Friday, October 24, 2008

Spreading the Wealth -- or -- EeK! Socialism!

I grow tired of the word “socialist.”  I particularly grow weary of it in connection with the presidential election and will be very happy when November 5 rolls around because the word is being thrown around wildly, maliciously and innacurately.

Ever since “Joe the Plumber” became a campaign slogan, the word “socialism” has accompanied it.  As in, “The Joe the Plumbers of the country want to keep their hard-earned money and don’t want the government to take it away in order to ‘spread the wealth.’  After all, spreading the wealth is socialism.”

This is all about taxes, of course.  Joe the Plumber feels that Barack Obama’s tax plan will take away his money.  He doesn’t like the idea of anybody’s taxes being increased because it’s unfair to the folks who earn it.  In fact, he (and John McCain) argue that it’s socialist.  Obama responded with an unfortunate phrase: that it’s not bad to spread the wealth a bit.  But even though he might have chosen his words more carefully, he’s right, and there are problems with Joe’s (and McCain’s) argument.

One, it’s not a tax increase.  Most of what Obama’s increase in revenue will come not from a new tax but from allowing a Bush-era tax give-away to the richest Americans to expire.  In other words, it’s a tax that existed before George W. Bush took power.  One that existed when his very much not-socialist father was president.  

Two, even if it were a new tax, it is not socialism.  Although dictionaries have a hard time defining socialism and note that the word is used to mean anything from anarchy to communism, at its most basic level, it means the community owns and regulates the “means of production, distribution, and exchange.”  Dropping a tax break is not socialism.

Three, while Obama’s health plan (another target for the charge of socialism) does make it easier for people to have and afford health care, it is not state owned and operated.  Too bad.  Those countries (like every other industrialized nation) that have socialized medicing enjoy much better health.

Four, we already “spread the wealth” inasmuch as we have taxes and have for more than a hundred years.  That’s what taxes are meant to do.  We Americans did not object to taxes even in our earliest years.  The Boston Tea Party was not about taxes in general but about a particular tax that was levied in a particular way that made the colonists feel they had been disenfranchised.  They did not object to taxes per se.

Nor should we.  Because paying taxes makes you part of a community.  Communities have always pooled their resources so we could afford to do things that we could never afford to do as individuals.  This is crucial to being human beings.

That’s why Christians do not object to taxes.  Christianity is a WE religion, not an I religion.  Our very nature is to be in community.  We are relational as evidenced by Jesus’ great commandment:  “You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Look at the 10 commandments.  After the first four, they are all about being a good neighbor.  That’s community.

I write this as a Christian, and look with dismay at those other supposed Christians who claim we should not spread the wealth.  Jesus taught us to care for each other, to pay our taxes, to live together and seek the best for all.  Taking care of “number 1” is not a Christian value.  Jesus said that even the “gentiles” took care of their families.  To be a Christian means to take care of those who have nothing to offer us.

In short, spreading the wealth is what all taxes are all about, and it sure beats the unChristian practice of concentrating the wealth in the hands of a few, which is what we’ve been doing for the last decade.  Spreading the wealth is also what Christianity is all about, despite those who would make a mockery of Christ by focusing on marginal issues such as homosexuality (about which Jesus said nothing).  So call me a socialist if you will -- I will pay my taxes happily.  But if you want to be more accurate, just call me a Christian.