Writing in the New York Times last Sunday, the paper’s Paris bureau chief Steven Erlanger asked the question: “What’s a Socialist?” The question was undoubtedly raised because of the recent electoral victory in France of Francois Hollande, the country’s first socialist chief since 1988. His party also garnered a “whopping majority in Parliament.” Erlanger continued: “What does it mean to be a Socialist these days, anyway?”
A good question indeed, since so many conservatives have tried to make a case that Barack Obama is a socialist. Erlanger does not write anything to directly answer that question, but cites a conversation he had with the most well-known Parisian intellectual, writer Bernard-Henri Levy, whom he quotes as saying the following:
‘There are no more socialists — if they were honest they would change the name of the party,” he told me. Socialism “evokes the nightmare of the Soviet Union, whose leaders named themselves socialists.” Today, he maintains, European socialists are essentially like American Democrats — there has been no ideological left in France that matters since the effective demise of the Communist Party, which was “the true ‘exception francaise.’” (emphasis added)
Levy, in making that comparison, has let the cat out of the bag. It may not call itself socialist, but the type of policies the Democratic Party advocates are in effect the same kind of statist positions favored by the socialist left in France.
Like Europe’s socialists, the American left-wing Democrats adopt the clarion call of “social justice,” which means the creation of redistributionist policies that “tax the rich” as the would-be answer to funding an ever-growing entitlement state.
Joschka Fischer, who moved from the far left in Germany to the reformist left-wing Green Party, calls the European model of socialism “a combination of democracy, rule of law, and the welfare state,” and he provides the sad example of the deeply flawed and sinking British National Health Service as an example of what he thinks should be adopted as a model elsewhere.
One could say, as my friend, historian Martin J. Sklar, has argued — especially in his book The United States as a Developing Country — that the United States has long been a country based on “The Mix,” in which our system combines elements of both capitalism and socialism. Sklar explains it this way:
The developmental equivalent … in the United States … consisted of an outlook that we may call The Mix — that is, the mix of the public and private sectors as seats of authority and initiative in shaping, planning, regulating, and containing development, or to put it in baldly ideological terms, the mix of socialism and capitalism.
As he frames America’s development from the beginnings to the modern corporate phase, he posits an anti-statist tradition that is “constitutional-republican in outlook,” and that is in clear opposition to the statism and would-be socialism of so-called modern socialist leaders in Europe or left-wing Democrats in the United States. The socialism they espouse, like the policies Barack Obama favors today, are what Sklar terms authoritarian and statist, and they lead to “political despotism” in which the leaders of the state go over the heads of the people to implement policies that representatives in Congress will not pass.
Barack Obama failed to pass cap and trade in Congress. As Kimberley A. Strassel explains in Friday’s Wall Street Journal:
Congress, including Democrats, wouldn’t pass his cap-and-trade legislation. His Environmental Protection Agency is now instituting it via a broad reading of the Clean Air Act. Congress, again including members of his own party, wouldn’t pass his “card-check” legislation eliminating secret ballots in union elections. So he stacked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) with appointees who pushed through a “quickie” election law to accomplish much the same.
The kind of measures that Strassel cites go against the grain of the American tradition, which, as Sklar writes, is based on sovereignty of the people, limited government, anti-statism, and the acceptance of regulatory measures which leave the government out of any command role in developing the economy.
As for the Democratic Party, the American equivalent of the very statist and authoritarian European reactionary parties that call themselves socialist, Walter Russell Mead writes on Friday:
These are the people who reject ex-President Bill Clinton’s argument that Democrats had to adjust to economic and political realities by reforming and trimming the Great Society government in order to preserve the health of the New Deal state within.
In our nation’s capital, Mead writes, organizations like the Progressive Policy Institute have been pushed aside by “a new wave of more left-wing think tanks and organizations.” Mead does not name them, but he is referring to ones like the Center for American Progress and the Institute for Policy Studies, both of which have released position papers urging Obama to bypass Congress and to rule by executive fiat.
As Mead explains, the “Clintonian, retreat and conserve Democrats have become almost invisible in Washington.” In state and city governments, fleeing businesses, budget deficits, and a shrinking tax base are forcing even Democratic governors and mayors to institute budget cuts, take on fights with once-strong public sector unions, and to “embrace the causes of retrenchment and reform.”
Therefore, states like California and New York have seen once “liberal” political leaders fight institutions that form the core of their own party’s base, namely public sector unions like the two teachers’ unions: the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
No wonder some Democrats — like their leadership in the coal-mining state of West Virginia — have announced they will not attend the Democratic convention. The Obama policies have produced loss of jobs and a dismal outlook for the electorate in that state. Mead thinks that while “the dominance of the left at the national level looks impressive today,” it may indeed be on its last legs — unless our leaders decide we may as well be the next Greece, with only China left to bail us out.
Returning to Steven Erlanger’s article: the perceptive bureau chief is correct that socialism succeeded even in the United States — in the sense that Sklar means. Erlanger notes that the working class has already in fact been emancipated in the United States, without the kind of “revolution” the sectarian Left thinks it needs to change the world. Workers have entered the middle class, and our tax system has already “largely done its job.”
Unfortunately, the socialists in Europe and the Obamacrats in the United States think it has not worked — that they need to turn to authoritarian rule in order to implement redistribution of wealth by taking it from those they call the wealthy, with policies that will make everyone poorer. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that the French socialists are implementing new taxes on the rich — of course — as the way to deal with budget deficits.
As the story notes:
The government needs to make up a gap of 6 billion to 10 billion euros, or $7.5 billion to $12.5 billion, this year to bring the budget deficit down to 4.5 percent of gross domestic product, according to the national audit office, the Cour des Comptes. To meet a 3 percent target in 2013, an additional $41.2 billion in tax revenue and spending cuts will have to be found, the auditors said.
Rather than seek to increase productivity and to reform the antiquated social policies that lead to educated youth facing a future without a job market, their answer is the traditional one favored by the sectarian Left — getting it from the hides of the wealthy. They do not comprehend that some businesses will fail, that others will be forced to hire fewer workers and fire some already hired. Of course, as Erlanger’s story notes:
Companies have complained that already thin profit margins are being hit and that France is losing competitiveness in a global market. The auditors said the same, and urged structural changes to better calibrate social welfare benefits to deal with France’s aging population and reduce the debt.
Reality, it seems, does not affect the mindset of ideologues. So the French Socialist Party ignores good advice and gets the votes from a population that wants something for nothing. The French state, Mr. Erlanger wrote last Sunday, “represents 56.6 percent of gross domestic product,” and its bureaucrats seek to protect it, since the Socialist Party is made up of academics and bureaucrats who work in state and government offices.
In the same manner, the heart of the Democratic Party today is not the blue-collar worker of FDR and Truman’s day, but the teachers’ unions and the other public sector unions who compose the bulk of convention delegates and who play the same role in the Democratic Party that the state workers in France who belong to the Socialist Party do. Erlanger quotes one French editor who admits that “Socialism here is very statist.” I’m sure if I were to search, I would find an editor who would say the same about the Democratic Party as now constituted in this country.
Just as Mr. Hollande wants to hire more teachers, raise the minimum wage, and create a state bank, the Obama administration is seeking to implement policies through control of the state that will have the same result as Hollande’s policies in France. Just look at Obamacare and what is in store for us if it is implemented.
If Barack Obama wins a second term, I fear our once great country will move further down the road to authoritarian statism, discarding the fundamentals of our Constitution and eroding the heart of our nation. So let us get out the message, put aside our dissatisfaction with the Romney campaign, and do what we must to defeat Barack Obama come election day.