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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Is America Ready for Socialism

So far, I have been working under the so called conventional wisdom that John McCain has the opportunity to tie Barack Obama to Socialism and by doing so, he may thread the needle and grab the election. In fact, I have been working under this assumption because I assume that Americans would roundly reject any hint of Socialism. Yet, as I have given this some thought, my assumption maybe wrong. Politics ultimately comes down in large part to framing. Certainly, Americans would reject Socialism if it was framed strictly as Socialism. Yet, most have no problem with so called targeted tax cuts, even though that is tenet of Socialism. Americans would likely reject socialized medicine, but would be in favor of universal health care. (even though the two are ultimately nearly identical) They reject Socialism, but the latest Rasmussen Reports poll has a very slight plurality actually agreeing with the idea of "spreading the wealth". A great anecdotal example of where Americans belief systems maybe headed is this interview by Bill O'Reilly of two college students that support Senator Obama.

In it, both college students dismiss the idea that they support Socialism per se, even though they favor Senator Obama because 1) he will provide health care to all and 2) because he will target the middle class with tax cuts which are both tenets of Socialism.

The pendulum has also swung regarding the public's view of regulation. The public now favors increased regulation of most industries. This has a lot to do with the public's perception that it was deregulation and naked capitalism that caused the current financial malady.

So, any serious examination of scientific polling would lead to this conclusion. Americans currently continue to reject the concept of Socialism per se, but they overwhelming approve nearly each and ever tenet of Socialism.

There are two reasons for this. The first reason is time and place. Back in 1933, the United States public roundly accepted and followed the quasi Socialist policies of FDR. He ordered bank holidays, mortgage buybacks, government created jobs, Social Security, farm subsidies, and even created the quasi Socialist Fannie Mae. The public was ready for this because the economy was in crisis. The crisis was created by a failure of naked capitalism and so the public looked for something exactly opposite of what caused the crisis to begin with. We are now facing a near exact dynamic. That's why the public is accepting of many of the same principles that FDR pushed in the 1930's. There is a great deal of irony in the public now embracing FDR again since
since history has proven that his New Deal only prolonged the crisis.

The second reason is even simpler. If framed correctly, Socialism sounds swell. Who doesn't want everyone to have health care, a living wage, affordable housing, and government assistance everytime they fall down. Universal health care is a great idea until it is implemented and everyone waits in long lines to get treated. Of course, that isn't how it is sold. When the focus is on the 47 million uninsured, then the idea is swell. Once we all realize that all universal health care will offer is 18 week waits to get treated, then it will be roundly rejected. Of course, it has to be implemented in order to be rejected. While it is still an idea, it is one that has a great deal of appeal. You aren't ever going to hear Barack Obama tell you that universal health care will likely mean that it will take weeks for a doctor to treat you. He will say that universal health care will mean that everyone will have access to affordable health care. It's properly framed and thus it polls well.

Barack Obama is on the stump offering a slew of new spending programs guaranteeing job training, access to education, unemployment benefits, and at the same time, he says that only the top 5% will face a tax hike. That sounds great. Everyone gets lots of free stuff and only the really rich pay for it. That's how you sell Socialism. That's why America might just be ready for it.

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