The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Is Obama a socialist?
Tom Smith

Peter Ferrara seems to think so.  Personally, I doubt it. I don't see anything as coherent as a socialist ideology coming out of the White House. "Socialism" covers a lot of ground, but it implies a lot that I don't think it's fair to attribute to Prez O. Indeed, in some ways I think we would be better off if he were a principled, democratic socialist.

What he actually is could be significantly worse than that. I think he is more susceptible to an quasi- or semi-Marxist explanation than he is a believer in them. What I mean here is that, however skeptical I might be of social classes being the ultimate explanatory variables in some super- Marxist sociology, taking Obama as representing and leading something you might call the "political class" seems pretty darn explanatory. It seems to me that just about everything he does can be explained as efforts to increase the power and wealth of that political class.  The redistribution of wealth is just one means to that end.  The political class is doing very well out of this presidency. DC and environs has gained enormously in wealth in the last four years and is still going strong, much more so than the rest of the country -- no recession there!  Gobs of the stimulus money just went to state employees and politically favored clients.  The big bank - big government nexus is so evident and scandalous it's hard to talk about without sounding like a commie from your grandfather's generation. I feel like I should be wearing one of those caps out of Dr. Zhivago. The phrase used for this now is "crony capitalism" but that term is not nearly sinister- sounding enough for what it is -- we need a better name. "Cronies" sounds like drinking buddies, not economy and nation- wreckers, as in fact they are. But while socialism usually turns into this thing called crony capitalism quickly enough, it's not really socialism, though it has many of the worst traits of socialism and very few of its virtues.

Sadly, at the biggest picture level it looks to me like we are a sort of corrupt, democratic mixed monarchy locked into a spending path that will inelectably lead it to bankruptcy, a kind of profligate mutual looting party a la Bastiat. (This view is a work in progress, please note.) Granted, socialism has a tendency to become corrupt, but perhaps we have found a somewhat different way to get on to the same road to serfdom, as it were. But my point is a minor one -- the epithet "socialism" just isn't that explanatory in the case of our predictament. It seems to me our abuses get rationalized by all sorts of cant pieties, not all of them socialist.  Saving the earth, honoring the aged, keeping promises made, helping children, redistributing for fairness (yes, that's often socialist) and a score of other reasons are cited for sucking more out of the economy, running it through government, and spurting it out to members and clients of the political class. 

I'm partial to this book, which offers some hope . . .

| Permalink



It's not that I disagree with you that the clique that Obama comes from is in the immortal words from the wire "come to do good, stay to do well" , its that I disagree that this is anything different from what has always gone on. Capitalism, as actually practiced by capitalists, is not terribly libertarian.

Re: mixed monarchy,

I'm on record as saying we should give the Westminster system a shot. The profound regionalism of 200 years ago is over, and part of the reason the new south is happening is its integration into the rest of America.

Posted by: Molly | Dec 23, 2012 8:07:32 PM

He seems to be in practice a crony-capitalist/rent seeking facilitator whose party has a large socialist base, so his cronies fall into that camp to some extent.
He also seems to view everything through somewhat Marxist class struggle glasses, even though he isn't a Marxist, per se (sort of like people raised in fundamentalist religious homes who always view tings through that lens even if they no longer follow fundamentalism)

Posted by: titan | Dec 24, 2012 9:50:17 AM

You might even call it a Special Interest State -- as in

"Ending 'Big SIS' (The Special Interest State) and Renewing the American Republic"

I too like Zingales book.

Posted by: JVDeLong | Dec 24, 2012 9:57:18 AM

Is it not just Fascism?

Posted by: spin | Dec 24, 2012 10:41:27 AM

I always enjoy reading Mr. Smith's views and I think he has it right. The big parasitic bug in our bed is corruption. Vote buying on a scale larger than anything in my lifetime and threatening to become a way of life, politically and otherwise, for our whole country. The President gets votes from some desperate people (along with many others) and they are all willing to give up a lot for short term relief. The problem some of us see is that the short term relief is going to kill the long term recovery.

Posted by: Kieth | Dec 25, 2012 11:32:12 AM

The country voted on racial lines. Look at the stats. The biggest beneficiaries of the welfare state are the old, who tend to be whiter and republicaner. I just don't think whatever rotten is going on in the administration was instrumental in the general election. It's just that whatever corruption there is was not offensive enough get voters to vote for Romney.

Obama's inner circle, because that is how Washington DC is, trades favors with business interests. I just don't think class warfare got Obama elected, and I think Titan's opinion of the administration is closer to the mark. As for the political class, I'm sure the war on terror was very good to Fairfax county.

Posted by: molly | Dec 25, 2012 8:28:50 PM

molly, you make a good point about the old and the white but it's not complete. Statistics I have seen show old white men voting Republican but old women not so much. I could surely accept the argument that as long as money is being borrowed (and printed) with no apparent penalty (we have low interest rates, low inflation) the casual voter is going to wonder what the Republicans are so worried about. I think they will find out in the next few years but, in the meantime, the borrowing binge is certainly making it easier for the uninformed to vote Democratic. Nothing new about that but the eventual penalty could be drastic.

Posted by: Kieth | Jan 1, 2013 5:40:40 PM