Commies, Weirdos, Pinkos and All That Jazz

cartoonIf you are old enough to remember crooked Vice President Spiro Agnew and ousted President Richard (“I am not a crook”) Nixon, you probably remember how anyone who disagreed with their policies were called things like “commie,” “weirdo” and “pinko.”

Agnew suggested that “radical-liberals” should be “hauled out with the trash.” It’s the way knuckleheads try to win debates – by name calling (and by responding to dissent with irrelevant remarks like, “Get a haircut!”).

You might think that America has made some intellectual progress in the past three or four decades, but that does not seem to be the case. Once again, political debate in the U.S. has degenerated into an exchange of epithets. I am not referring only to the yahoos on TV and talk radio. I expect no better from them. I am referring to elected politicians who are entrusted with managing a society of more than 300 million people and an economy of more than 14 trillion dollars.

Republican Congressman Spencer Bachus of Alabama warned recently that he knows of 17 “socialists” in the House of Representatives. Socialists! To uneducated voters, that’s as bad as “commie, weirdo, pinko,” etc. I wonder how many capitalists have infiltrated the House. Someone should make a list of those rascals.

It might surprise Bachus to learn that in a recent Rasmussen poll Americans didn’t seem all that enthusiastic about capitalism. Only 53 percent of respondents think capitalism is better than socialism, while 20 percent prefer socialism and 27 percent aren’t sure.

Of course, the truth is that most Americans couldn’t tell a capitalist from a socialist without help. I know I would have trouble separating the two breeds. It seems to me that most politicians – most people – are mixed-breed when it comes to political philosophy.

For decades, America has implemented capitalist and socialist policies, paying homage to both the “free market” and government intervention in accordance with the changing winds of politics and the pragmatic needs of the moment. And on the welfare front, too, political signals are decidedly mixed. On one hand, there are food stamps, Social Security, Medicare (and Medicaid), unemployment insurance and other programs designed to protect vulnerable members of society. On the other hand, there are defense contracts, highway and dam projects, agriculture subsidies, tax concessions and other budget items that help Big Business. (I haven’t included the obscene bank bailouts as these don’t qualify as either socialist or capitalist. I would file them under the heading of “Just Plain Dumb.”)

Here’s an example of how the American system really works. Congress recently passed a $284 billion highway bill, which contained 4,128 political “earmarks” at a total cost of $12.4 billion. Naturally, it included many concessions to the lawmakers’ corporate pals – such as a $37 million allocation for widening and extending the main road leading to Wal-Mart’s headquarters.

I am sure the members of Congress would justify their corporate hand-outs as a way of greasing the wheels of production, thus creating prosperity and jobs. On the flip side, programs that put money in the pockets of the poor rev up consumer spending, which (you guessed it!) grease the wheels of production, etc.

Today’s world is much too complex to be divided into “isms.” And people who resort to labeling opponents as this “ism” or that “ism” just don’t get it.