Calling a Spade an Earth-Destroying Instrument of Destruction

This started out as a reply to Chris’s “We’re All Socialists Now” post, and just kept going, so I decided to make a whole post out of it instead of clogging the comments.

There is a huge intellectual dishonesty in all of politics, in which it is never so important to simply call a spade a spade, but to distort it for political benefit. A spade to one party is the earth-tearing, vegetation-mutilating instrument of doom, while to the other party it is the vehicle of agricultural and personal independence.

The party of pro-earth rights deplores the violence of the instrument of doom, and castigates anyone caught with the instrument of doom as ground-raping, plant-hating bigot. The party of tillage and freedom, aghast at the monstrous stupidity of the anti-agricultural freaks, denounces anyone who dares question the instrument of independence as unpatriotic and uncaring about the poor and destitute who would benefit from the efforts of those willing to apply the vehicle of agriculture to the ground and reap–perhaps not as nature intended, but certainly in the triumph of human endeavor–a bountiful harvest.

Perhaps Obama isn’t a socialist, but then, socialism is a term which has become the catch-all for any entitlement program or redistribution of wealth. Socialism is now a term like fascism, or communism–a dirty word applied to anyone who doesn’t agree with the free market. But then, it is easier to catch attention and wrap up a whole slew of misgivings with the word, which is why people will use it. Which is why the McCain campaign used it.

McCain’s campaign has the been the campaign “in search of a clear message”. Perhaps more accurately, it is the campaign “in search of a soundbite”. Through all the debates, the commentators have spoken about the lack of “knockdown arguments”, those witty or biting statements that could be repeated ad nauseum on commercials, in talk shows, and written on bumper stickers so that 4 years later, everyone behind you in traffic can still recall–with fondness or bitterness–why the public was duped into electing this particular yokel into office. I can think of a few good ones already: “Obama–Got Socialism?” or “Obama–Your Hard-Earned Cash in the Hands of Slackers” or “Obama–Because You Didn’t Really Need That Money Anyway” or “Obama–Helping the Rich Become Poor Since 1992”. The real concern is that the message, which can be spelled out in infomercials or debates, seemingly cannot be transmitted in long form. The candid campaign manager realizes that the 90 minute debate outlasts the attention-span of the average American by a good 89 minutes 48 seconds, and the only way to attract the undecided voters is to fling slogans like scatter-shot pellets.

The difficulty, of course, is trying to compress into eight words or so an entire essay. To the politician struggling to make clear why his policies are so much better than his opponents, this has to be frustrating beyond belief. It has to be similar to the frustration of the photographer who takes a beautiful, finely detailed, ten megapixel shot, and then has to compress it down to 320 x 240 thumbnail. All the details are lost, and trying to expand the thumbnail back into the full-size photograph leaves it grainy and ugly.

Obama’s campaign has it easy. With the unpopularity of the current president, all Obama has to do is repeat endlessly “Just like Bush! Just like Bush! Awk! Just like Bush!” He can get away with this because he already beat McCain to the punchline. From day one, Obama has been the candidate of change, and when McCain tried to say, “Hey, I’m about change, too. I’m a maverick reformer!” Obama had the advantage of saying, “I was here first. Find your own message.”

I would really like to sit down and explain exactly what Obama’s policies are, where they touch on socialism, where they differ, and how his economic plans compare with McCain’s. But then, I’m at 638 words already, and anyone with the tenacity to be reading this far into my post probably knows the differences better than I do. If I’m lucky, the average reader made it through my bumper stickers before quickly scanning down the post for any other blatant witticisms, and, not finding any, left a comment about how he/she liked/hated my slogans and how clever/bigoted I was for writing them.

Of course, that is an entirely unfair statement about the thoughtful, dedicated readers who are thirsting for intelligent discourse. But let’s be honest. How many people really have the time to sit down and slog through pages upon pages of detailed critiques? If I do all the reading of news sites, personal blogs, and online magazines that I want, I easily kill three hours. As a graduate student, I have the luxury (to find out more about the life of a graduate student, please see of taking three hours in the morning before trying to focus my attention on research, making progress in 12-second bursts of insight scattered through the day.

