Just recently, things were looking up for socialism. In April, a much-discussed Rasmussen poll reported that only 53 percent of Americans expressed a preference for capitalism. The poll didn’t define either system, so one could surmise that the right’s desperate strategy of branding a popular Democratic president as a "socialist" had backfired: If Obama’s a socialist, then a good number of the 69 percent of Americans who viewed the President favorably were apparently ready to sign up. Perhaps this new openness to alternatives wasn’t deep, but it seemed promising.
Now, the Obama=socialist meme, which was once just laughable, has gone viral.
It’s still hard to take it very seriously, given how far Obama’s policies are from even the mildest form of social democracy–recall how he explicitly rejected the idea that the United States should emulate Sweden’s highly effective response to its early 90s financial meltdown, when it overcame the crisis by nationalizing the banks.
Still, the ludicrous notion has traction. The other day, Alaska governor Sarah Palin ripped Obama on Fox News for leading the nation toward socialism through "nationalizing many of our services, our projects, our businesses." The RNC went so far as to declare that "the Democratic Party is dedicated to restructuring American society along socialist ideals."
The GM takeover was a tipping point. For the right, "Government Motors" is the smoking gun, definitive proof of Obama’s heretofore secret radical leftist agenda. The "New GM" is the target of a boycott spearheaded by right-wing radio bloviator Hugh Hewitt, who declared, "I won’t buy a socialist car." Rush Limbaugh, who flirted with the boycott before disavowing it, fumed, "This guy came into office with an agenda, a pure socialist agenda, and he’s implementing it without regard for current economic circumstances."
But what’s really going on with the GM nationalization — just as in the bank bailout — is more akin to corporate statism than socialism. In order to qualify for federal help, GM had to "slim down"– 21,000 GM workers will receive pink slips in the wake of this so-called rescue, and the UAW was forced to swallow painful concessions. It’s not as if this occasion is being used to facilitate a real transition to a worker-friendly green economy, converting auto factories to production facilities for wind turbines, solar panels, light rail, etc. Sure, there are murmurs about fuel efficiency, but as Obama himself said, the goal is "to get GM back on its feet, take a hands-off approach and get out quickly." He wouldn’t even take a position on whether the corporate headquarters should remain in Detroit. This is no socialist plot: it is a company bailout.