To begin with, and this is something often under-appreciated by the white left, to the right and its leadership (if not necessarily its foot-soldiers), the battle between capitalism and communism/socialism has long been seen as a racialized conflict. First, of course, is the generally non-white hue of those who have raised the socialist or communist banner from a position of national leadership. Most such places and persons have been of color: China, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba, assorted places in Latin America from time to time, or the Caribbean, or in Africa. With the exception of the former Soviet Union and its immediate Eastern European satellites--which are understood as having had state socialism foisted upon them, rather than having it freely chosen through their own revolutions from below--Marxism in practice has been a pretty much exclusively non-white venture.
Secondly, and even more to the point, we must remember what "socialism" is, especially in the eyes of its critics: it is, to them, a code for redistribution. Of course, some forms of socialism are more redistributive than others, and even late-stage capitalism tends to engage in some forms of very mild redistribution (as with the income tax code). But if you were to ask most who grow apoplectic at the mere mention of the word "socialism" for the first synonym that came to their mind, redistribution is likely the one they would choose. Surely it would be among their top two or three. Now, given the almost instinctual connection made between socialism and redistribution, imagine what many white folks would naturally assume when told that this man, this black man, this black man with an African daddy, was a socialist. Even if those using the term didn't intend it to push racial buttons (and that is a decidedly large "if"), the fact remains that for many, it would almost certainly prompt any number of racial fears and insecurities: as in, the black guy is going to take from those who work and give to those who don't. And naturally, we all know (or at least our ill-informed prejudices tell us) who's in the first group and who's in the second one. Thus, the joke making the rounds on the internet, and likely in your workplace, about Obama planning on taxing aspirin "because it's white and it works." Or the guy with the sign at the April teabagger rally, which read, Obama's Plan: White Slavery. Or others who have carried overtly racist signs to frame their message: signs suggesting that Obama hopes to provide care for all brown-skinned illegal immigrants, while simultaneously murdering the white elderly, or that cast the President in decidely simian imagery, and refer to him, crudely but clearly as a monkey. Or Glenn Beck's paranoid screed from late July, which sought to link health care reform, and virtually every single piece of Obama's political agenda to some kind of backdoor reparations scheme. This, coupled with Beck's even more unhinged claim to have discovered a communist/black nationalist conspiracy in the administration's Green Jobs Initiative. All because the initiative is headed up by author and activist Van Jones: a guy whose recent book explains how to save capitalism through eco-friendly efforts at development and job creation. So even there, it isn't about socialism, so much as the fact that Jones is black, and was once (for a couple of months) a nationalist, and has a goatee, and looks determined (read:mean) in some of his more contemplative press photos.
Fact is, the longstanding association in white minds between social program spending and racial redistribution has been well-established, by scholars such as Martin Gilens, Kenneth Neubeck, Noel Cazenave, and Jill Quadagno, among others. Indeed, it was only the willingness of past presidents like FDR to all but cut blacks out of income support programs that convinced white lawmakers and the public to sign on to any form of American welfare system in the first place: a willingness that waned as soon as people of color finally gained access to these programs beginning in the 50s and 60s. But even as strong as the social program/black folks association has been in the past, it has, until now, never had a black face to put with the effort. With a man of color in the position of president, it becomes far more convincing to those given to fear black predation already. It isn't just that the government will tax you, white people. It's that the black guy will. And for people like him. At your expense.
Much as the white right blew a gasket at the thought of bailing out homeowners with sub-prime and exploding mortgages a few months back (and if you listened to the rhetoric on the radio it was hard to miss the racial animosity that undergirded much of the conservative hostility to the idea, since they seemed to think only persons of color would be helped by such a plan), they now too often view Obama's moves to more comprehensive health care as simply another way to take from those whites who have "played by the rules" and give to those folks of color who haven't. Even as millions of whites would stand to benefit from health care reform--and all whites, as with people of color would enjoy greater choices with the very public option that has drawn the most fire--the imagery of the recipients has remained black and brown, as with all social programs; and the imagery of the persons who would be taxed for the effort has remained hard-working white folks.
