What Do Stalin, Mao and Obama Have in Common? Nothing.

king-obamaOver the past several years, as President Barack Obama has occupied the White House, his detractors have ceaselessly labeled his policies as communist or socialist. Pundits like Glenn Beck often carefully choreographed imagery of the Soviet Union’s hammer and sickle flag, or the Nazi’s swastika when referring to Mr. Obama and his policies. The notion that Democrats support socialism has become a foregone conclusion in conservative communities. As one who formally studied economics and political science at BYU, hearing these terms twisted far from their actual meaning, and observing the comparison of programs like Medicare and the Affordable Care Act to Stalinist Russia, make me cringe. For Republican strategists, the purpose in making such comparisons to the genocidal regimes of Stalin, Mao, or Hitler is obvious- striking fear in their largely uninformed constituents. This messaging strategy has worked marvelously as more and more Americans now simply refuse to even consider the merits of any policy proposal that the GOP punditry has labeled “socialist” or “communist.”

The truth is that communism and socialism, two similar ideologies that also have some important distinctions, have nothing in common with contemporary America. Under communism or socialism, all or most means of production are the property of the government or society as a whole. Very little, if any, private property exists under these systems. The vast majority of decisions about production and distribution of goods and services are administered by the government rather than private enterprise. Under communism, society is eventually supposed to evolve into a classless structure. Citizens’ rights to consumer goods are unaffected by their own productivity. As Karl Marx once said, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Communism and socialism generally seek an equality of outcome for all citizens.

In today’s America, the government does not own or control the majority of the means of production— not even close. Does the federal government tell Dell how many computers they can make, what type of computer to produce, and at what price they can sell them? Of course not. Our economy is not centrally planned. A good measure of the government’s reach the economy is the overall tax burden as a percentage of GDP. For the U.S., that number is 25.1% in 2014, which is lower than every other developed country. The U.S., like the rest of the industrialized world, has a mixed market economy. In a mixed market economy the private sector is dominant; however, the government typically provides a basic safety net, education and infrastructure, while ensuring public and consumer safety, free and fair competition, and so forth through regulation. A completely laissez faire economy with no government involvement only exists in the hearts and minds of libertarians and anarchists. Such an arrangement has never and will never exist because the real world is a lot more complex than the oversimplified Ricardian economic model.

Comparing Democrats’ or Mr. Obama’s policies to Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, or Hitler’s Germany is a deep intellectual dishonesty that dishonors the victims of those homicidal totalitarian regimes and cheapens the seriousness of the perpetrators’ crimes. These brutal regimes orchestrated mass torture and slaughter of innocents. Trying to contrast a law that provides seniors or the working poor with health insurance to regimes of mass murder shows intellectual bankruptcy. Godwin’s law is an adage which asserts as an online discussion continues, the likelihood of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler increases. A corollary to this law is that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis is widely considered to have lost the argument. Invoking such comparisons in today’s American policy debates is a losing argument.

A statement by President Abraham Lincoln helps provide context to the aims of progressives and their policies: “The role of government is to do for the people what they cannot do better for themselves.” President Obama made this concept even clearer when he stated, “Government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves: protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools, and new roads, and science, and technology... It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.” Progressives and Democrats do not seek equality of outcome as sought by communists and socialists. Rather, we strive for equality of opportunity. The difference between these two concepts is profound.

