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Why Is Socialism Scary Again?

Last week, one of my guests on San Diego Week, the TV program I host, took aim at the media’s “conservative white talk show hosts,” Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Her complaint was that their inflammatory rhetoric contributed to the recent escalation in hate crimes in the U.S. After the show, I was approached – or perhaps reproached is a better word here - by a long-time associate who complained that the critical remarks about Limbaugh and Beck were unfair since both men were doing the nation a service. They were warning us about the danger of socialism taking over the federal government.

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Above: Ethnic groups are targeted by white supremacy groups in East County. The editors discuss possible reasons for the about 30 percent increase in hate crimes.

Since my colleague is a responsible and capable person, I decided to check out those warnings. And, sure enough, there’s plenty of evidence that the two super-stars are busily frightening their audiences about the change that President Obama is trying to bring to America. Not since the Cold War has the fear of socialism spread so rapidly and penetrated so deeply among otherwise rational folks.

The problem is that this devil word is not clearly understood. For some, socialism equates to public ownership of and equal access to resources. More extremely, it is interpreted as President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress wanting to abolish private property and take over the economy of the United States. For others, it means state control of capital and the complete nationalization of production and distribution. For those who confuse socialism (the economic theory) with Soviet communism which combines totalitarianism, drastic curtailment of human rights and the existence of only one political party, it is a fearsome prospect which must be smothered along with its leaders.

Unfortunately, fear comes with blinders. We already have public ownership and most of us like it a lot. We have public schools and universities, public highways, Medicare/Medicaid, the V.A., the good old U.S. Postal Service, and Social Security. Twenty-six years ago, when Ronald Reagan worked for a huge FICA tax hike to save Social Security, chances are he wasn’t called a socialist. When George W. Bush poured record amounts of money into government spending, there was no whisper that he was a socialist.

So what’s different this time? Could it be that we are so tantalizingly close to real change in one giant system that touches everyone – health care – that it threatens the corporate status quo? This includes those who are so suspicious of government-tainted anything that they’ve lost their logical thinking and are susceptible to scare tactics and the desperation maneuvers of the weakened party-out-of-power?

Could it be that even those older citizens who already are dependent on government-provided health care have been so successfully targeted with threats of death panels, medical decisions from demon bureaucrats, and medical rationing based on political party registration that they have judged change as something bad. Perhaps it is socialism knocking at the door and thus it must be bad, although it sure looks like Medicare. These are passionate times when emotion rules. This is when cautious, clear thinking is king and homework is the most effective weapon.

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