on socialism…

One of the most persistent attacks waged by Republican pundits over the last few weeks of the campaign has been the assertion that an Obama administration would be a “socialist” administration.  Those with just a little perspective would recognize this as political hyperbole in the midst of a very heated campaign.  Attaching such a label to your political rival and having it stick leading up to the election can be quite useful in these United States of America.  However, the label caught on and began showing up in Facebook statuses regularly.

I read an interesting editorial in the current issue of the Christian Century commenting on the tax proposals of McCain vs. Obama.  It contains some very interesting stats:

Since the late 1970s the share of national income going to the top 1 percent of Americans has doubled and the share for the top 0.1 percent has tripled. More than 40 percent of total income goes to the wealthiest 10 percent—their biggest share of the nation’s pie in at least 65 years. The very wealthy have become enormously wealthy, while middle-class workers have seen their wages stagnate—barely keeping pace with inflation—and at the same time have had to deal with sharp increases in the costs of health care and education. (Italics mine)

In light of this trend, the dispute between McCain and Obama on taxes is minor: Obama wants to return the top marginal tax rate to 39 percent, where it was under Clinton, while McCain wants to keep it at 35 percent. Both men, in other words, would maintain the mildly progressive tax system that currently exists. The current system is actually much less progressive than it was in earlier decades—under Eisenhower the top tax rate was 91 percent, and under Nixon it was 70 percent. Those were hardly socialist administrations.

from The Christian Century, Nov. 18, 2008, American Pie

I have had discussions with numerous friends supportive of McCain who earn well under $100,000 per year but for some reason vote and argue for conservative policy as though they earn many times that amount.  That, I believe is a product of political manipulation and a refusal to actually dig a little deeper in the the policies being proposed.  It’s much easier to say, “my guy good, your guy socialist”; “my guy lower my taxes, your guy raise my taxes.”

The editorial closes with the following paragraph:

Though tax rates are not the only factor shaping economic conditions, they are an important measure of how the burdens of common life are being distributed. The warnings about socialism should be seen for what they are: a blunt effort to block any discussion of the ominous fact that the U.S. has become a nation of increasing inequality and, for many, of declining opportunity.

I believe this is a situation that we must address if we are going to work our way out of the economic malaise in which we find ourselves.   I think it points to a hard reality that all of us need to face.  It will not be resolved via partisan politics or manipulation of the electorate.  It’s time we all open our eyes to that reality and work for justice not only via our votes, but also in our communities, in our relationships* and with our own check-books…in proportion to what we can afford.

I think we also need, as a nation, to re-evaluate our definition of what is “sufficient” in terms of our lifestyles.

*I’m really over-reaching this particular blog post with this but it hit me while I was using the word “relationships” above.  Do any of you have an actual relationship with someone dependent of food stamps for their grocery purchases? I do not…  Why is that?  Did you know that food stamps provide only $1/person/meal?  Who can buy groceries on that?  Why is it that the user of food stamps is often the symbol of abuse of governmental entitlements?  Why are we not outraged that real people are HUNGRY in the United States of America?  …this is becoming a rant…I’ll shut up now… (the questions however are not necessarily rhetorical…go for it below…)


8 thoughts on “on socialism…

  1. Funny you bring up “sufficient lifestyle”. A few weeks back I blogged with you about painting wealthy people with a broad brush. I thought of you on Thursday while I was touring a $35 million dollar home with bankers, lawyers, and CPAs. It took 9 years to build, had everything from Italian silk painted walls to 138″ screen TV’s to indoor pools, tile floor garage, 4 levels, 3 kitchens, you name it. After about the third room I felt as if I’d seen the whole house already with each room being “more of the same” of what I’d already seen. I thought of my comments to you weeks earlier about how many jobs were created in that 9 years (a stance I maintain). And while it is easy to look at this “castle” from a distance and talk about the waste or arrogance or “gawdiness” (Lynchburg term), I listened to the owner who was giving us the hour tour. He was proud of his home but not arrogant, boastful, or prideful. He took us to a room that had an inscription on the wall in gold lettering (actual gold, I think, not paint) – “Matthew 7:7″…’ask it is shall be given, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened….” – one of my favorite scriptures. He is 75 years old and mentioned that he had already buried two children. He said he’s always been able to make money, but out-living two children was the hardest most stressful thing he’s ever done. He continued, had it not been for his faith, he would not have been able to get through those times. In his mind, there is no way to go through this life without his “anchor” which is his faith. In trying to tie back in to your intial post, on the outside looking in, this home is beyond what is necessary. His lifestyle is far beyond what any single human being needs. But he still created jobs. He has 4 full-time staffers who he bought houses for just down the street. This man was one who I would think would have very shallow relationships at best. But when I listened to him, really listened, he had the most important relationship of all – Jesus.

    Okay, Mike, I’m not sure I’m tying back in to your post, however, I’ll try… Entitlements – far too much spent every month on entitlements. I don’t want to abuse the food stamp dependent. (I did get to observe mothers of infants on WIC buy endless bottles of liquid formula while we were limited to two. After determining that liquid formula was way more expensive than any other option, I had to ask, why is liquid formula WIC approved? It’s the most expensive stuff you can buy? Why not the powder? That’s what we used. It’s too easy to carelessly spend money that you don’t earn. The stats are alarming about the number of big lottery winners who end up bankrupt, divorced, or addicts. Why can’t we ask everyone to pay some kind of co-pay at the ER? Why not $5 or something? I can’t get my children the ER care they need because the couple next to us realized their child needed his monthly blood work done… at the ER? Is he sick? turning blue? The couple both worked at WalMart and work the 4pm-midnight shift. They had all day to take their kid to the doctor but took off work to go to the ER for monthly blood work. ??? Here was there response, well, it’s free to come to the ER. Isn’t the health clinic free also? Now my cynicism is on overload. It’s hard to be compassionate when our government seems to be breeding it’s own dependency. I know you want to know if I reached out to them… hell no, my kid needed the ER and I was in line behind someone who was there because it was free! I’m a shallow Christian, I guess.

