On Monday we discussed what I will refer to as “classical liberalism” and yesterday we explored “classical socialism.” One theory promotes the individual and advocates a free market economy. The other argues that society as a whole is more important and that the means of production should be controlled by a central government.
It is clear from these two definitions that one cannot be both a liberal AND a socialist at the same time. I think it is also clear that neither McCain nor Obama are classic anything. However, there is a lot of grey area between the two.
Social liberals for example realize that some government regulation of the market is necessary. If not, then inequality rises to the point that revolution is possible and the free market is in danger.
Social democrats go one step further and argue that the state has a responsibility in ensuring the equality of its citizens. It does this via health care programs and welfare. However, the government must also be democratically elected and protect individual freedoms. Social democrats reject the “classical socialist” tenant of a planned economy.
How about a diagram? Let’s turn to one of my favorite things from grad school: The Ideological Spectrum. Based on what I read on both websites, I would place the candidates like this on the spectrum. I could not get the formatting correct, but imagine to the left side LIB and on the opposite end SOCI. The first tick is McCain. The second tick is Obama. Notice how close both are to LIB and how far from SOCI
Let us sum up our results of the last days inquiry.
First, liberalism and socialism are not the same thing. Second, Obama is not a socialist. Third, being a liberal is not necessarily a bad thing.
I have to agree with the comment left by Liz. Labeling is very important in politics. Labels, much like brands in the free market economy, provide a certain information short cut. If I can put someone in a box, then they are like this and this and this. Unfortunately, political policies are very difficult to fix in one box, and that is my problem.
By using inaccurate labels, campaigns are systematically dumbing down the electorate. No longer is a voter expected to go out and explore. No, her politics are handed out in easy to understand sound bites. The moment anyone tries to question the label, they are labeled “elitist.” We have stopped expecting the very best from our representatives and are happy to take the fancy label, even if it is a fake.
Some might argue that my last three blog posts are elitist. However, I think that I loose some of my intellectual street cred when I admit that “The Apprentice” used to be one of my favorite TV shows. On the other hand, I have also read Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Marx. I told the German that I believe I am a social democrat. He laughed. Hard. “Honey, you are way too far to the right (i.e. liberal) to be in the SPD.” Seems I don’t have enough socialist street cred to be a socialist either. So, feel free to judge me any way you like, just be sure to use the right label. I prefer Prada-esque.