One of the most vocal criticisms of President Barack Obama is that he's a socialist. The label is usually accompanied by a statement that the president has created a $15 trillion debt and he's leading us to ruin and he must be stopped.
The socialist charge is both false and a red herring obscuring the underlying issue of this election, Supreme Court appointments and the rise of financial capitalism.
If you or I have more debt than we can repay, we're headed for bankruptcy. If the local ma and pa store has more debt than it can repay, it'll go out of business. Local and state governments cannot function with debt they cannot repay.
But the rules are different for the federal government. That's because the federal government both makes the money and creates the system of value that backs it up.
In simpler times gold or silver backed up the dollar. Paper money had "gold certificate" (1863-1933) or "silver certificate" (1878-1964) printed on it. But the gold standard created a problem: Wealth was finite. The total number of dollars could not exceed the value of the amount of gold at any one point in time, inhibiting rapid economic growth. The gold standard was a good system for an agricultural/industrial economy but not good for a financial market economy.
Since President Richard Nixon removed us from the gold standard, "Federal Reserve Note" is printed on our money and wealth is tied to the ability to create and repay debt and has no theoretical limitation. This makes a delicate balance between too much money in circulation creating inflation, or too little creating recession.
President Bush, during the latter part of his term, and now President Obama found themselves victim of a new kind of capitalism, called financial capitalism, not based on the gold standard and not based on making something or providing a service. Financial capitalism is based on buying and selling stock, buying and selling companies, and buying and selling debt like home mortgages or college loans. The rich were powerful enough to suppress regulation and we found ourselves in a crisis recession heading toward a depression.
The only way to decrease unemployment and get the economy moving for the middle class was to insert massive amounts of money into the system by selling Treasury notes and other debt instruments and using the money to fund roads, bridges and other things that put money in the hands of people. Bill the carpenter makes money working on a government-funded building project and now has cash to buy clothes for his kids from Betty's clothing store. Betty needs a new car and uses some of that money to replace her old one. And so it goes.
And they all pay taxes on the money they have earned. It's the taxes rolled over many times that give the government the money to pay back its creditors ($1 trillion of the $15 trillion debt is owed to China). To be anti-tax is to be anti-American.
Call President Obama anything you like. Call him a warmonger for killing Osama bin Laden and keeping us in Afghanistan. Call him a wimp for getting us out of Iraq. Call him naÃ¯ve for trying to create a national health-care system for everyone. Call him black and therefore "not like us" if that's your essentialist inclination.
But don't call him a socialist. A socialist would advocate for universal government ownership of business and industry. Ironically, President Obama is trying to fix a damaged system that has given extreme wealth to his strident critics, who fund politicians to label him a socialist. Economically, Obama is doing what Bush did and what Romney would have done.
"Obama is a socialist and must go" rhetoric is a smokescreen for the real meaning of this presidential election. The Republican Party leadership knows full well that this election is about the right to appoint as many as five Supreme Court justices because of death or retirement. Today's court is the oldest in almost a century. Four justices are in their 70s and one, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is in her 80s.
The next president will almost certainly change the existing 5-4 ideological split and a Republican victory will assure the court's "corporations as people" rulings will continue to promote corporatism and the new financial capitalism.
Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College.