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  • Eugene Rasband
    commented 2016-06-10 13:02:06 -0700
    The problem with ObamaCare and most of the programs introduced by Obama is that these smack of Socialism because we, the people, have no choice but to abide by the government’s fiats. We are to do “many things of our own free will,” as has been said the “free will” part is the problem. We show no merit when the government takes from the “rich” to give to the “poor.” These programs create a bureaucracy which takes millions in tax dollars to sustain.
    When the government began telling us how much we could contribute to private charitable organizations, it began its incursion into our lives. We are now limited as to how much we can contribute to tax-exempt organizations without being taxed by the government. It is much more efficient for private charities to distribute to the poor than for the “all-knowing,” “all-powerful” government. These bureaucracies take unnecessary tax dollars from the donors to pay their employees (who, by the way, generally have little concern for the poor. The Church and other “private” organizations are much more caring about how to help the poor. The government is too big to vet the recipients who have a tendency to consider the goods “entitlements.”
  • Eugene Rasband
    commented 2016-03-29 09:33:06 -0700
    The big problem with big government is that the more it tries to do bypassing the “private sector,” the less it is able to do effectively. When it tries to take care of everyone’s insurance, private insurance companies go out of business, there is less competition among them so they jack up prices (because there is greater demand for their service). When it tries to help “all the poor,” private charity groups go out of business, and there is even more it “has to do.” When it places expensive, unnecessary regulations on business, prices go up adding to inflation. When it raises the “minimum wage,” businesses are forced to either raise prices or let employees go. We must consider the “unintended consequences” of our actions.
  • Eugene Rasband
    followed this page 2016-03-29 09:25:16 -0700
  • kevin wally
    commented 2015-12-08 18:16:27 -0800
    Thanks for the thought provoking post. I liked the civics/politics lesson. You left out fascism though. Where the government leaves ownership in the private sector but takes control over the part of the economy that benefits the leader. I just do not see where the question in the title is answered “correctly.” It asks “What Do Stalin, Mao and Obama Have in Common? Nothing” Then it describes the three countries represented by their respective leaders as if the way America functions is some sort of representation of What Obama believes. America has 200 plus years of not being socialist and or communist so to quote tax numbers v. GDP etc. to prove he doesn’t believe in socialism and communism is “deep intellectual dishonesty” as you would say. First of all even if he wanted to run this country like Chairman Mao or Stalin he could not and would have to do something crazy like fascism which is easier to do. But this brings me to ask and attempt an answer for the question at hand. What does he believe? Yes attempt because I can’t read his mind it will be an attempt. It is not so secretive that he actually as a youth went to many communist rallies, and was sponsored by Frank Marshall Davis, a known communist. His dad and mom were both sympathetic to socialism/communism. He surrounds himself with Maoists i.e. Anita Dunn. He has no problem working with Communists i.e. the Castro brothers in Cuba and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. There seems to be no amount of evil that these statists can commit that will offend Pres. Obama. He even loves Iran so connecting him to “homicidal totalitarian regimes” is no problem. He does this on his own. Because it would be so difficult to implement socialism directly he has to resort to direct control over industries to have them do the bidding of the US government. So instead of taking completely over the health care industry let’s just take control which fits the definition for fascism sometimes referred to as national socialism. I am not implying that he is fascist. He would much rather put all of the insurance companies out of business and turn it over to the government. He has even said so which would be socialism in nature.
    Now to the second part about the health care disaster called Obama care. It is interesting that he went straight for the largest most costly most intrusive form of medicine possible. You can call it what you want but it was no secret at the time that is was known as “socialized medicine”. I think the key word here is control (fascism). Any time the IRS gets involved in my health care and the government controls every aspect of supply and demand chain I call that socialized medicine of some form. The law is about a thousand pages and the pages of regulations are 20,000 plus. This is a perfect example of the fix is much worse than the disease. Why not do something less expensive than the previous system and allow patients to keep more money and have control over their own health care? There is so many things wrong with Obama “don’t” care that they are too many to describe here. I can’t help but think there is an alternative motivation in passing such a disastrous law because if helping people that need it was the motive there is a much better way.
    Whether intentional or not, leaving out the definition of fascism, and using how the countries of the respective leaders function to describe how President Obama believes seems a little deceptive. So look before you accuse someone of “deep intellectual dishonesty”. I am not trying to be combative it just seems to me that the animosity on the left is way out of control.
  • Justin McAffee
    commented 2015-09-13 14:02:51 -0700
    We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
  • Justin McAffee
    commented 2015-09-13 14:01:08 -0700
    No, Marxism is when the govt controls all property and the economy. Obamacare only regulates the industry, and provides subsidies via taxation. Those are not subtle differences.
  • J. B.
    commented 2015-09-13 11:14:55 -0700
    “The role of government is to do for the people what they cannot do better for themselves.”

    Using the US Constitution, site it for me. Where is this stated?
  • J. B.
    commented 2015-09-13 11:12:37 -0700
    This is simple. Take Obama care. The Government forces everyone to buy health insurance, which spreads the cost of everyone’s plans so those that can afford coverage, raising their premiums, to pay for those that can’t. This falls in line with “from each according to their ability, to each according to his need”. This is basic Marxism. Your are wrong.

    Obama in the debates with Clinton declared he believes health care is a right. Healthcare is the labor of one that has the knowledge to provide it. So person A has the right to the labor of person B. What if person B doesn’t want to provide it. The Government forces person B under the threat of the Government gun. Marxism.
  • Aaron White
    commented 2015-07-08 05:36:43 -0700
    Great comment Larry. That’s exactly where the debate should be- and there’s plenty of room for discussion on that point. All of the fear-mongering with hyperbolic labels like socialism & communism doesn’t get us anywhere.
  • Larry Steimle
    commented 2015-06-26 16:20:23 -0700
    “The role of government is to do for the people what they cannot do better for themselves.”

    This is where the debate should lie…and not consist of temper tantrums and name calling. So, what is the government doing that we cannot do better for ourselves?

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