The arbiters of appropriate expression in America get very exercised when conservatives call Barack Obama a “socialist.” They treat the claim in the same way as calling Obama a Muslim, Kenyan, or “the anti-Christ.”
But headlines this week report that President Obama accused the Republicans of “social Darwinism,” and I don’t see anyone exercised about that. A New York Times editorial endorses the attack.
Is “social Darwinist” within some bound of propriety that “socialist” violates? I don’t think so. After all, plenty of people call themselves socialists — not President Obama, to be sure, but estimable figures such as Tony Blair and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Members of the British Labour Party have been known to sing the socialist anthem “The Red Flag” on the floor of Parliament.
But no one calls himself a social Darwinist. Not now, not ever. Not Herbert Spencer. The term is always used to label one’s opponents. In that sense it’s clearly a more abusive term than “socialist,” a term that millions of people have proudly claimed.
This is more than a little disingenuous. Yes, millions of people have proudly claimed that they’re socialists. Lots of people proudly claim they’re Kenyans too. And Muslims. In American national politics, however, being a socialist is a kiss of death and Boaz knows it. Still, being called a social Darwinist is pretty unsettling too, so this is a trade I’d be willing to make. If conservatives will stop calling Obama a socialist, then I agree that he should stop calling them social Darwinists. I’ll be waiting to hear back on that.
This little spate of name calling is only modestly interesting, though. Far more fascinating is this from Boaz: “Those who deploy the charge [of social Darwinism] are, first, falsely implying that Republicans support radically smaller government, which neither Ryan’s budget nor any other Republican plan actually proposes.”
Say what? The Ryan budget very plainly slashes domestic spending on everything other than Medicare and Social Security by absolutely whopping amounts. As the CBO’s analysis makes clear, Medicaid and CHIP (children’s healthcare) would decline from 2% of GDP today to 1% of GDP in 2050, and everything else in the domestic budget would decline from about 8% of GDP to 1-2% of GDP. That’s prisons, border control, education, the FBI, courts, embassies, the IRS, FEMA, housing, student loans, roads, unemployment insurance, etc. etc. It’s everything. Whacked by about 80% or so. If that’s not radically smaller government, what is?