1. Ask these people "Hmmm, I'm a little lax on my governmental terms. What's 'Communism'?" and see if you get a correct definition. Chances are, you won't.
2. Ask these people "Wow, that sign sure is funny. What's a 'Socialist'?" and see if you get a correct definition. Chances are, you won't.
3. Ask these people specifically what "freedom" Barack Obama has eradicated since he took office and see if you get an answer that isn't completely hypothetic or lunatic fringe.
4. Ask these people if they took public transportation to get there.
5. Ask these people what logical and intellectual chasm they leaped across when deciding that a hyper-corporatist nation like the U.S.A. (which historically has never given progressives one goddamned INCH on anything EVER) would ever turn into a nation that practices Social Democracy, much less turn into a "Communist" one, under a Democratic leader.
from here, elsewhere and history it has been the case that many "liberals" were just as quick to get on the red-baiting bandwagon. And of course this all has dire consequences. For example remember The Palmer Raids? You probably know this history but many do not. Attorney General Mitchell Palmer was a leading liberal Democrat and a Quaker.
6. Ugh . . .the more I read about Woodrow Wilson . . .
Nothing surprises me coming from that piece of bad news. Wilson was a racist and a xenophobe and wholeheartedly endorsed this trampling on civil rights, all because they (along with several corporate interests) were scared that 1917 Russia would happen here. He was also an apologist for segregation, slavery and the KKK. What's even stranger is that he half-supported Zionism.
Too many centrists use the words "leftists", "Marxist" and "loony left" too much for my taste. DU also has a great deal of economic Reaganites that we supposedly have to tolerate in this . . . "Big tent".
3. K & R. There are clips of people at the 9-12 rally
expressing opinions that fit very well into this author's explanation. It is the fear that they (white people) are going to have to pay for health care for people who in their eyes don't deserve it (black people & illegal immigrants). Reagan's mythical welfare queen lives on in the minds of these people.
What was ironic was that many of the people protesting a) probably pay little to no taxes because they are on Social Security and b) are recipients of government-provided health care.
11. I'm starting to think "racism" is just a way to avoid "class warfare"
Think about it -- racism has been out in the open for 60 years. We as a society have been incessantly discussing it, examining our own attitudes towards it, factoring it into our national dialog.
It's still there -- but except for the diehard white supremacists, it's kind of faded into a general low-level xenophobia. Many Americans fear outsiders in general, of whatever skin tone, because they believe they will steal their jobs, change their culture, and outbreed them and take control of their political system. These fears can have a toxic effect, but they're very far from racism in any sense that Hitler would have understood it.
In contrast, class warfare is the great unmentionable. It was banished from the national vocabulary somewhere in the course of World War II, which was presented as a universal war for democracy to which all parts of society contributed equally and from which all would benefit. And for a little while, as long as the unions were strong and the national economy expanding, that could even seem to be true. Certainly the New Left in the 1960's had to focus on civil rights and the Vietnam War for lack of any traditional class antagonisms.
But in the 1970's and 80's, class warfare came back with a vengeance -- only we can no longer talk about it the way we could in the 20's and 30's. Even to raise the question puts you way outside the mainstream dialog and renders you a non-serious person.
So I would turn the point of the OP on its head and say the real issue is not that the leadership of the tea party contingent is using "socialism" as code for taxing white people on behalf of black people -- but rather than residual racism is being used to stir up hostility against taxing rich people on behalf of poor and working class people. And also that persistent low-level xenophobia is being used to make it impossible to learn from the example of socialist systems in third world countries that are actually coming up with effective solutions.
We can talk about racism from now till sundown and never touch what really ails us. But when we start actually discussing class warfare -- and how trying to run an economic system without redistribution is like trying to drive a car without an oil pump -- the shit is really going to hit the fan.
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