These are hard times to be a socialist in America. And not just because there’s a bourgeois-bloated Starbucks on every other corner, thumbing its capitalist nose at the proletariat.

No, it’s tough these days because you’ve got politicians on the right, the same guys who just helped nationalize the banking system, derisively and inaccurately calling the presidential candidate on the left a socialist. That’s enough to make Karl Marx harumph in his grave.

Local communists, rarely tapped as campaign pundits, say Sen. Barack Obama and his policies stand far afield from any form of socialism they know.

John Bachtell, the Illinois organizer for Communist Party USA, sees attempts by Sen. John McCain’s campaign to label Obama a socialist as both offensive to socialists and a desperate ploy to tap into fears of voters who haven’t forgotten their Cold War rhetoric.

“Red baiting is really the last refuge of scoundrels,” Bachtell said. “It has nothing to do with the issues that are confronting the American people right now. It’s just a big diversion.”

Sociology professor at Northwestern U: “Obama is like a center-liberal Democrat, and he is certainly not looking to overthrow capitalism.

Of course that’s just one man’s opinion. (And everyone knows you can’t trust a communist.)

The “s-word” bubbled up from the McCain campaign after Obama said, in his chat with Joe the Plumber, that he thinks “when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

Well, that certainly sounds like the words of a Red Menace. But is it socialist?

There are about as many definitions for socialism as comedian Jeff Foxworthy has for the term “redneck.”

So, how do you know if you’re a socailist?

Generally, it involves espousing government control over a country’s basic industries, like transportation, communication and energy, while also allowing some government regulation of private industries.

“Obama is about as far from being a socialist as Joe The Plumber is from being a rocket scientist,” said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “I think it’s hard for McCain to call Obama a socialist when George Bush is nationalizing banks.”

And this from Bruce Carruthers, a sociology professor at Northwestern University: “Obama is like a center-liberal Democrat, and he is certainly not looking to overthrow capitalism. My goodness, he wouldn’t have the support of someone like The Wizard of Omaha, Warren Buffet, if he truly was going to overthrow capitalism.”

Bottom line: pure capitalism and socialism can be a difficult mix.

Which hits at the heart of the problem. Right now, with the economy in the tank, the idea of a little wealth sharing doesn’t sound so bad to people whose 401k plans are worth less than the contents of their coin jars.

“Obama is about as far from being a socialist as Joe The Plumber is from being a rocket scientist,” said Darrell West at the Brookings Institution. “I think it’s hard for McCain to call Obama a socialist when George Bush is nationalizing banks.”

“The idea of closing that wealth gap, I think, is a concern for many, many Americans,” said Teresa Albano, editor of the Chicago-based People’s Weekly World, a communist newspaper. “I don’t think people are going to respond negatively to the idea of spreading around the wealth.”

Which is not to say that, by electing Obama, the country will gamely head down the path of socialism.

“The whole point of his policies don’t really represent the political economy of the working class,” said Robert Roman, who edits the newsletter of the roughly 250-member Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. “Obama’s going to be a person who represents all of us, he’s going to be representing the interest of the capitalists as well as the working people. He’s not really talking about transforming society beyond capitalism.”

But don’t worry, Sen. Obama. You’re still likely to win the vote of avowed socialists.

“Having Obama as president would be greatly superior, from our point of view, than having McCain as president,” Roman said.

And you can expect to see that quote in a McCain ad in 5, 4, 3, 2….

Source: Chicago Tribune

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