But, for those precious few who have waded the muck of seven hastily crafted paragraphs already, here’s my insight into the matter. Obama wishes to aid the poor and lower middle class. Anyone who denies this needs to set aside his tin hat for a moment. In all that I have seen and read of Obama’s viewpoints, philosophies, and insights, everything points to a man who is genuinely concerned with the wellbeing of the less fortunate. What we can argue is whether his solutions actually fix the problems he perceives.

Obama looks at the wealthy and makes the following conclusions. A man with millions of dollars in savings and investments has more money than he needs to survive comfortably. A man working for $40K a year while supporting a wife and 1.5 children has a much harder time making ends meet (especially in paying for the medical bills on that .5 of a child). And a single mother scraping by at $6.75 an hour had better hope that unexpected expenditures never crop up, because she simply can’t pay for it. It makes sense, therefore, for the man with millions of dollars to contribute directly to the wellbeing of that single mother, and to offer a helping hand to the man making $40K a year.

In light of all the corporate scandal that keeps coming to light year after year after year, it is no wonder that Obama then concludes that the rich really aren’t doing anything to help the poor. Now some of us free-market capitalists splutter about how the rich are the backbone of a thriving economy, and how rich people make more jobs that benefit everyone (eventually), but it really makes senses that others would not see things in the same light. It is hardly satisfying to look at millionaires in gratitude when you’re stocking shelves overnight at Wal Mart (which I have done, so this isn’t a disparaging comment).

Obama also recognizes the truth, “to whom much is given, much is expected”, or to quote Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility.” When it does not seem that the rich are fulfilling that obligation, something must be done to rectify the situation. If his plans expand government, so be it. The expansion of government is the natural consequence of the lack of personal responsibility. (And of course, the lack of personal responsibility could be attributed to a government that assumes those responsibilities itself, but that’s a different matter.)

In general, Obama is a truly compassionate man. His Candid Camera moment with Joe the Plumber is testimony to that, even if his redistributionist inclinations are less than appealing to those of us who see hidden costs in his plans. But he understands that no matter which policy you make, some people are going to be hurt by it. After all, “to make an omelet, you have to crack a few eggs.” The belief Obama has is that it is less painful to the rich to face enormous taxes than for the poor and unfortunate to suffer in their squalor.

Of course, Obama’s plans face some harsh realities. Taxing the rich really does slow job creation, and by the Laffer curve, increasing taxes could actually decrease federal revenues. Universal health insurance, especially plans that are forced to take on preexisting conditions, inflates the cost of health care and makes huge waiting lines. Entitlement plans require more expenditure of taxes, do little to stimulate the economy, and promote personal irresponsibility. Excessive governmental spending, as we have seen under President George W. Bush, causes inflation and devalues the dollar, which means higher prices all around. This a real danger in ignoring these consequences. But then, there is a real danger in treating the economy as the premise of every argument, rather than the human person, and both sides make this mistake.

I could continue in this vein for pages upon pages, if I so wished. But the point is this. Calling Obama a socialist, accurate or not, is an attempt to wrap up a whole discussion in a single word, and like the thumbnail I discussed before, that word just doesn’t maintain the detail. Saying that Obama is a socialist is not calling a spade a spade; it is calling a back-hoe loader a spade, and that does a great injustice not only to Obama himself, but those who are trying to make an accurate portrayal of why an Obama administration is not healthy for the nation.

22 Responses to Calling a Spade an Earth-Destroying Instrument of Destruction

  1. Great post, Ryan! I especially liked your final sentence.

  2. Tito Edwards says:

    I don’t think we should give ‘other’ people power over what we make. This violates the Principle of Subsidiarity. Jesus did say we will always have the poor. To take my money away from me and giving it to the ‘State’ to redistribute smacks, rightly or wrongly, of Socialism.

    Senator Obama’s heart is in the right place, but he wants to place the decision making abilities of how to spend your hard earned money into the hands of others that may or may not spend it correctly.

    I see where you are coming from about not pigeon-holing a candidate based on his plans. But if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck plain and simple. To obfuscate the issue of well Senator Obama ‘means well’ and he really wants to do good with other peoples money is not going to sell to most Americans.

    Good post though.

  3. Ryan Harkins says:

    Thanks, Chris. But what, no comment about the bumper-stickers?

