Friday, April 02, 2010

Playing The Obama Socialist Card Again

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The GOP is playing its tattered Obama is a closet socialist trump card again. The aim is to tar President Obama as a radical out to soak the rich, hamstring private business, and radically redistribute wealth downward to the poor. In quick succession, Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele, GOP congressional leaders, rightside talk jocks, and any and every tea bagger groping for something, anything, to blast Obama with following their crushing defeat on health care reform law, claim the rich will bear the burden of paying for the reform. The law marginally hikes taxes on higher income earners, and even that is phased in over several years. Even if upper income earners had to pay much more, they would still come nowhere close to the paying the top tax rate of ninety percent the upper income paid in the 1960s. Prior to the Reagan tax cuts in 1986, the rich paid upwards of fifty percent in taxes.

The knock that Obama hammers businesses, especially small businesses, is no more credible. Obama proposes no increase in the estate tax in 2011. Even then only a minuscule number of smaller businesses are big enough to pay this tax. The Bush tax hikes that are set to expire this year will have no impact on the overwhelming majority of small businesses. There is absolutely no evidence that the marginally higher tax rates are inherent business killers.

But facts be darned, branding Obama a socialist, Marxist, Bolshevik, and wealth hater is a set piece in the GOP arsenal, mostly because it works. A recent Harris poll found that 40 percent of Americans say he’s a socialist. And even if there’s much to dispute in the poll sampling and methodology, the ugly truth is that a lot of Americans believe the smear. They aren’t just the usual suspect fringe right-wing bloggers, chatters, talk radio gabbers, and tea baggers but they also include some who should know better. The Harris poll found that a small percentage of Democrats and a slightly number of self-described liberals buy into the Obama the socialist lie.

There are millions of references, quotes, quips, comments, and notations on Obama as a socialist on Google. And there are a million more references and comments on Google to the dopey Obama as Joker poster. The sheer mass of anti-Obama slanders from the right, the fringe and the GOP opponents has forced much of the mainstream media and respected commentators, analysts and bloggers who also should know better to spend time and space arguing the cons of the claim and refuting it. This just gives back-door credence to the absurd charge.

Painting Obama as a socialist is not done simply out of fury over the health care reform defeat, or out of a desperate search for any slander to toss at him. It's a loaded term that always touches a raw nerve with most Americans who are clueless on what socialism is and how it works as a system. To many a socialist is someone who is pro-union, pro-increased government spending on health and education programs, and pro-civil liberties and especially civil rights. This always drew fire from the right.

The mildest criticism of big business and the wealthy, though, is a surefire way to raise the hackles of many Americans. The American economic sacred cow is that laissez faire wealth is tantamount to a divine right of kings, and any attempt to touch it is economic heresy. Politicians know that's it is a kiss of death to be seen as an advocate for tax and income fairness. That invites being plastered with the socialist tag.

GOP presidents and presidential candidates ritually play the 'tax and spend' card to brand their Democratic rivals as dangers to middle-class wage earners. This stokes fear that underneath the Democrat's supposed taxing and spending the rich will be slammed and the poor will be the beneficiaries. The wealth taking scare has worked in the past precisely because wealth and income iniquities are so great, and the notion that there's nothing wrong with those iniquities is so deeply entrenched in tax policy, philosophy and politics.

It has worked to the extent that it has because millions of middle and working class wage earners dream that they will be rich someday and are horrified that they can have their imagined wealth downsized by a tax and spend Democrat or worse a Democrat who's branded as socialist leaning.

The Socialist slur of Obama taps into the deeply held belief--and even fear--that Obama can and will actually mug the rich and by extension those who fantasize about being rich. The small tax bump up for the well-to-do in the health care reform law gave the GOP attack dogs just enough of an opening to again scream socialism and sow more doubt and create havoc among far too many Americans about the law, and worse still, Obama.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His nationally heard talk show is on KTYM-AM 1460 AM Los Angeles, Fridays 9:30 AM and KPFK Pacifica Radio 90.7 Los Angeles, Saturdays Noon PST.