Restoring the vanished?

There are few things more irritating in blogging than having to reconstruct a vanished post. Fortunately, it doesn't happen too often, and usually, it's a result of carelessness or a software glitch. This time, it was because the cord to the power strip that feeds my computer was coming loose from the wall receptacle, and I spotted it just in time! At least, so I thought. Thinking I was being careful (and without pausing to save what I'd spent an hour writing), I pushed the cord all the way in. Unfortunately my act of pushing it in was just enough to somehow break the current flow for a millisecond, and everything went dead. Sure, I turned it right back on, but the post was now but an unsaved memory.

So I decided to set up my VCR (an easily postponed task involving technology I use maybe four times a year), and combined long walks with lunch.

After all that, the post still matters enough that I thought I'd make a stab at reconstructing it. That's because no matter how many times I complain about them, some things still matter. And no matter how many blog posts have been written by others on this subject (probably a lot), it's damned important.

In brief, what happened was that by uttering a single word on a taboo subject John McCain renewed my faith. He has an uncanny way of doing that, and it's one of the reasons I think he would be not merely a good, but possibly a great president. I don't care whether you like him or not, or agree with him or not, but the man is fearless in a way few politicians are, and what he did that was so special this time was to use the forbidden "S" word:

CONCORD, N.C. - Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Saturday accused Democratic rival Barack Obama of favoring a socialistic economic approach by supporting tax cuts and tax credits McCain says would merely shuffle wealth rather than creating it.

"At least in Europe, the Socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives," McCain said in a radio address. "They use real numbers and honest language. And we should demand equal candor from Sen. Obama. Raising taxes on some in order to give checks to others is not a tax cut; it's just another government giveaway."

To most people, this might not seem like much, but it means a great deal to me. Certainly enough to reconstruct a lost post -- on a subject I've written more posts about than I could ever hope to count.

Yes, socialism is a pet peeve. I'm a crank that way. And what I'm even more peeved about -- one of the peevest pets of my pettest peeves (whichever is more wrongless) -- is that most Republicans are too damned cowardly to even use the "S" word, much less condemn socialism.

I worry that there might be a point of no return:

I think the country might be approaching a turning point of sorts. We've gone about as far as it's possible to go with the socialist-flirtation, welfare-state mode without plunging over the abyss into the irreversible, tyrannical, full-blown variety.

I probably rant and rave too much against socialism and risk boring readers. (Always a mistake in blogging.) But the reason I do that is that I think this country is in serious denial, as if they want to have their socialism and not have it too. What will happen if the day of reckoning that Eric S. Raymond warns about ever comes? Is this just something to not think about the way we don't like to think about a nuclear attack on a major U.S. city?

Or is it paranoia? I mean, don't we have an unlimited supply of freedom, resources, and enough of the can-do American spirit of individuality to overcome all obstacles? What worries me is that socialism is incompatible with freedom. So is extreme debt. (Even the 13th Amendment to the Constitution allows that slavery in payment of debt is not slavery.)

Free countries do not declare massive "entitlements" by one class to the money of another class, especially when the money is not there. In free countries, no one is "entitled" to the property of someone else without just compensation.

What worries me is that the closer we get to full-blown socialism, the more the word becomes politically unmentionable. Even discussing an end to the entitlement system is politically taboo. This puts politicians who might want to do something about it in a very difficult position.

And as most people who are right-of-left realize, the Republicans offer slower movement towards the same goal:
I know I'm a RINO and all that stuff, but my biggest worry involves creeping socialism, which seems to be galloping lately. A few socialistic programs here, a few socialistic programs there, and pretty soon you're talking about having the full-blown real thing. And while I know that by voting for the Republicans I'm supposed to be slowing the rate of socialism, if both horses are galloping towards the finish line, how enthusiastic am I supposed to be about voting simply for the slower horse? The semantic issue of whether Barack Obama is a "socialist" or is merely "socialistic" does not concern me at this point, because he is the faster horse, so I must vote against him in order to prolong the race.
Obviously, I am damned cynical. Almost beyond cynical. I never expected to hear the "S" word coming from John McCain's mouth, because after all, he is to the left of many of the same Republicans who would never dare utter it.

Especially coming as it does on the heels of Joe the Plumber, this is all very heartening.

