- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2008


In these last desperate days of the 2008 presidential campaign, we must suffer visions of “divas,” plumbers, skinheads and Karl Marx dancing before our disbelieving eyes.

Karl Marx? Has it come to that arcane scare tactic?

We’ve been promised that this election would be different: It would be about character, experience, qualifications and maybe even issues, such as our tanking economy.

But in this final week, the telebabble is going to be about stupid stuff, speculative stuff and scary stuff.

How about those reputed neo-Nazi skinheads - Daniel Cowart, 20 of Bells, Tenn., and Paul Schlesseman, 18, of West Helena, Ark., - who federal authorities accused of plotting to assassinate Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama as part of a killing spree to kill 88 blacks and behead 14 others?

No wonder those Secret Service agents around Mr. Obama, the target of another assassination plot, always look so sweaty. To his credit, Mr. Obama dismissed the nascent plan by saying, “This is not American, this is not our future.”

We can only pray he’s right.

And how about that $150,000 wardrobe the Republican National Committee bought for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the running mate of presidential nominee Sen. John McCain. Sexist? No. Think Democrat John Edwards’ $400 haircut.

But do you care more about Mrs. Palin’s Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue duds, or about her troubling ethics in her home state? Even more important, what about her readiness, or lack thereof, to be commander in chief if she were pressed into service?

Sure, the fancy ensembles cut into her image as “Sarah Barracuda,” but I never bought her shout out “I’m a redneck woman” in the first place.

Is Mrs. Palin a “diva,” as one cowardly anonymous McCain campaign worker told several media outlets? Not judging by her appearance standing next to potential first lady Cindy McCain, who is often dripping in multiple-carat diamonds and three-strand pearl necklaces.

It’s more ridiculous to speculate on whether Mrs. Palin, with such high polling negatives, is trying to stab Mr. McCain in the back to position herself for 2012. She’s probably spending all her energy trying to get to Nov. 4 without making another gaffe to be parodied on “Saturday Night Live.”

Get serious. This silliness comes the same week as the curiously timed U.S. attack on Syria.

Still, the most distracting and divisive stuff comes from those raising the specter of Karl Marx, socialists and the “redistribution of wealth,” primarily based on a seven-year-old public radio interview Mr. Obama gave while discussing the Supreme Court’s role in the civil rights movement.

If - and it’s still a big if - Mr. Obama were elected president, he’d hardly be a Marxist. Nothing about “the Cool One” portends such extremes.

“People who are real socialists are giggling in their beer at this whole spectacle,” said Richard Wolff, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and co-author of “New Departures in Marxian Theory.”

Mr. Obama “has endorsed precisely none of these major definitions of socialism: not Marx’s focus on the social organization of the surpluses in production, not the Soviet or Chinese models of state ownership of most industries, and not the European notion/model of significant state intervention,” the professor explained.

Mr. Wolff said there are so many definitions of socialism, which has evolved over the past 150 years and “spread to every country across the planet,” that it is the responsibility of those using the term “to define and justify which of the alternative definitions that user has chosen to deploy.”

Calling someone a socialist is tantamount to calling someone a Christian without making the distinction of denominations, said Mr. Wolff, an independent who said he is not a booster for Mr. Obama.

In the simplest terms, capitalism is an economic system in which enterprises are owned privately and operated through markets, he said. Socialism is a system in which government takes over, and resources and products are distributed through government planning.

The irony about all the talk of socialism and redistribution of wealth, Mr. Wolff noted, is the “dramatic” example of those terms provided by the recent bailout of Wall Street and the government takeover of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and American International Group.

We already have a system that redistributes wealth, Mr. Wolff said. It’s the progressive tax code. Taxes pay for resources we all share, such as roads, schools and police. But the main beneficiaries of our income-tax code in the past 20 years are the wealthy.

“It’s fair to call all taxation the redistribution of wealth,” Mr. Wolff said. “It may be long overdue to tilt the income distribution back and give more to the middle class.”

When the wealthy got tax breaks in the Bush administration, who do you think paid for them? President Reagan instituted the Earned Income Tax Credit for those below the poverty level. Hardly socialists.

Joe the Plumber? Factcheck.org. writes “Republicans are misrepresenting Obama’s tax proposals right down to the bitter end.” In fact, using an analysis by independent groups like Joe the Plumber - whose first name is Sam, who doesn’t have a plumber’s license and who earns about $42,000 a year - “would almost certainly be entitled to a tax cut if Obama’s plan were implemented - and a larger one that he’d get under McCain’s.”

Yes, if this country weren’t already broke.

Surprisingly, FactCheck.org goes further. “Actually, McCain has supported taxing high earners more than low earners. No so long ago, McCain said, ‘Wealthy people can afford [to pay] more.’

“Obama’s plan would ‘spread the wealth’ more than McCain’s, but it’s not as though McCain wants to do away with the progressive tax system we currently have.”

Mr. Wolff said that taxes are “the club that [each party] use to beat each other over the head with” and that throwing words around like socialist and Marxist “I guess it has a scare function.”

True, especially during this final week of the campaigning, when anything flies before our disbelieving eyes.

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