“I’ll bet you anything,” Sandra said, “that if you asked those protesters what ‘Socialism’ means they would be stuck for an answer.” I wasn’t about to take that bet. I figure those crazies represent the section of the American population with IQ’s in the 80s and low 90s – or lower. To them words have only the foggiest of definitions. Especially words that end in “ism.”
But this morning, as I read an article by Michael Lind in the Salon.com newsletter, the light bulb clicked. Here’s the part that got me thinking:
The American social insurance system is minimal compared not only to the countries of Scandinavia and continental Europe but also to other English-speaking nations like Britain and Canada, both of which have universal healthcare programs. In 2008, the U.S. spent only 19 percent of GDP on social programs, compared to nearly 30 percent in both Sweden and France.
From the beginning, attempts to create a universal welfare state in the U.S. have been thwarted by the fears of voters that they will be taxed to subsidize other Americans who are unlike them in race or ethnicity or culture. The original Social Security Act passed only after domestic workers and farm workers – the majority of black Americans, in the 1930s – were left out of its coverage, at the insistence of white Southern politicians. Aid to Families With Dependent Children, a New Deal antipoverty program that became identified in the public mind with nonwhite “welfare queens,” was a target of popular resentment for half a century before it was finally abolished by the Republican Congress and President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
Racial resentments undoubtedly explain the use of “redistribution” and “socialism” as code words by John McCain, Sarah Palin and Republican working-class mascot “Joe the Plumber” during the 2008 presidential campaign. Similar themes have surfaced during the healthcare debate. Among the many popular fears that conservative opponents of healthcare reform play upon is the anxiety that elderly working Americans will have their Medicare benefits cut, or might even be encouraged to volunteer for euthanasia, to subsidize healthcare for the country’s 12 million or so permanently resident illegal immigrants: “Kill Grandma to pay for Pedro.”
Of course! That’s what these goons mean by “Socialism.” They are afraid that a black President and “liberals” in Congress will take some of their money and give it to blacks and Hispanics. In their primitive minds, they see whites as hard working, self-reliant and responsible. And they see non-whites as lazy, self-indulgent and parasitical. Like the Little Red Hen in the children’s tale, they are not about to share the harvest they worked so hard to produce.
The truth is that whites are the ones who benefit most from whatever “Socialism” exists in America. I’m sure you’ve heard of “corporate welfare,” which distributes dollops of tax money to Big Business.
And remember that story a few months ago about farm subsidies going to multimillionaires? That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Lind explains what’s really happening:
Since the 1964 Civil Rights Act destroyed formal white supremacy in the U.S., every attempt to expand traditional social insurance in America has failed. Meanwhile, there has been a massive expansion in government-sponsored welfare going disproportionately to the white and affluent. What the political scientist Christopher Howard calls the hidden welfare state includes the tax-favored employer-provided health insurance that most working-age Americans depend on, as well as the home mortgage interest deduction and the childcare and child tax credits. Affluent and educated workers are more likely to work for employers who provide private health benefits than are low-skilled workers and employees of small businesses. Personal tax benefits like the home mortgage interest deduction are available only to the top half of households who pay federal income taxes, and are unavailable to lower-income workers who pay payroll taxes but no income taxes. In many cases, the benefits of this tax-credit welfare state increase with income.
There is even a nonrefundable “childcare tax credit” available only to the relatively affluent families who pay income taxes in addition to payroll taxes. There’s no publicly provided or subsidized daycare to help out the nanny who takes care of the rich brat, but the taxpayers subsidize the rich brat’s parents when they employ the nanny.
That’s what the Bush “tax breaks” were all about. It is no accident that the gap between rich and poor has increased rapidly in America. If you look more closely, you will see that “the poor” are disproportionately non-white. You will also see that the way Social Security is set up – based on earnings – affluent whites get the lion’s share of benefits. With the (white) Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, the number of (white) Americans receiving Social Security and benefiting from Medicare will soar. And that means even more white Americans reaping the rewards of Socialism.
Of course that’s not the “Socialism” health care protesters have in mind.