S-Word is Suddenly Hot Subject
In late October, the Seattle Times, the largest daily newspaper in Seattle, interviewed Philip Locker, the editor of Justice newspaper, about the real meaning of socialism, given the Republican claims that Barack Obama is a socialist.
Seattle Times Interviews Editor of Justice Newspaper
Barack Obama has been caricatured many ways this election season. Vapid celebrity. Wonky elitist. Terrorist pal. Green naif.
The effect was not so much fright as confusion. How could he be all of that?
So in the campaign’s final week, those boogeymen have been tossed. In favor of just one: radical socialist.
The "Redistributionist-in-Chief," as Republican John McCain dubbed him Monday.
Which irks Philip Locker most of all.
That’s because Locker actually is a radical socialist. He is the editor of a socialist newspaper, Justice, from an office in Seattle’s U District. In it he and others in the group Socialist Alternative push anti-capitalist causes such as free health care, guaranteed income and the public takeover of the largest 500 U.S. corporations.
Locker, 30, has been a socialist for 15 years. He knows lots of socialists. Barack Obama, he says, is no socialist.
"It’s completely absurd," he said. "Here you have the candidate who has gotten more money from corporate America than any in U.S. history. It shows how false our politics is that someone this pro-corporate can get labeled a socialist."
If Obama offers change, Locker says, it is incremental. His plans mirror those of that noted Trotskyite, Bill Clinton. Slightly higher tax rates for the rich, but no real shift in the balance between public and private.
"What Obama’s proposing is extremely timid," he said. "No socialists are supporting him."
Ironically, McCain’s idea to buy up troubled home mortgages with taxpayer money and then rewrite them at lower rates is more socialistic in spirit than anything from Obama.
But socialists aren’t backing McCain either, Locker said.
"I’m voting for Ralph Nader," he said.
These are fascinating times to be a socialist. The theory of socialism suddenly is round-the-clock fodder on cable news — mostly as an insult. Still, Locker says he’s never seen so much genuine interest in it.
"More people are asking us basic questions," he said. "They want to know: ’What is socialism?’ ’What does it do?’ "
He laughs: "George Bush and Henry Paulson have done more to repopularize socialism than anyone."
Interestingly, most socialists oppose the financial bailout, Locker said. They see it as welfare for big business, in which corporate losses get socialized with no intent by the government to use the companies for broader public good.
"The government now owns the largest insurance company in the world," Locker said. "Why not use it to provide national health insurance?"
We the people also now own the two largest mortgage companies. Is there something we could do with them that would actually help people?
I’m more of a free-marketeer myself, but these are intriguing, even necessary questions. Yet in our politics, it’s taboo talk. Inevitably, someone would scream: "Socialist!"
Maybe after the election. The meltdown cinches it’ll stay a hot topic. Besides, Locker says, the S-word isn’t the badge of infamy it used to be.
"I heard they’re wearing buttons on Wall Street that say: ’We Are All Socialists Now.’ "
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
By Danny Westneat, Seattle Times staff columnist, October 29, 2008