Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Keep Moving those Goal-Posts

It's been great fun over the past two years watching right-wingers all over the web grasp at straws to explain just why they hate Barack Obama so much. Particularly amusing have been the claims that Obama is a Marxist. Recently I queried a group of commenters over at Sultan Knish, rather innocently, I thought, for some details on exactly why they were so convinced of Obama's Communist leanings.

The response? Well, not a whole lot. I made the point that if anyone asked any Communists of the old school, such as my great-grandparents (ok, to be fair, only one of them: one read and supported the Morgen Freiheit, the other read and supported the Forward-- but my great-aunts have forgotten who was who) whether they considered Obama to be a right- (left?) thinking Communist, they would have been horrified at the comparison.

In response I got fun innuendo suggesting that I myself was a Communist!

Now, as someone who grew up comfortably middle-class and who is presently working in the ever-so-lucrative field of elementary education (and am therefore extremely aware of every penny that makes its way into my paycheck), I find this accusation fairly absurd. I am in no position to share my wealth, and nor do I expect others to give me theirs. Neither am I all that interested in abolishing the capitalist system given that, you know, I still need to pay my rent.

Furthermore, I am really not convinced that "pure" Socialism (much less Communism) is capable of being implemented on any large scale with any degree of success. Sorry Bubbe's Ghost, but it hasn't seemed to work and I'm certainly not a fan of imposing it on people (to say nothing of the whole "massive repression and totalitarianism bordering on ethnic cleansing," which, while not a NECESSARY element of creating a Communist state, certainly seem to have often gone hand-in-hand when people tried to make theory into practice.)

So, how exactly am I a Communist? What I really am is a left-leaning moderate, in that I think the optimal solution to some of the biggest problems with unchecked capitalism is through regulation. Some government intervention, yes. Abolishment of capitalism and the economy as we know it, no thanks. Or, as I put it to Sultan, Bubbe was a utopian, I'd like to see myself as an optimistic realist.

Now, here's where it really gets good. Faced with all this information-- along with repeated requests for him to back up any of the noise about Obama being a Marxist, Sultan claims that "you're talking about a change of tactics rather than a change of ideology." Again, nothing concrete, nothing to back anything up. I try again. Sultan responds with "labels change, but the basic parameters of the system are the same."

Then there was this lovely exchange:

Obama's Marxist ties and beliefs have been extensively documented. If that's what you're really interested in, a quick search can quickly help you find them. Since this isn't a post about Obama's Marxism, it's not my job to waste time documenting Obama's radical left wing beliefs for a radical left winger.

Radical? If I'm the standard for radical, then belive me, we really don't have to be worried about Obama being a Communist. Because, you know, I'm not. This reminds me of the time in college someone accused me of being a "right-wing, reactionary, authoritarian tool of the administration" because I told them the school newspaper wouldn't run their screed against The War on Terror (masquerading as a bad book review).

The line "It's not my job" was particularly amusing, as Sultan styles himself as a journalist (sorry, columnist, mea culpa. Nevertheless, given that he pats himself on the back-- not undeserved-- for his investigate work, I figured journalist wasn't an unfair leap). I love it- a journalist/investigative columnist who spews regurgitated dreck and won't substantiate an iota of it when asked. If Obama's Marxism is so all-pervasive (instead of largely being supposed-guilt by inflated-association), I would have thought this would be easy. When I commented on that, Sultan fired back:

"Somehow you confused the term Journalist with "Guy who is willing to spend weeks debating me in the comments section on an issue tangential to the actual article"

An actual journalist would not have bothered responding to you in the first place"

Wow. I can only hope that an actual journalist would not have spent almost a week weaseling around the fact that he couldn't be bothered to support statements he made on his blog (and by others that he then agreed with) and whose best excuse was "it's a waste of my time" or " not my job."

Keep in mind, the "tangential issue" here, Obama's supposed Marxism/Communism/Socialism, has been incorporated into approximately 60% of all of Sultan's posts about him. (Strangely, the crowd over there can't seem to decide whether Obama is a Jihadist or a Marxist. Unless he's also friends with George Habash, I think they have to choose on this one. Wait, someone managed to find the missing link!)

Sultan's last riposte:

Liberalism has long adopted the basic tenets of Marxism, and class warfare shifted along an oppressed group axis and wealth redistribution combined with the creation of vast bureaucratic and undemocratic entities to enforce their version of social justice are at the core of their agenda.

Huh. Let's fact-check that. The basic tenets of Marxism according to Wikipedia:

1-an attention to the material conditions of people's lives and social relations among people

2-a belief that people's consciousness of the conditions of their lives reflects these material conditions and relations

3-an understanding of class in terms of differing relations of production and as a particular position within such relations

4-an understanding of material conditions and social relations as historically malleable

5-a view of history according to which class struggle, the evolving conflict between classes with opposing interests, structures each historical period and drives historical change

6-a sympathy for the working class or proletariat and a belief that the ultimate interests of workers best match those of humanity in general
Number 1 is not restricted to liberals, as one's political orientation should not determine one's ability to merely observe facts. Numbers 2 through 4 are probably more likely to be found among liberals, though I don't see them as being specifically foundational to liberal principles. Number 5 I would say, by and large, is more specific to liberals. I would argue that Number 6 is more class-based than what political group you identify with. Don't tell me working-class people don't have sympathy for themselves or measure certain changes or developments in terms of their affects on them.

Let's also note that while on a theoretical and academic level most of these principles permeate certain aspects of liberal politics, there are plenty of people who identify as liberal and support liberal causes without having these principles in mind or figuring into their worldview. They're also quite open-ended; for instance, for Number 4, the ability to change your class and destiny is a founding principle of America- either this makes the Founding Fathers proto-Marxists or some elements of "Marxist principles" are not UNIQUE to Marxism and as such cannot be used as legitimate proofs that someone IS Marxist.

I would add that I do not consider "class warfare" to be a specifically liberal (or Marxist) tactic-- pundits attacking "welfare queens" reads as class warfare to me; and that "wealth distribution" is an extremely broad umbrella term. Ditto for "vast bureaucratic and undemocratic entities." Republicans have created bureaucracies and done undemocratic things as well.

Kudos to Sultan commenter Keli Ata, who at least bothered to suggest some reading for me-- though, again, most of the connections seem to boil down to, "Obama liked some of Saul Alinsky's ideas and worked for Alinsky-associated groups." Alinsky's politics don't sound like my cup of tea, but I'm still not convinced that the connection substantiates the bold claim that Obama is an actual Marxist. On the other hand, it's a lot more than Sultan offered.

What my issues with throwing around the Marxist label all boil down to is this: It's one thing to make the specific claim, based on actual information, that Barack Obama believes in Communism. It's another thing entirely to call him a Marxist/Communist/Socialist as a lazy CODE-WORD for "liberal," "Democrat" or "anyone to the left of me." It's not that I don't want to give people the benefit of the doubt on this one, but, well, I don't. Sue me, I'm picky.

1 comment:

The Truffle said...

A few things, Friar Yid:

Given the racial innuendoes on SK's blog, I think we can guess the real reasons for his objection to Obama. He posts about Wall Street and includes pictures of the Obamas alongside photos of African-American NOLA residents. Need I say more?

Put it this way: I don't think Marxist/Communist is a code word for "liberal/Democrat." I think that in this case, it's a code for something else entirely.

P.S. I'm unconvinced of Keli's journalistic credentials and would recommend reading Alinsky's work before taking anything Keli says seriously.