Editorial: But is it socialism?

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

In the continuing improvisation that is the McCain campaign, the newest act of desperation comes from a playbook over 50 years old. Democratic nominee Barack Obama is now being branded a "socialist," and Republican nominee John McCain is calling Obama's tax plan "welfare."

Obama's tax proposal includes several elements, none of which should be considered radical. He calls for returning tax rates to the levels collected in the Clinton administration, which is not exactly a plank in Leon Trotsky's platform.

What Obama calls a middle-class tax break would indeed, as McCain noted over the weekend, come in the form of a refundable tax credit. For families whose income taxes are less than the credit, it would result in a check cut by the government. Some of those checks would go to people too poor to pay any federal income taxes, but note the qualifiers. Low-income families pay plenty of taxes - payroll taxes, Medicare taxes, sales taxes, property taxes and other levies - just not the income taxes on which so many Republican leaders obsess.

In any event, Obama's refundable credit is not a new idea. McCain uses the same device in his health care reform proposal, which promises refundable tax credits for health insurance. And thanks to the earned-income tax credit, families who pay no income taxes have been getting checks from the federal government for more than 20 years. If that's "welfare," McCain can blame the old socialist who pushed it through Congress and signed it into law: Ronald Reagan.

McCain and his supporters back up their charge of "socialism" with Obama's offhand remark to the now-famous "Joe the plumber": "When you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." It is testament to the politically-charged environment that this innocuous comment is being characterized as something out of a Marxist manifesto.

There is some irony in the timing of this ideological scuffle. For the first time, the U.S. government is buying shares in banks, which is much closer to classic Marxism than anything Obama has proposed. But while McCain ignores that, he brands as socialist a proposal that does what all tax bills do: set different rates for different income groups.

Since tax policies spread the tax burden, you can say it is about spreading the wealth. Obama might argue that the Bush tax cuts have been spreading the wealth upward for seven years and it's time to spread some back to the middle class. It's a debate worth having, but one that isn't advanced by confusing it with socialism.

The MetroWest Daily News