon worked to achieve what he did. Nixon, as we all know, had anti-charisma. JFK, on the other hand, had charisma. Given that, it really is a testament to what a marvelous politician Nixon was that the 1960 election was even close.

It’s not good news, but it’s less bad news than we thought.

As I have said, if the economy starts to improve from now till November, things might go better for the Democrats in the midterm elections than people are predicting. And, just based on gut-instinct, I feel like the business cycle is starting to swing away from the “bust” and more towards… well, not a “boom” exactly, but something less like a bust.