Sometime during the 2008 presidential campaign, the notion that President Barack Obama was a socialist first appeared. Whether it initially came from Sen. John McCain or U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, a Georgia Republican, is up for debate, but it rarely matters who says something first in American politics. What's important is that it's said, loudly and often, so that whatever nonsense is spouted eventually becomes the truth. Naturally, this doesn't do any of us any favors.
The notion that President Obama is anything remotely like a socialist, in practical policy terms, is completely laughable. That is, of course, unless you either don't know what socialism is or you're just intentionally trying to mislead the American public. While it's bad enough for the American Right to do this, it's just as bad for the Left to do it — even if they have the best of intentions when they define certain aspects of our economy or society as being socialist in nature when they simply aren't.
For years, I've bristled every time I've seen a news report referring to anyone as a "self-described socialist," as if it were inconceivable that any American politician would embrace socialist principles here in the Land of the Free. In their minds, it was almost as if a socialist politician were a mythical creature on par with a unicorn, and declaring yourself as one — even if, as in the case of Sen. Bernie Sanders, you aren't a member of the Socialist Party — was as nutty as proclaiming yourself Norton I, the emperor of the United States of America.
But I've decided to give the newspaper writers and editors (especially some of our local ones) the benefit of the doubt on this point. I suspect they are fully aware of what socialism actually means, and they're just as suspicious of "self-described socialist" Sen. Sanders's socialist credentials as I am. Bernie Sanders, to put it mildly, is almost as much of a socialist as President Obama — which is to say, he isn't one.
In conservative rhetoric, just about anything that liberals do is socialism. This is just as specious as the logic applied by liberals to the Bush administration that what they were doing was fascist. Granted, I realize that in America we have free reign to redefine just about anything to mean whatever we want it to mean, but that doesn't make it any less asinine.
For instance, calling the Affordable Care Act socialism is just the laziest sort of thinking about social, political, and economic policy imaginable. If you want to know what socialism would be in the context of healthcare, then consider this: First, the government seizes control of all hospitals, doctor's offices, pharmaceutical companies, and pharmacies. Second, they make everyone working in the medical field a government employee. Third, they begin a program that mandates that every single American receive at least two physicals and one mental checkup every year or face prison time. That would be more in line with socialism.
And if you're wondering where the insurance companies are in that equation, well, they're liquidated — the companies, not the people. The people are forced to work in the government farms that grow food for all of us to share.
Socialism is not requiring everyone to purchase health insurance (although it is certainly no less authoritarian, if we're being honest). Sorry, conservatives. You're wrong on this. End of story. But, take heart: Your opponents on the Left are just as wrong with some of their current pro-socialism cheerleading, thanks to Sen. Sanders' popularity.
You've probably seen Facebook or Twitter memes that ask, "Don't like socialism? Then give up roads, police, fire departments." Unfortunately, none of those things are socialist, either. Maybe you've watched the nicely produced video "Five Ways America is Already Socialist," featuring Francesca Fiorentini telling us we're socialist because 1) We don't have to work on weekends (which many of us do); 2) Some of our heroes, like Mark Twain, Helen Keller, Harry Houdini, were socialists (by that logic, some were Nazis, so are we a fascist country?); 3) We passed the New Deal, which was a pressure valve to release the steam of the socialist movement building in this country by giving the working class just enough to keep them from actually fomenting a revolution; 4) We have the military, which is just another way to give money to private defense contractors; and 5) There's corporate welfare. Videos like this just aren't helpful. They're as dead-ass wrong about socialism as anything you will hear on Fox News.
So, if America's progressives in the Democratic Party want to get behind Bernie Sanders, that's fine. Just don't call yourselves socialists. You're capitalists who feel bad for screwing over the working class, that's all.