Friday, November 07, 2008

Obama, Franken & Socialism

Tibor R. Machan

The race in Minnesota was still too close to call on Friday, November 7th but the fact that Senator Obama, who had by than become president elect of the United States, made a strong plea for electing Mr. Franken is a significant and distressing clue to what we are in for over the next several years. Senator Obama sent this message to Minnesota voters:
“I will say that your candidate in Minnesota, Al Franken, is going to be an important part of a coalition that brings about change. He’s really, I think, in this to fight for working families. I’m looking forward to seeing him serve in the Senate.
“And if people are looking for fundamental change over the next eight years, then I think an Obama-Biden ticket, Al Franken in the Senate, is going to be the best answer for working families all across the state.”
Al Franken would indeed strive for fundamental change in America’s system of political economy. “Fundamental” means that the change would amount to completely, basically altering America’s political system. This is also what was suggested in the interview that came to light late in the presidential campaign, one given by Senator Obama in 2001, where he complained about the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights because these did not include a basic right to have the wealth redistributed throughout the country. He also expressed dismay with the legal reforms brought about by the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, lamenting the fact that the rights enacted as laws of the land did not include the fundamental human right to be provided with economic support.
After Senator Obama had his brief exchange with “Joe the Plumber,” a debate ensued about just how fundamental a change his doctrine of wealth redistribution would amount to. It was noted by some commentators that holding this doctrine does not make one a socialist. And that is strictly speaking right--advocates of the welfare state, Europe’s Third Way, the mixed economy, and similar hybrid systems of political economy aren’t full blown supporters of socialist systems akin to those in Cuba, North Korea or the former Soviet Union. To become such a full blown socialist, one would have to embrace the idea of the public ownership of the major means of production and of the view of human beings as cells in the larger, more important organism of society or humanity.

But one can come pretty close to this kind of a socialist by wanting to bring about fundamental change in America’s partial capitalist system, one that embraces, at least rhetorically, the basic right of everyone to private property, to freedom of contract, freedom of association, etc. Wanting to change from this kind of system to one that promotes wealth redistribution as a basic feature of society does come very close to embracing the basic tenets of socialism. The idea that it’s the public that owns the country’s wealth, and that government has the role of allocating this wealth among us, may not be soviet socialism but it is very likely a so called democratic version of that system. The difference is that under soviet socialism the strong central government runs the economy according to a blueprint whereas under democratic socialism the government runs the economy in line with what the majority of the voters decide.

In practice, however, the difference is not great. The democratic process isn’t equipped to provide detailed guidelines for managing the economy. At most it can send presumably skilled representatives who will take up that task but then they will carry on pretty much as would the planners in the soviet system.

I remember when Mr. Franken was doing some of his comedy routines for Saturday Night Live and recall how I could detect a very strong tendency toward egalitarian, socialist, and even communist principles. No one made much of it then, given his role as a comic. But anyone who is aware of alternative systems of political economy could tell well enough which way Mr. Franken was politically inclined.

America is, of course, a mixed economy but it does appear that with the leadership of Barack Obama and the help of the likes of Al Franken it will be guided away from virtually all of its capitalist features and head decisively toward socialism.

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