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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Socialists and Muslims

The constant campaign of innuendo suggesting that Barack Obama is some sort of Muslim is well known, and only credible to, well, the extremely credulous. But the other smear-word being aimed at Obama is right out in the open, launched by all sorts of respectable conservatives, and is just as crazy from any objective point of view as the suggestion that the Democratic nominee secretly prays five times a day while facing Mecca: Obama is a socialist!
Google “Obama socialist” and you get 3.6 million links. Blogsearch the same term for a much smaller universe and you get 13,000 links in the last week, and more than two thousand in the last day. Both John McCain and Sarah Palin have used the word “socialism” to describe Obama’s fiscal policies, albeit through fond references to the assessments of their buddy Joe (sic!) the Plumber (sic!).
I’ve been around a while, and can’t recall any other Democratic presidential nominee being tarred with the S-word very often, outside the truly far-right fever swamps. “Liberal,” sure. “Ultra-liberal,” sure. Even “leftist,” sure. But unlike those L-words, “socialism” connotes a pretty specific set of views, mainly involving public ownership of the means of production.
What has Obama said to merit this sudden and massive effusion of red-baiting? His fiscal proposals, the main occasion for all the S-word slinging, basically amount to returning top tax rates to where they were during the Clinton administration. Nobody much called the Big Dog a “socialist,” as opposed to all the others terms of abuse he endured. And the top tax rates proposed by Obama would be a lot lower than they were during the administrations of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford. Yes, the John Birch Society called Ike a communist, but that wasn’t a very common view (conservative intellectual Russell Kirk said: “Ike’s not a communist. He’s a golfer.”).
How’s about Obama’s “socialized medicine” health care proposal? Does that earn him the S-word? C’mon. Surely any socialist worth his salt would propose, as an absolute minimum, a government-run single-payer health care system like that operating in Canada and (in one form or another) Europe. Not Barack Obama, who insists on maintaining private health insurance and consumer choice as the backbone of his plan for universal health coverage.
Since Obama hasn’t proposed nationalizing any major (or minor) industries, and is relying on a resolutely centrist economic policy team, the “socialist” label is, well, simply bizarre, unless the word has no real meaning.
But if there’s anything more incredible than calling Obama a “Muslim” or a “socialist,” it’s calling him a “Muslim socialist,” as a local Republican leader in New Mexico did this week. (It’s not an unusual charge; it was recently hurled directly at Obama by voters in North Carolina, who probably didn’t come up with it by themselves).
It doesn’t take an advanced degree in religion or Middle Eastern Affairs to become at least dimly aware that Islam and socialism are not terribly compatible. And this is particularly true of Jihadist strains of Islam. Al-Qaeda, you may recall, was basically born in the struggle of jihadist against “atheistic communists” in Afghanistan. The Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas, were all developed in violent opposition to secular-leaning socialists in the Muslim world, particularly in Egypt and Palestine. There are rich traditions of Christian socialism and of Jewish socialism, to be sure. But not so much Islamic socialism.
So make up your minds, Obama-haters. There’s not any real evidence to support any of your smears, but if you must use them, pick one and stick with it.

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