There's a slogan I used to see and hear all over the place when I lived in Berkeley -- "TAX THE RICH TILL THERE ARE NO MORE RICH!" Barack Obama has a slightly more sophisticated spin on it (which he'll deny, of course):


You don't have to be an economist, a sophisticated pundit, or even a caffeinated political junkie to understand where this leads. Here's "PanhandleWilly," commenting on an article about Joe the Unlicensed Plumber:

....Sen Obama is a socialist...because that's what national health care, 'spread the wealth around,' really means. Tax the rich till there aren't any more rich. Thus democrats aspire to be Cuba without the corny looking fatigues (for now anyway). Conservatives...and though the GOP needs some radical fixing, they still have conservative beliefs at their core...want as many people as possible to be rich and believe if minimally bothered by intrusive government they'll figure it out themselves because they have the requisite 'wanna' to get there. Yeah some fall through the cracks but there are social programs that cushion the fall so you can get up off the floor start up the ladder again. Democrats want to turn the floor into a nice low rent living room...YGBSM! That's what 'spread the wealth around' means. That's what Joe the plumber knows. That's what main street understands and because that was his message Sen McCain, in his less eloquent that Sen Obama diction, won the night and Sen Obama's conversation with Joe the plumber was a self inflicted wound because America finally understands that Sen Obama is going to rustle the fruits of their labors and give it to people who didn't earn it. That's not being Robin Hood...that's horse stealing. Wake up America! If you want to remain a free people with all the fruits of liberty that you are guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence and codified in the US Constitution, then you can't vote for Sen Obama. He is a great guy. He's smart, he's a great family man, and he speaks well...but he has wasted his fine mind in pursuing the wrong path of socialism. It doesn't work. The Declaration says we were all created equal. However equality is not an inalienable right...liberty is. Equality and liberty are not the same thing. Who arbitrates equality? What personal price to you pay to get it and who defines it? It's a slippery slope...just like Joe the P says. Forget the fact that he doesn't have a plumbers license. His point is irrefutable. Wake up America!
He is absolutely right.

There is a problem, though, with the argument that socialism does not work, and this touches on another of my pet peeves.

They (the proponents of socialism) don't care. In fact, they don't want it to work. That is not a bug; it's a feature. The more it fails, the more "fixes" it will need, and the more people will be needed to "fix" it. Socialism requires massive social engineering by definition, and when it fails, the failures generate the need for even more massive engineering. It is a self-perpetuating, endlessly growing machine. Those who say that it doesn't work are right, but they miss the whole idea that it's not supposed to work, and then they get drawn into these red-herring debates with socialists who claim that yes it does work, or yes it can be made to work, when all of that is really irrelevant.

More ominously, once socialistic programs are in place, they become entrenched forms of property "rights" (dishonestly called "entitlements"). These are more impossible than bridge tolls to get rid of, because special interest groups spring up to defend their turf, and because the people who are getting something organize themselves to lobby, and to vote. This is why not even conservative Republicans can touch certain issues, such as the "Third Rail" of social security entitlements. And the reason I used the word "ominous" is because once they're entrenched, even talking about getting rid of them is seen as something akin to advocating civil war. Even if both sides are willing to agree that socialism does not work, once something becomes a vested property "right" whether the system "works" or not becomes a secondary issue.

In the era leading up to the Civil War, did anyone really stop to think about whether slavery worked as an economic system? Would it have mattered? Maybe in theory, but few are willing to go to war to win a theoretical debate. What made people willing to go to war was people who were going to lose their property. That slaves shouldn't have been property made about as much practical difference to the slaveholders as whether there should be an entitlement to a government stipend at age 65.

Similarly, people who own real estate would be more likely to be concerned over whether the government confiscates it than over some theory of the immorality of land ownership. People who hold FCC licenses would still fight like hell for their "turf" even if the government's original basis for regulating bandwidth became superfluous.

So, much as I agree that socialism does not work, I completely understand what an absolute quagmire it is to even mention it, much less actually discuss these things.

That's why I say McCain has restored my faith.

Whether he'll be able to restore our vanishing economic freedom is another matter. But hey, one step at a time.

(At least he's not dedicated himself to making wealth disappear in the name of spreading it.)

posted by Eric on 10.18.08 at 02:54 PM


We can also hope to keep enough of the free market going long enough that technical solutions outweigh the socialism.

Assistant Village Idiot   ·  October 18, 2008 11:10 PM

Regarding the Civil War, what impressed me about the debate leading up to it was how the slaveholders' arguments rapidly became emotional and nearly hysterical. There came a point where they had so invested themselves in defending their "peculiar institution" that they became more and more deranged in its defense. I believe they realized instinctively that they were defending the indefensible, and this pushed them to bizarre extremes of pretzel logic. Making the case that slavery was an economic dead end which would lead to the South eventually becoming impoverished and backwards would not have helped one whit.

In other words, the South backed themselves into a corner so that their only path was secession. There is an idiotic line in the otherwise fine film Gettysburg, which has Longstreet saying "We should have abolished slavery, and then seceeded." I imagine that might have made some sense to Ted Turner a century later, but it would not have to anyone alive at the time.

I hope the left in America is not paining themselves into a similar corner. I don't believe they have the wherewithal, nor the inclination, and certainly not the guts, to take a violent solution.

Steve Skubinna   ·  October 19, 2008 2:39 AM

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