The New York Times asks a very important question today in the “Room For Debate” blog.
It seems that whatever President Obama talks about — whether it’s overhauling health care, or regulating Wall Street, or telling schoolchildren to study hard — his opponents have called him a socialist. “Socialism” was an epithet on many placards at protests in Washington over the weekend. What does the word mean today, nearly 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall? What role has the label played in American political history?
Unfortunately, the NYT does not seem to have room for socialists in this debate. Had they consulted a Marxian perspective, such as this lecture by Richard Wolff on the economic crisis, there would have been an unequivocable “NO!, Obama is not a socialist.” As one of my professors once put it, “I know socialists. I hang out with them, socialists are my friends. Obama is no socialist.”
These perspectives view socialism as democracy in the economic sphere. State run programs and privately run programs can both be capitalist; it is just a matter of being state-capitalism or private-capitalism. Bailouts, stimilus packages, and government run health insurance programs are still capitalist if they do not operate based on democratic principles. Which leads to a launching point for an interesting discussion: what would a socialist say about the economics crisis, the healthcare debate, and other pressing issues in 2009? Maybe some answers will be discussed here in November.