Column on Obama, Franken & Socialism

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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