    Tito, I have no problem with saying that Obama’s policies smack of socialism, and I disagree with his solutions almost 100%. But the thing is, depending on which side you’re on, shouting socialism either overstates or understates the problem, and like people shouting “racism!” and “bigot!”, simply working on the accusation “socialist!” shuts down honest discourse.

  4. Ryan, that entire ‘graph was a great one.

    Tito, I have no philosophical issue with the federal government using *some* of my money for legitimate purposes, even of a “social safety net” variety… after all, our government is of the people, by the people, and for the people, so there is no *intrinsic* conservative objection to federal programs; the problem comes with inefficiency and unintended negative consequences, which is why the principle of subsidiarity is — as you indicate — so important. But I see no reason to be inherently opposed to federal programs, a view I occasionally (you think?) detect coming from the libertarian corner of the conservative tent.

  5. Gerard E. says:

    No, Ryan. Obama is Jimmy Carter 2.0. Oh you might not have been around during Jimmeh’s time as president. Mortgage rates up to 19 percent. Sluggish stock market. Jimmeh telling us to just wear sweaters to conserve energy. Not to mention The Iranian Hostage Drama. Obama is a Socialist. Socialists aren’t compassionate. My City With All Its Works/pomps has been handicapped for six decades by the most onerous wage tax in this here nation. Why bedroom suburbs like King Of Prussia, Malvern, Cherry Hill have had humongous growth in last quarter century. Oh, City has had continuous Dem mayors since 1952 and City Council domination about that long. Current Mayor Michael Nutter is fine fella, three new Council members have issued strong budget-cutting suggestions they call the Freshman 15. Still the Socialist party. Hope you get a teaching job in the field for which you are receiving an edjermacation. Otherwise, stores like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Macy’s are always hiring. In the burbs.

  6. Ryan Harkins says:


    I think you missed my point, or maybe I didn’t state it clearly enough. Making a slogan out of “socialist!” certainly appeals to the base. I want to cry “socialist!” myself. But in terms of winning over undecided voters, especially those who see political dishonesty everywhere, that simply doesn’t work. My sardonic remarks about slogans was meant to emphasize that we try to reduce everything to soundbites in the mistaken belief that no one is interested in knowing the details. The point is that Obama has many of the right intentions–which endears him to people–but has horrible solutions. But you can’t convince people his solutions are horrible simply by shouting “socialist!” They need to be convinced, because when they hear you shout “socialist!” they’re not going to simply roll over and say, “okay, I believe you!”

  7. Tito Edwards says:

    Gerard E.,

    You’re referring to Philadelphia right?

    I believe Detroit has had similar problems.

  8. Gerard E. says:

    Ryan- above post stands. Get clearer.

    Tito- correctamundo. My City of Brotherly Love the home of the NL Champeen Philadelphia Phillies whoo hoo Go Phillies Go.

  9. Tito Edwards says:

    Chris Burgweld,

    I don’t doubt that we do need to the Federal government in certain roles such as national defense and for natural disasters.

    Safety nets sure, but when we start looking more and more like western europe, you better believe that we are already on our way to becoming communists.

    Mikhael Gorgechev once commented on the E.U. that they have become more successful than the Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact in their social policies than they (the Russians) could have ever imagined.

    When you get that kind of endorsement/adulation from a communist, it speaks volumes.

  10. Ryan Harkins says:


    I’m not sure what you’re after, then. If we’re worried about not just intent, but effectiveness, then simply crying “socialist!” to make your point is like using socialism to dig us out of poverty. The intent is in the right place, but the implementation is lacking and actually counterproductive. I agree that Obama’s policies will dig us deep into the welfare state and cripple us economically. But I didn’t write this post to talk about his policies specifically, but how we think we need slogans to save us, and how slogans obscure the issues at hand. Your description of Philadelphia’s plight under socialist management is excellent discourse on why socialism is bad, and is a huge step up from just crying “socialism!” And I don’t believe that someone supporting a socialistic model is evil and devoid of compassion. Misguided, yes; lacking information, yes; stuck in a dreamworld, yes; possessing even a corrupted form of compassion, yes. In order to convince people that socialism is wrong, you can’t simply say “socialism…baaaaaaad.” You have to have explanations. Details, not slogans.