  2. We do not give because they deserve it, we give because we are Christians, because it is the right thing to do. There is a homeless guy here in Austin that pretends to be a pregnant woman so that he can get a second helping in the lunch line. Some volunteers get so offended! Here they are, donating their time, trying to help this “woman” only to be tricked! The point is, it’s not about us, and it certainly isn’t about projecting our values and beliefs on other people. The ulterior motive should be that it makes us better people NOT that it makes them better people. It’s an easy thing to find out a few things about someone and then create an entire portrait of who they are. The truth is, that picture is always wildly inaccurate. Maybe you should just be thankful that you don’t have to work at Wal-Mart, or that your child doesn’t require blood work every month. Who knows, maybe it’ll make you less cynical……..

  3. Oh, and I really enjoyed your article, Mike! I’m having a hard time figuring out what being taxed at 91% would be like, but hey, makes me feel better about my current tax bracket!

  4. Mike,

    I don’t disagree that we have a christian obligation to care for the needy. However, the United States is not a christian. Moreover, it is extremely inefficient at delivering goods and services. See VA hospitals, Post Office (quasi governmental), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the freaking Congress, etc. For those reasons alone, I’d prefer to keep my money less some basic amount for defense, education, and national infrastructure.

    As for other peoples money, rich or poor, its theirs they earned it. I don’t want it because it isn’t mine. If I take it, whether through governmental action, burglary, or armed robbery, it is really still stealing. The crazy thing about it is by advocating that the government steal from others, I validate its stealing from me. I think there some christian stuff about stealing and coveting too.

    The really bad thing about trying to set up government to handle christian obligations, is it lets you and me think we are off the hook. (why don’t we know any people on food stamps?) I’ve heard it said in SS, “don’t need to worry about feeding the poor, I pay taxes and the government handles it”. Perhaps that is why I can find no reference to Jesus suggesting we tax the rich to take care of the poor. Its not really best for our spiritual development, it is non-relational, and it doesn’t really work. Moreover, Jesus was worried about the rich folk, because its hard for them to let go, that’s why they need the transforming power of the gospel. Stealing from them just won’t achieve the same thing.

    The statistics are out there, we spend more on dog food than would be required to feed all the hungry, with what we spend on christmas we could give the world clean water, etc. What it really boils down to is we know what Jesus said, Love God and Your Neighbor as Yourself. It aint theologically confusing, we just don’t want to do it. We don’t want our neighbor to have what we have if it means we have less. We do enough to make us feel good about ourselves, or we want to use the rich folks money to handle the poor. Mostly we just don’t do it because we really don’t want to.

    None of this is to say governments shouldn’t advocate for workers to ensure they are paid a living wage for their WORK. Just don’t put the christian obligation on the government.

  5. Actually the Office of Homeland Security put a lock on your last couple of comments… Remember, it’s “President Elect” Obama…”President” Bush until January 20…. (I honestly don’t know why it did that. Normally that is only for first time posts)

    I’ll begin as you did H.Kay, I don’t disagree with you. As a follower of Jesus, I recognize my responsibility to feed, clothe, care for the poor (see Matt. 25). As a minister in the gathered church of those supposedly following Jesus, I recognize not only individual failure in this area (my own included) but also the failure of our religious systems (how much money will be spent on Christmas programs this year vs. money spent on Matt. 25 issues). I think you are exactly right: this is a spiritual development issue (I like what Mel said above, “we give because we’re Christians…its the right thing to do).

    I also agree that “the United States is not a Christian”. (I find it ironic that the very people who do claim the US to be a “Christian nation” are the ones who seem most opposed any governmental programs aimed at ending poverty…but I digress). I am of the theological persuasion that the “principalities and powers” we struggle against (Eph. 6:12) are not little men with pitch forks, horns and red suits. They are the powers that be–governmental, economic, and even religious. (Check out Walter Wink’s The Powers that Be: A Theology for the New Millennium). How do we engage these powers in order to bring about peace (comprehensive “shalom”) and justice in our world?

    I do not know the answer to that. We both voted our conscience in the recent elections knowing that our task as Christians and as citizens of the United States was not complete…the work continues. When I am at my best, I do all I can to engage those powers through all means necessary, as a citizen and as a follower of Jesus. I think Christianity at it’s best is subversive in nature rather than in partnership with the principalities and powers (that is one reason I am still proud to be a Baptist–separation of church and state).

    I feel that for a large segment of the population of the United State, the powers that be are oppressive. I also believe that this is an extremely “non-partisan oppression”. Blame can be laid equally on conservative and liberal policies. I guess at this point and time, I’m tired of my cynicism being an excuse for me to do nothing. Obama and his administration are not, and will never be my messiah. I’m proud to be an American but my ultimate allegiance lies elsewhere…I aspire first to be a follower of Jesus. I find myself hopeful following this election, even in the midst of all the crisis. I know others who are scared s**tless.

    Ultimately, for me at least, I find that the hope I feel is shared with a group of people who for so long have felt none. The people scared are people who have been the beneficiaries of the powers for a while. (I know this is extreme oversimplification…but it might get some reaction…) I’m looking forward to see how this plays out.

  6. I think another point I attempted to make in the original post was how political rhetoric usually clouds the actual issues. This is absolutely a bi-partisan phenomenon. 🙂

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