  11. Gerard E. says:

    Ryan- socialism never works. Inner cities or whole countries. Why Cuban cab drivers are still tooling around in 1959 DeSotos. Why the mainland Chinese people are flocking to the big cities and working their youknowwhats off. Why big cities like mine repeat the same problems while the two main daily papers- subscriptions both waaaaay down- call for more of the same solutions. Socialism takes the human spirit out of the equation. We do really well for ourselves and our families when the wraps are off. The American Dream and so forth. Capitalism is like democracy- not the best idea, but a whole lot better than anything else. Explained?

  12. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “socialism never works”

    Words to live by. I believe Obama and his backers wish to convert the US into a socialist state of the West European variety. Statements to the contrary are mere campaign ephemera.

  13. Anthony Rowe says:

    I think the real problem is when people call an “Earth-Destroying Instrument of Destruction” a spade.

  14. Ryan Harkins says:


    Ah. As so many times I have experienced in life, we’re not connecting because we’re not even arguing the same issue. You want to argue “socialism is wrong”. I want to argue “shouting slogans doesn’t help a candidate in the political realm.” These aren’t even close to the same issue. And as long as you want to make the issue socialism itself, nothing I can say about my post means anything, because my post is not meant to address whether or not socialism is wrong. Similarly, I can argue until I’m blue in the face that we shouldn’t rely on cheap slogans (as good as they feel to say), and you won’t be satisfied because I’m not addressing the issue of socialism.

    If you want, I can make my next post about socialism and its evils, how it is degrading to the human because work is made for man, not man for work, and how work is one of the highest forms of thanksgiving we can give to God, and how socialism turns the whole thing upside down, treating man as purely material, crushing the human dignity by rendering meaningless work and its glorifying aspects, and how socialism leads to the utter economic collapse of a nation even without consider the dignity of a human being. But that wasn’t the topic of this post. The post was about slogans, how they do injustice to candidates, how they provide a cheap, ineffective shortcut to actually defining the issues, looking at specific policies, comparing and contrasting, and making a strong, recognizable case that one’s plan works over the other.

    I would also like to note the following: I wrote “Saying that Obama is a socialist is not calling a spade a spade; it is calling a back-hoe loader a spade…” The order there was intentional. I don’t think calling Obama a socialist is a good thing because I feel the danger he represents is so much bigger than working towards socialistic policies, as many times bigger as a back-hoe loader is bigger than a spade.

    Lastly, (and this is tongue-in-cheek), how can you say that socialism doesn’t work? It does what it purports to do–level the playing the playing field. Of course, that level is abject poverty for all…

  15. DMinor says:

    Heaven knows I enjoy a good hair-splitting session over language matters. But I think part of the problem with parsing the definition of a socialist is that many people who self-identify as socialists have worldviews fairly similar to Obama’s (or perhaps to his left, if that is possible.) The definition seems to have evolved from its orginal form. It happens.

    It’s a bit like the present use of the term “anarchist.” This one really gets my goat (remember what I said about enjoying hair-splitting?) because I was always under the impression that anarchists believed in the abolition of all government. I thought of anarchists as a sort of extreme libertarian. Then I learned that “anarchism” was being embraced again on college campuses, but what was being sold as “anarchism” looked an awful lot like old-fashioned Marxism (which is anything but anarchic) to me.

  16. Yes, I’ve been cynically amused that the new “anarchism” is basically socialism with lots of talking about how one is really far too sophisticated to believe in the “modern nation state” — but since all these rubes have inflicted one on us we might as well have it give us everything we want.

  17. S.B. says:

    That sort of “anarchism” is just a pose, a faux radical stance adopted by people who, for some reason, want to think of themselves as something different from your garden-variety leftist. But yeah, an “anarchist” who supports government healthcare and gun control is just confused. It’s as if one of the colonists (in Ben Franklin’s era) had claimed to be a radical democrat, but none of his policy proposals involved voting or representation; instead, every proposal involved strengthening the monarchy and giving it more power.

  18. Micha Elyi says:

    The free market or the slave market; pick one.

  19. Tito Edwards says:


    Again, I don’t understand your post. Could you please explain?



  20. Tito Edwards says:


    No need for that type of language here. I’m sure you could have expressed yourself in a much more dignified manner.

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